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Clark County School District’s budget shortfall widens to $45M

The Clark County School District faces an estimated $45 million budget shortfall for the coming fiscal year, over 30 percent more than the $34.5 million hole revealed last month.

The widening gap was made public at the School Board meeting Wednesday.

Most of the shortfall stems from an arbitration award for the administrators’ union, and state funding for full-day kindergarten and the special education contingency fund that fell below projections, Chief Financial Officer Jason Goudie told the board. All three affected the 2017 budget, and two affected the 2018 budget, as well — and the size of the deficit became clearer as the district worked to finalize its 2017 finances, Goudie explained.

Even so, the new figure is still just an estimate, Goudie cautioned.

Brainstorming a solution

The district has been working toward a solution, bringing school associate superintendents and four principals together to brainstorm areas for possible cuts. Those suggestions have not yet been made public.

“The center of our thinking throughout this whole very quick process was student achievement,” said School Associate Superintendent Brenda Larsen-Mitchell. “We wanted to keep the impact of the budget shortfalls as (far) away from the school as we possibly could, so we can continue on our journey of increasing student achievement.”

The shortfall comes amid negotiations with the teachers union and other bargaining groups for 2017-2018 contracts. It was cited by the district Tuesday in a negotiation update to teachers as one reason it is proposing to freeze salaries for the 2017-18 school year.

Tensions over the deficit remain high, specifically between Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky and Trustee Chris Garvey, who objected after learning that staff were working toward solutions without approval from the board. The two also had a tense exchange over the balance of power between the School Board and superintendent.

“I am not pleased with the fact that this work started before the board gave approval for it,” Garvey said.

Skorkowsky responded that he had called all the trustees to seek their approval of the plan to bring associate superintendents and principals together to hash out a solution before instructing them to begin work.

“Take your hand off the button,” he told Garvey, referring to the button trustees press indicating they wish to speak. “I’m going to be a while.”

Skorkowsky accused of lying

Skorkowsky noted that, as superintendent, he can make budget recommendations to staff within the system and bring it to the board for approval.

“You may be able to have the authority to do that, but you do not have the authority to lie to this board about when things happen and how they happen,” Garvey said, insinuating that the work began before trustees approved. “End of story.”

“Not end of story,” Skorkowsky replied, rejecting Garvey’s suggestion that they discuss the matter privately. “We are going to have (this discussion) in public — you just called me a liar.”

Other trustees supported Skorkowksy and the work to close the budget gap.

“We do have only one employee,” Trustee Carolyn Edwards reminded the board. “And that’s the superintendent. And we need to remember that as a board — that we do not direct staff.”

A headline on a previous version of this article incorrectly stated the school district’s estimated budget shortfall. It is $45 million.

Contact Amelia Pak-Harvey at 702-383-4630 or apak-harvey@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AmeliaPakHarvey on Twitter.

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