Increasing class sizes, eliminating teacher signing bonuses and slashing textbook funding by 50 percent are just a few of the painful steps that might be needed if the state Board of Education is to comply with the governor’s goal of reducing its budget by 14 percent over the next two years.
“We are really scraping the bottom of the barrel,” said James Wells, the deputy superintendent for finance at a meeting of the board Friday.
The state board approved a tentative budget that would reduce funding by $101 million for fiscal year 2009-10 and by $162 million for fiscal year 2010-11.
Because of the economic downturn, state education officials anticipate shortfalls in revenues from property taxes and gaming taxes and expect growth in student enrollment to slow to less than 2 percent over the next two years.
Officials emphasized their budget was intended only as a recommendation, meant to give guidance to the governor and the Legislature before lawmakers meet in January to hammer out the state budget for the next two fiscal years.
“A lot of this could change,” said Keith Rheault, the state superintendent of public instruction, adding that he was not even sure whether the governor’s goal of reducing all state agencies’ budgets by 14 percent even applied to K-12 education.
For planning purposes, however, education officials would like lawmakers to concentrate on eliminating one-time grants and special programs first, such as cutting a “library database fund” by 14 percent.
However, Barbara Myers, a board member from Carson City, said the state ultimately would have to look at increasing class sizes. “That’s the only place (in the budget) where there is lots of money,” she said.
If the state increased the first, second and third-grade class sizes by one student each to 17 per classroom, it could save $25 million in 2009-10 and $26 million in the next year.
But officials also recognized that Clark County already has the biggest class sizes in the country, at least at the middle school and high school levels.
In all, the staff recommended 16 budget item reductions, eliminating or cutting back on funding for empowerment schools, remediation programs, public television, apprenticeship programs, early childhood education, library books, substitute teachers, adult education, cultural diversity programs and support staffing for schools not showing progress under the No Child Left Behind Act.
The state board, meeting in both Las Vegas and Carson City, communicated by teleconference. Members of the public in Las Vegas, however, still felt left out, criticizing the board and staff for providing handouts on meeting topics such as the budget and new charter school regulations.
“We have no backup material to any of these items,” said Karen Gray, a Henderson resident.
Greg Nance, the only state board member who was at the Las Vegas meeting location, came dressed in a muscle T-shirt and was often sleeping and kissing his wife throughout the meeting.
After the meeting, Nance told the Review-Journal that he just returned from a honeymoon.
“I was a little sleepy,” he said.