Gibbons eyes new federal funding with caution

Nevada could hire as many as 1,400 new teachers with new federal funding signed into law Tuesday by President Barack Obama, but Gov. Jim Gibbons has not committed to applying for Nevada's $83 million share of the $26 billion in new aid to the states, a spokesman said.

"We need to see what strings are attached," spokesman Daniel Burns said. He said the governor wants to review the legislation, which provides $10 billion to U.S. school districts to rehire laid-off teachers or to ensure that more teachers will not be let go before the new school year starts.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Keith Rheault said Nevada is eligible for the funds as a state hit hard by the economic downturn and as a state in which education spending is at least equivalent to 2006 levels. He did not think the state would have to spend new money to qualify for the aid.

The Clark County School District, the nation's fifth-largest public school system, has eliminated or left vacant 1,000 teaching positions in the past few years, Rheault estimated. The Washoe County School District, the second-largest system in the state, has cut 250 positions. The new funding could restore the positions and others eliminated throughout Nevada by cash-strapped public schools.

Burns criticized the federal legislation as a "one size fits all" mandate because the money must be used for teacher hiring and not for other needs such as textbooks or school maintenance. Burns also said the money might be a temporary fix: Because it's one-time funding, school districts might have to lay off teachers next year.

Chris Wallace, president of the Nevada State Board of Education, appreciates the governor's position but said, "My bottom line is anything that helps our students is a good thing."

Ruben Murillo, president of the Clark County Education Association, which represents local teachers, said the elimination of the 1,000 district teaching jobs was the result of three years of budget reductions, which included staffing district schools at only 97 percent of need.

This year, the district also eliminated 540 teaching positions in grades one to three by raising class sizes by two students each. First and second grades will have 18 students per classroom, and third grade will have 20 students per classroom this year.

While acknowledging the funding isn't recurring, Murillo said he was not overly concerned about teachers losing their jobs next year because so much turnover happens with retirements and moves. Despite this year's job cuts, not one teacher has been laid off, he said.

The hiring of new teachers for 2010-11 has been down "considerably down this year," said Michael Rodriguez, a district spokesman.

As of Monday, the district has hired 291 new instructors. It employs about 18,000 teachers .

Because the district serves about 75 percent of the state's students, Murillo estimated that Clark County could get as much as $62 million of the aid.

Clark County Superintendent Walt Rulffes declined to comment on how the new funding might be spent. He said he will form a committee of principals to advise him.

Contact reporter James Haug at or 702-374-7917.