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Raises, rising costs left Clark County schools $17M in red ink

The $17 million deficit in the Clark County School District’s budget for the next school year stems from a dueling need to provide promised raises for educators while also reconciling rising costs in its operating budget that officials say were not fully funded by the state.

In order to balance its nearly $2.5 billion budget and provide the raises, the district says it required roughly $166.9 million in additional state funding for next year. Instead, when the dust settled after the legislative session that ended Monday at midnight, the district estimated it received an increase of roughly $154.4 million.

Roughly $111 million of that will be used to provide an average 2 percent salary advancement for educators who move up in the salary schedule and a 3 percent raise, and address the rising cost of health care.

The remainder of the money will go toward operating costs, including a $17 million hike in special education and an $8.8 million increase in pension costs.

But since funding for operations came in lower than expected, the district is facing a budget deficit for the third time in the last four years. And it will face another $17.6 million in red ink for the 2020-21 school year, as well.

More funding, but still a shortfall

Nevada’s public education system tapped several new funding sources this session, including money from the marijuana retail tax that boosted Clark County’s per-pupil spending and an extension of the state’s payroll tax, which produced an additional $25.9 million for the district.

District officials also were given leeway to spend $13.2 million previously restricted for certain uses — including the Nevada Ready 21 state technology grant, the Great Teaching and Leading Fund grant for teacher recruitment and professional development, and the district’s Peer Assistance and Review Program for professional development — on operational costs. Those programs won’t be funded, however, if districts decide to divert that money.

Although the gap between the district’s needs and what it received from the state is roughly $12.5 million, officials plan to cut $17 million for the 2020-21 school year and roll over $4.5 million in savings toward the next year. The shortfall for 2020-21 would then stand at $17.6 million.

Meanwhile, the district hopes to bolster its end-of-year reserves to 4 percent of its operating budget in order to exit the “fiscal watch” status that the Department of Taxation imposed on it last year. The current final budget for 2019-20 has an unassigned ending fund balance of 2 percent.

Even as it began contemplate the budget cuts, the district thanked lawmakers for the improvements in funding accomplished this session.

“The Board of Trustees and I have said providing raises to all of our employees is a priority,” Superintendent Jesus Jara said in a statement at the conclusion of the session. “We stand with Gov. Sisolak and the Legislature in support of our educators.”

The Clark County teacher’s union, however, has held fast to its threat to strike next school year if any cuts are made in classrooms, vowing to hold legislators responsible and call for a special legislative session if necessary.

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

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