Schools seek budget input


Eliminate the school police, save $18 million. Convert all year-round schools to nine-month calendars, save another $18 million. Tap into a reserve fund set aside for emergencies, get $40 million more.

These are just a few of the cost-cutting measures the Clark County School District is asking the public to comment on as officials try to close a $123 million budget shortfall for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The shortfall is the result of a $77.5 million reduction in state funding, the state appropriation of $25 million in capital projects funding and declining property tax revenues. Superintendent Walt Rulffes also expects federal funding to decline.

Rulffes recognized during a news conference Tuesday that there's much anxiety regarding the recession-related budget cuts. His objective is to protect student services and to "save jobs."

Rulffes acknowledged that many options, such as eliminating school police, "will be upsetting." But the "easy cuts" have already been made. The district has absorbed about $250 million in funding reductions over the past three years, he said.

Because employee salaries and benefits are protected by union contracts, the district has to consider other measures that might seem extreme.

"If all employees took a 5 percent cut, it would pretty much be business as usual," Rulffes said. "That can't be achieved by the school district alone. That must be achieved by an agreement through the collective bargaining process."

While hopeful about eventually reaching an agreement with the unions about salary cuts, Rulffes doesn't believe there's enough time to do so with the four unions representing teachers, administrators, support staff and school police. State law requires the Clark County School Board to approve a new budget by April 15.

Michael Thomas, president of the Police Officers Association, did not think that money would be saved by eliminating the school police because the district would then have to enter into service contracts with local police departments.

The proposal to convert year-round schools to nine-month calendars would affect 76 elementary schools. Rulffes said the move probably would be popular with parents but would be difficult for employees facing reduced work hours.

Year-round schools were needed in the past to relieve schools with enrollments that exceeded their capacities, but district enrollment has been declining and is expected to be down another 1,200 students next school year.

The district plans to open four new elementary schools in 2010-11. Also, the Legislature has given the district the authority to expand class sizes by two students in grades one, two and three.

Class sizes are currently 16 students to one teacher in first and second grades; and 18 to 1 in third grade. By expanding class sizes at those grades, the district would be able to eliminate 540 teachers, saving about $30 million.

Lauren Kohut-Rost, deputy superintendent of instruction, said she hoped this would be "a temporary solution" because she wants to return to smaller class sizes.

If the School Board approves eliminating year-round schools, the district would also amend its policies to allow portable classrooms to be counted as part of a school's official capacity.

The public is asked to respond quickly because the online survey will be available only for a week. The district won't be organizing any town hall meetings on the budget cuts.

"We have found the town halls are well attended, but they're often attended by special interest groups," Rulffes said. "The Board doesn't get a good reading out of it."

Contact reporter James Haug at jhaug@reviewjournal.com or 702-374-7917.

 

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