In an effort to try to address a growing budget shortfall of $50 to $60 million, the Clark County School district distributed a survey asking parents, teachers and residents to rank in descending order what they would prefer to see cut.
The response at a recent school organization team (SOT) meeting on Sept. 6 was overwhelmingly negative.
“The online survey is ridiculous,” a Rancho High School parent said. “Isn’t this (SOT) the most appropriate venue to be deciding how to handle our budget shortfall?”
The survey, which is set to conclude Sept. 10, asked participants to rank 11 suggested budget-cut items in order of preference. They included reducing the work year for all employees by one day, changing some 12-month administration positions to 11-month positions, eliminating the district’s Gifted and Talented Education program, eliminating some after-school busing and eliminating additional staffing for magnet programs.
Rancho parents, teachers and staffers discussed on and off for two hours what they might have to cut while they sat in the school’s library. As the band’s practice echoed through the halls outside, Principal Dr. James Kuzma contemplated how he might be able to save as many staff positions as possible.
“A lot of those choices on that survey, really none of them are desirable,” Kuzma said. “It’s like ranking the worst of the worst, but what do you think is the least worst?”
Student SOT member Sebastian Crawford, a senior at Rancho, said the survey seemed like a “brainstorm” and that none of the ideas seemed serious.
“They’re not going to stop late buses, because that affects hundred of thousands of students that stay after school for extracurriculars,” Crawford said. “And so, like, that’s obviously gone.” Getting rid of the Gifted and Talented Education, or GATE program, also seems unlikely, he said. GATE — specifically for grades 3 through 5 — had 6,718 students as of last school year. There are other accelerated learning programs in the districts for other grades, but they are not adminstered through GATE.
Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky pledged in an email to teachers Sept. 6 that a reduction in force would not include teachers, just days after sending a memo to district employees to expect a reduction in force. He announced his retirement the following day, effective in June 2018.
“Teachers are essential employees and we believe the temporary hiring freeze will ensure that every teacher will have a position with the District, even after our budget reductions and a surplus process,” the email states. “We do not plan to do a reduction in force (RIF) of our teachers, especially given the problems we have experienced recruiting teachers in recent years.”
But worries persisted. Crawford said his classes have been getting larger each year, and one has 43 students.
He continued, “you can’t make smaller class sizes with less teachers. So when they’re doing that, they’re not really helping the students and they’re not helping the teachers. So it’s overall just a bad thing.”
Michelle Aurelio, a fifth-grade teacher at Iverson Elementary, said each fifth-grade class has about 40 students this year.
“They’re not getting what’s due to them,” Aurelio said. “We owe them more.”
She said making sure that every student has the opportunity to speak or participate in class every day is difficult, if not impossible, with that many students.
“Our fourth grade is not much further behind us,” Aurelio said. “We’re all sitting here looking at these kids saying, Are we going to be teaching this way the entire year? I’m spinning my wheels. The things that usually take me a couple of days are taking a couple of weeks.”
At the Rancho SOT meeting, there was discussion about saving positions by using funding from Senate Bill 178. Approved by the Legislature last session, SB178 allocates $1,200 per student for underperforming children and English-language learners who don’t already receive Zoom or Victory funding from the state.
Rancho received $507,000 from the state, which cannot be touched by cuts at the district level. That money will likely fund six teacher salaries, Kuzma said. School leaders hope that money will reduce the school’s main budget to the point where cuts won’t be so drastic.
Kuzma remembers other times when money was tight in the district, under former superintendents Carlos Garcia and Walt Ruffles.
“Both times they put surveys out to be able to get input from the public to what they think would work to be able to balance the budget. And it worked,” Kuzma said. “We got through it somehow. So we’ll get through this one, too.”
School district budget decision timeline
Sept. 10: Survey asking community for input on additional budget cuts closes.
Sept. 11: Clark County School District central services provides additional budget-cut ideas to address remaining shortfall.
Sept. 14: School Board votes on additional proposed cuts.
Sept. 18: Strategic budgets are released to schools. School teams will make revised budgets, factoring in administrative raises and other cuts.
Sept. 22: Schools submit revised strategic budgets.
September-October: District determines if layoffs are needed.
For the latest information about the Clark County School District’s budget crunch, go to reviewjournal.com/news/education.