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School District faces $250 million shortfall, official says

The Clark County School District anticipates a 2011-12 budget shortfall of $250 million based on the state budget proposal released Monday by Gov. Brian Sandoval.

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Weiler said Tuesday that anticipated state funding reductions would force the district to make hard decisions, such as reducing employee compensation or eliminating staff.

Some of the proposed state budget cuts include a near 9 percent reduction in K-12 spending and a 5 percent salary reduction for state workers, teachers and professors.

Without any concessions from employee unions, the district would have to cut thousands of jobs, Weiler said. And because the district has made $385 million in reductions over the past several years, it has little flexibility left.

“There’s no slack in the rope,” Weiler said.

The district’s operating budget currently is $2.1 billion. Sandoval’s budget proposal for 2011-13 sets the state back to 2007 spending levels. His proposed general fund budget of $5.8 billion is 6.4 percent less than current spending.

New Clark County Superintendent Dwight Jones said he supports Sandoval’s call for education reform. But he’s also certain that “significantly less money will make our jobs significantly more difficult.”

Jones also worries that the district’s funding shortfall will grow as officials learn more about the budget proposal.

District officials on Tuesday were unsure how much money would return to the school system if the state takes $200 million in district reserves for debt service on capital projects. They also are unclear about whether the proposal is legal — voters approved the bond program expressly for capital projects.

Sandoval has also proposed allowing school districts more flexibility with state funds earmarked for all-day kindergarten and class-size reduction. Because these funds primarily pay employee salaries, the district would have to cut jobs if it were to use the money for other purposes.

“So what flexibility do I have?” Jones asked Tuesday. “To not keep supporting class-size reduction? I already have class sizes way too high.”

Jones added that ending class-size reduction would be “1,200 layoffs right off the top.”

The district also receives state funding for about 330 all-day kindergarten teachers. “So I am looking at about 1,500 employees that are already in harm’s way,” he said.

Everything is now on the table when it comes to what programs may be cut or saved, Jones said.

Increasing class sizes, even though middle school and high school classes often have more than 40 students, seems like an obvious option for the district. It saved $30 million this school year by increasing the average class size in first through third grades by two students and eliminating about 540 teaching positions.

Vladimir Manasewitsch, an Ober Elementary School parent, believes people are willing to pay higher taxes to help schools.

“There’s got to be a way of figuring this out without hurting us any more,” Manasewitsch said.

Contact reporter James Haug at jhaug@reviewjournal.com or 702-799-2922.

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