CARSON CITY — Gov. Jim Gibbons clarified Tuesday that he does not want to end the class-size reduction and full-day kindergarten programs in public schools, just the legal requirement for them.
"The money would be there for those (school districts) that want them," Gibbons said.
He said legislators and news reporters misinterpreted his intentions last week when he released his eight-point plan to reform education and save the state $30 million to $100 million a year.
Even if the requirement for the programs were repealed, funds for full-day kindergarten and class-size reduction still would be kept in a special pot, and school districts could apply for that money, according to the governor.
State government would save money because school districts such as Clark County, which has sought a waiver from class-size reduction, would not receive the additional money, Gibbons said.
Legislators disputed Gibbons’ contention that his motive was not to eliminate the two programs.
Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said in a news release that Gibbons said he and legislators no longer can spare public education from cuts. He stated specifically that eliminating full-day kindergarten would save $28 million and repealing class-size reduction would save $127 million, she said.
"Why is he cutting education first?" Buckley asked about Gibbons, who has called himself the "education first" governor. "I think ‘education first’ means protecting education. What else could it mean?"
Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, was in a closed-door meeting with Gibbons and legislators last week when he talked about his reform plan.
"He clearly said in our meeting that he wanted to do away with class-size reduction and full-day kindergarten," she said. "Even if he only wants to eliminate the requirement for them and make the funding flexible, he still is doing away with large portions of them."
Smith said Gibbons does not understand why Clark County sought a waiver from class-size reduction. It was because the state did not offer enough money to keep the 16-to-1 and 19-to-1 pupil-teacher requirements, not because district officials don’t want the program, she said.
"They are one or two students off from meeting the ratio," she said. "This is a very popular program. What they (Gibbons administration officials) are saying is far from accurate."
Keith Rheault, state superintendant of public instruction, said eight school districts sought waivers from the class-size requirements this school year because the funds provided by the state do not allow them to reduce classes to the required ratios.
"They love the program," Rheault said.
In Clark County, the district wanted to keep first and second grades at a higher 17-to-1 ratio and third grade at 20-to-1 because the state funds do not completely pay for teachers’ salaries, he said.
Under the class-size reduction program, implemented in 1989 with the support of then-Assemblyman Gibbons, school districts receive additional funds to keep classes at a 16-to-1 pupil-teacher ratio in first and second grades, and 19-to-1 in third grade.
Ending the program would cost 2,000 teachers their jobs statewide, according to the Nevada State Education Association, and 1,649 in Clark County, according to school district spokesman Michael Rodriguez.
Buckley wants Gibbons to meet with legislators during the week of Feb. 1 to discuss whether the budget shortfall needs to be addressed in a special session or can be addressed by the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee.
By then, the state Economic Forum will have met to determine how big the state’s revenue shortfall will be. Gibbons and legislators both can give their ideas on how to save revenue, Buckley added.
Gibbons would not confirm whether he would put education reform on the agenda for a special session, but he did say legislators have ignored education reform during their every-other-year 120-day regular sessions and they could focus on education in a special session.
"For 20 years we have mandated these ideas by statute and we are still at the bottom of the barrel (in test scores by students)," he said. "If not now, when?"
Contact reporter Ed Vogel at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-687-3901.