Despite winning additional funding, including money for raises, in the just-concluded legislative session, the Clark County School District revealed Tuesday that it is facing a budget deficit of between $17 million and $18 million next year. That means the possibility of a teachers strike in the fall remains on the table.
The announcement by district officials at a news briefing came just hours after state lawmakers pushed through Senate Bill 551, which would extend the business payroll tax and fund nearly $17 million for school safety and $72 million for educator raises across the state.
The move gave the district an additional $53 million to spend over the biennium.
That, combined with another bill that freed $13 million in annual funding that was previously restricted to certain programs and a potential 0.25 percent increase in the county sales tax, prompted district officials to announce Monday night that they would be able to provide raises promised by Gov. Steve Sisolak. They said that money would fund salary advancements averaging 2 percent and average raises of 3 percent for educators.
The district had previously said it could not give the promised raise to employees because it was $111 million short of the amount needed to fund both raises and pay for increased health care costs.
That problem appeared to have been swept aside by the Legislature’s last-minute action on the related education bills, several of which await the governor’s signature.
But on Tuesday, Superintendent Jesus Jara said the district actually had needed over $160 million to avoid any shortfall.
District spokeswoman Melinda Malone later clarified that the figure is $163 million, $52 million the district had projected it would receive from the state for operations and $111 million for raises and health care. She could not explain why the amount of funding for operations came in less than projected.
The district also received an increase in per-pupil funding after legislators voted to direct the 10 percent marijuana retail tax to education. And district officials said throughout the session that they had presented a “balanced budget” to the School Board, one that did not incorporate raises or address rising health care costs.
Officials will determine where to make cuts to eliminate the remaining red ink, but Jara said he aims to keep cuts away from the classroom if possible.
“Right now, I think we can get away from making cuts in the classroom,” he said, noting that raising class sizes is “not an option.”
That will be key to preventing a teacher strike, with the Clark County Education Association standing by its threat to walk out of work next school year if there are any budget cuts affecting the classroom.
“We’re not just looking for a salary increase if it means we’re going to have cuts in the classroom,” Executive Director John Vellardita said earlier Tuesday.
The union is scheduled to meet with the district Thursday to discuss funding levels.
“If those cuts are in the classroom, then that’s a major problem and the strike is still on,” Vellardita said.
Meanwhile, Jara said the district’s legal team is looking at what options CCSD may have to prevent a strike.
The additional $53 million that the district expects to receive through an extension of the business payroll tax could be at risk, too, if Republicans file a lawsuit over SB551 as threatened.