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Budget shortfall drives Clark County School District class-size increase

The Clark County School District will increase class sizes in grades four and above as it attempts to alleviate an estimated $52 million shortfall in a $2.3 billion budget for the 2015-16 school year that trustees approved Wednesday.

District officials don’t expect much more money to flow from the state budget, which lawmakers have until June 1 to finalize. But a projected $7 per pupil decrease in state funding became an increase of $34 per pupil after legislators completed debate on their education priorities over the weekend.

That will provide an extra $13 million for district coffers, Chief Financial Officer Jim McIntosh said.

“It’s the best we know at the moment,” McIntosh said of the amount he expects in per-pupil funding. “But you never know what’s going to happen in the Legislature.”

Pending any surprises in Carson City, district officials will start carving $52 million from the 2015-16 budget with plans to increase secondary class sizes by 0.5 students. The current student/teacher ratio is 32-to-1 in fourth and fifth grades; 34-to-1 in middle school; and 33.5-to-1 in high school.

That savings, estimated at $9 million, represents 118 teaching positions that the district no longer has to fill.

“Those are the only cuts that we will be making at this point in time to schools,” Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky said. “There will be no other cuts that we will propose in the amended final budget that will have any impact to our schools.”

Skorkowsky plans to direct administrative departments to trim their budgets by 1 percent and soon will announce other “nonschool-based cuts” to meet the $52 million reduction target.

The district’s $2.3 billion budget, which takes effect July 1, supports the addition of about 5,000 new students, a 1.5 percent increase in enrollment from this school year. Projected enrollment should reach nearly 323,000 students next year, though the district won’t have a final count until October.

About $1.34 billion, or 85 percent of the entire budget, will fund salaries and benefits for the district’s more than 26,500 employees.

That includes scheduled salary increases and a 2.25 percent increase in contributions to the Public Employee Retirement System of Nevada.

Total salary expenses will rise by $17.5 million next year.

The remaining 15 percent of the budget supports nonsalary expenses, such as utilities, textbooks and supplies and fuel and vehicle maintenance.

The district needs to hire 2,600 teachers to fill existing and anticipated vacancies. The 2015-16 budget allocates $29.8 million for 374 new teacher positions, 84 new support staff workers and instructional supplies — all meant to handle the projected increase in student enrollment.

The district also will prepare for continued growth in its special education population, with an extra $12.3 million set aside to hire 149 new teachers and 75 new support staff workers who can provide those services.

Other priorities include the expansion of seven magnet schools and the addition of five “select” schools — at a cost of $8.5 million, including the new bus drivers and fuel needed to transport students to those campuses.

Select schools offer career and technical education programs, advanced placement courses and other specialized academic programs.

“Magnet schools are really one of the bright spots here in Clark County,” McIntosh said. “So to be able to expand them was exciting for us and the board, and it’s a really important initiative for the superintendent that kind of gets lost in the discussion of cuts).”

The budget also accounts for a projected rise in property tax collections of $20 million, or 5 percent more than last year. Before the recession, the district could bank $600 million in property tax collections each year, McIntosh said. Now, it hovers around $400 million.

Although the School Board unanimously approved the budget, some trustees expressed concerns about the district’s commitment to English-language learners.

“I do not think this budget reflects our priorities in regards to English-language acquisition,” District F Trustee Carolyn Edwards said. “At some point, I would like to have a conversation about that.”

Contact Neal Morton at nmorton@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0279. Find him on Twitter: @nealtmorton.

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