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Sandoval staff member says school layoffs not needed

CARSON CITY — Gov. Brian Sandoval’s top staff member said Wednesday school districts shouldn’t need to do layoffs because the governor’s new budget plan restored all but $15 million of the state cut made to education during a special session last year.

If school districts can persuade employee unions to hold off raises and merit and longevity pay, Chief of Staff Heidi Gansert said there “is no way they should have to lay off personnel.”

Under the governor’s new public education funding plan, average per-pupil state support will be $5,160 in 2011-12 and $5,167 in 2012-13.

That is only slightly less than the $5,192 in the 2009-10 school year, according to figures released by the state budget office.

But Joyce Haldeman, associate superintendent of the Clark County School District, said Gansert is looking at the budget situation with rose-colored glasses.

“They are rolling out propositions that no one has accepted,” she said. “We still will have a huge deficit.”

Under Sandoval’s new plan, the district might receive up to $80 million more a year. But it faces a shortfall of $407 million in 2011-12 partly because of declining local revenues.

The district is asking employees to take about an 8 percent cut in pay and benefits, which is subject to negotiation.

Even not counting the loss of merit and longevity pay, Haldeman said teachers and other employees still will be taking minimum 11 percent pay cuts, 5 percent in their salaries and slightly more than
6 percent in additional Public Employment Retirement System payments.

“That is a huge amount of concessions,” Haldeman said.

When Sandoval unveiled his proposed budget in January, his plan was to cut per-pupil support to $4,918 as part of a 9 percent reduction in education spending. But since that time, Gansert said, the state has identified $430 million in additional funds for the education budget.

During a televised speech Tuesday, Sandoval spoke of his plan to restore $270 million to the education budget through additional tax revenue over the next two years. That includes about $20 million for higher education, Gansert said.

“We restored everything except funds for salary adjustments,” Gansert said, adding that the class-size reduction and full-day kindergarten programs were restored to levels approved by the Legislature in 2009.

The governor’s proposed budget is based on the assumption that school districts will cut salaries by 5 percent and not pay employees merit pay or longevity pay.

“We restored 94 percent of the reductions,” Gansert said. “With that small of reduction, there is no reason for layoffs.”

District officials don’t agree. If the district’s four employees unions reject the requested cuts in compensation, the district would have to eliminate more than the 1,800 jobs proposed for cuts next year, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Weiler said.

Haldeman added, “It is almost like Armageddon if you are a teacher.”

Review-Journal writer James Haug contributed to this report. Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.

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