District savings

State and local governments must cut more than $1.3 billion in spending to balance their books through June 2011. It's going to be a brutal process for public employees, whose salaries and benefits consume the vast majority of operational expenses. After more than two years of slumping economic conditions and tax revenue declines, sizable layoffs and pay cuts are unavoidable.

Thursday's meeting of the Clark County School Board, however, illustrated the political difficulty of eliminating the jobs of unionized workers, even those in support positions that can more cheaply be filled by the private sector.

Trustees were prepared to award a $306,000 contract to Morse Communications that would have outsourced as many as 10 telecommunications positions, after four such jobs had been cut last year.

Outsourcing is the single most constructive way to reshape bloated governments into leaner, more efficient operations without reductions in services. Elected officials must take a hard look at outsourcing everything from food service and transportation to building and park maintenance, from plumbing and electrical service to security and janitorial services. Why should taxpayers continue to be on the hook for above-market salaries and pensions when these jobs can be performed by taxpaying businesses at a significant savings?

But Bo Yealy, president of the Education Support Employees Association, made her union's position on such cuts quite clear Thursday. "Any privatization of a job is unacceptable," she said.

Putting aside the distinction between outsourcing and privatizing, this type of obstructionism is unfortunate. While the union and district administrators did manage to get the contract vote delayed, the board needs to show some backbone. All this maneuvering and time was dedicated to a mere $306,000 and 10 jobs.

Yes, there's a person behind every position eliminated, and elected officials shouldn't take the hardships they'll inflict lightly. But if an elected body can't pull the trigger on savings this small, it begs the question of whether these stewards are really up for the monumental task they'll face in the months ahead.