CARSON CITY — Top Clark County School District officials told legislators Thursday that they would exhaust all money to cover debt service payments on construction bonds by 2013 if Gov. Brian Sandoval’s school finance plan becomes law.
"I cannot undermine the fiscal integrity of my district to ameliorate the financial conditions of the state," School Board President Carolyn Edwards said.
She and Jeff Weiler, the district’s chief financial officer, told joint Senate-Assembly budget committee members that they cannot take $300 million in debt reserves as requested by Sandoval and use it for school operating costs.
Sandoval wants school districts to take half of their bond reserves — money raised by property taxes to pay debts incurred in building and renovating schools – and divert the money to their operating budgets.
"We have ongoing (bond payment) requirements," Weiler said. "My answer is (the bond reserve funds) are not available."
If Weiler and Edwards are right, then there is at least a $326 million hole in Sandoval’s budget, according to Democrats. The Republican governor also is calling for a 9 percent, or $200 million, reduction over the next two years in what the state provides for public schools.
If the bond reserve money is taken, then the district might have to impose a property tax increase of up to 20 cents per $100 of assessed value. By law, property taxes must be raised if funds are not available to cover debt service accounts.
In his proposed budget, Sandoval wants to take more than $400 million statewide out of bond reserves from more than 10 school districts and use the funds for school operating costs over the next two years.
Despite testimony from Weiler and Edwards, Sandoval Chief of Staff Heidi Gansert said the administration was sticking to its assessment that $425 million in funds can be shifted.
Gansert offered far different figures than Weiler did in discussing how much money would be in bond reserve accounts.
Gansert said their numbers were secured in part from "conversations" with Clark County School District officials.
"We were told by Clark County that they would not have to go out and ask for more money (if bond reserves) were taken," Gansert said. "We proceeded with caution. We believe it is vital to get as much money as we can into the classroom."
State Budget Director Andrew Clinger was sick Thursday, but he is expected to try to resolve the differences between the figures used by Democratic legislators and the Sandoval administration.
Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at email@example.com or 775-687-3901.