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Low pay hinders hiring, state education chief says

CARSON CITY — Nevada’s education chief said Wednesday that his agency has been unable to fill critical positions because of a mandate from the governor’s office that new hires start at the lowest salary grade.

Superintendent Keith Rheault told a legislative committee that the requirement has stymied efforts to fill key administrative positions within the Department of Education, such as a math consultant and an analyst who compiles the state’s schools report card.

Testifying before the Legislative Committee for the Fundamental Review of the Base Budgets of State Agencies, Rheault said a justification to fill a vacancy has to be prepared and submitted to the state personnel, budget and governor’s office for approval.

Lawmakers in 2009 authorized 161 positions for the department, and Rheault said about 20 are vacant.

“Once we get the interviews in place, we can only hire staff at the bottom step,” he said, adding that a waiver to hire above the minimum pay scale can be requested and must be approved by Robin Reedy, Gov. Jim Gibbons’ chief of staff.

A top applicant for one position turned it down because it would have meant a $30,000 pay cut, Rheault said.

“I don’t understand how we can get someone at the top of their game when we’re paying at the bottom,” said Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks.

Reedy was out of the office Wednesday but issued an e-mail response. Most approvals for higher pay grades are in “life, health and safety” classifications, she said.

“They must show that it is historically hard to recruit and they must have made an effort at the lower salary,” Reedy said, adding that she believes she has approved more than refused such requests.

“With unemployment continuing above 14 percent and all the educational groups complaining about teacher and administrative layoffs, one would think that there would be oodles of qualified people wanting work at any salary,” she said.

Rheault said other staff members have left his department for other state jobs closer to their homes because of mandated one-day-a-month furloughs imposed last year and over concerns about pending cuts in state health coverage.

Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, D-Henderson, chairwoman of the committee, said representatives of the state Housing Division and Medicaid program were asked to give presentations but did not attend the meeting.

“These agencies are under the direct control of the governor’s office and they have been directed not to cooperate with the committee,” she said.

Gibbons, a first-term Republican who lost in the June primary, will be out of office Dec. 31.

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