WASHINGTON — School budget cuts are not all bad because they tend to focus educators on the most important parts of their mission, Clark County schools Superintendent Walt Rulffes said Tuesday as he was being considered for a national honor.
Rulffes, who has overseen Southern Nevada public schools since 2005, is a finalist for national superintendent of the year. He and three other finalists talked on a panel about school change before being interviewed privately by judges.
In Rulffes’ case, the American Association of School Administrators said his fiscal management in the Clark County School District, whose 309,500 students makes it one of the largest school districts in the country, was one of the qualities earning him recognition.
Asked about managing school change with shrinking resources, Rulffes said there can be "silver linings." He has carried out cuts of $253 million to meet shortfalls in state funding in the last two years.
"It is not the dollar amount, it is how you go about it," said Rulffes, whose background was in school finance when he was hired as superintendent. He advised superintendents to persuade school board members and unions to embrace contingencies for inevitable downturns.
"Budget cuts, while they are difficult, they are not all bad and they can have somewhat of a cleansing effect on the system," Rulffes said, adding it forces educators to think "how you can do things more efficiently and maybe do things more in focus with what your mission is."
"Transformation can come as a result of budget cuts although that is not my preference," he said.
Rulffes said tight funding in Clark County broke down resistance to innovations like the use of "virtual learning" for advanced level courses. It also prodded schools to reach out to businesses and community groups.
"When you do budget cuts you fall back on what is your real mission," he said, advising that cuts should come in places "that are the farthest away from the classroom."
Others nominated for the superintendent award are Joyce C. Levey, of Tuscaloosa, Ala.; Elizabeth Molina Morgan of Washington County, Md., which includes Hagerstown; and Cynthia Stevenson of Jefferson County, Colo., which includes Golden.
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-783-1760.