School district expecting extra $250 million

An improved state funding outlook doesn’t mean that the Clark County School District is out of the woods.

In the legislative session that ended early Tuesday morning, Nevada lawmakers approved higher than expected funding for public schools.

The district now expects to receive $250 million more for 2011-12. That’s enough to maintain current class sizes, restore some jobs for counselors and support staff, and reduce the need for layoffs and furlough days.

However, declining local revenue means the district still has a $150 million gap in next year’s budget, which officials hope to close by freezing pay raises awarded for longevity and education, cutting the textbook budget, reducing administrative budgets by 20 percent, passing along some pension costs to employees, and consolidating bus routes.

“It’s amazing given where we were a week ago,” district Chief Financial Officer Jeff Weiler said at a Tuesday School Board meeting.

He’d been bracing for a much steeper general fund shortfall of $407 million that would have heralded the elimination of at least 1,800 jobs.

Because of the bump in state funding, district officials say, they don’t think they will have to lay off teachers. It’s likely that the 1,000 district teachers who currently are unassigned for next year will be placed in new positions.

“We’ve made class-size reductions our number one priority,” said Clark County Superintendent Dwight Jones.

Bill Garis, the district’s acting director of human resources, said he hopes that principals will soon be able to decide whether they can restore popular course electives — such as foreign languages and arts classes — that had previously been cut.

Because the district will staff schools at 100 percent, it also is possible that as many as 500 support staff positions will be restored.

The district still plans to cut about 600 positions, including nonschool based clerical workers and about 75 bus driver positions.

District officials are still working through the details of the state budget.

School Board President Carolyn Edwards urged the district to clarify the employment situation as soon as possible. Because of the uncertainty over jobs, “there are people who are terrified and scared,” she said.

The board is expected to get a revised district budget at a June 23 meeting.

Because the final state budget appropriated $383 more per student than was included in the governor’s original proposal, the district will now get $5,136 per student next year.

The district’s operating budget for next year is $2.1 billion.

“Clearly we still have a gap, but it’s a much smaller gap,” Weiler said.

To close the $150 million hole, the district will be asking for concessions from its four employee unions. Negotiations are expected to begin soon.

If an agreement is not reached by July 1, new layoffs might be necessary, warned district officials.

Ruben Murillo, president of the Clark County Education Association, which represents district teachers, stressed that his union members were in no mood to make sacrifices.

“The calls I’m getting are ten to one (saying), ‘Don’t give away anything,’ ” he said.

Murillo said morale in the district already is low.

“Teachers are worried. They don’t know what’s happening to them. The fear of the unknown is what’s getting to them,” Murillo said. “Everybody likes to leave the school year with the loose strings tied up, but there’s still some unraveling.”

Officials noted that the anxiety affects job performance.

School Board Trustee Chris Garvey said, “That angst of not knowing who’s going to be at school does go down to the child.”

Contact reporter James Haug at jhaug@ or 702-374-7917.

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