Tentative 2010-11 budget would slash 1,077 positions by July 1

The Clark County School Board Wednesday approved a tentative 2010-11 budget that is $30 million short of closing what is now a $141 million gap created by reduced state funding and declining property tax revenues.

It’s red ink the School Board plans to clear before June 8, when a final budget must be submitted to the state.

A total of 1,077 positions are at stake if the district cannot find alternatives to job cuts to resolve the budget shortfall.

The Clark County School District already has identified 540 teaching and 109 administrative positions for possible elimination. The tentative budget requires cutting another 428 jobs to balance the budget for the new fiscal year that begins July 1.

Specifics of the new job cuts were not provided by district officials who emphasized the speculative nature of budgeting with so many unknowns. District officials also stressed that employees who lose their jobs also might be able to find other work within the school system.

There was hope that concessions on salary reductions and furlough days from the district’s four employee unions might be able to reduce the number of layoffs, but the district is forced to plan for the job cuts because of state-imposed budget deadlines.

School Board member Sheila Moulton said the term "tentative budget" should be "circled and underlined" for emphasis.

The fluid nature of both the economy and ongoing negotiations with employee unions is making it difficult for the district to plan for 2010-11. None of the four unions has reached an agreement with the district for next year. The teachers’ union and the district are going to arbitration.

"There are a few moving parts," said Jeff Weiler, the district’s chief financial officer. "This is probably as variable as I have ever seen."

Superintendent Walt Rulffes and Weiler expect the board will have to amend the final budget, perhaps after the new fiscal year starts in July.

Revenues were once estimated to be down $123 million, a shortfall that included a $45 million decline in property tax revenues. Now officials project that property tax revenues could be down by an additional $18 million.

"Again, all of this is estimates. This (new information) is from the state Department of Taxation," Weiler said.

Adding to the uncertainty is the rush by owners of commercial properties to appeal their assessed valuations. "So we’ll see. Stay tuned," Weiler said.

Less uncertain is the public appetite for switching more year-round schools to traditional nine-month calendars, a topic the School Board will consider at tonight’s regular meeting.

More than 20 parents from Glen Taylor, Twitchell and Vanderburg elementary schools spoke out Wednesday in favor of going back to nine-month schedules. One parent, Susan DeVito, said 12-month school calendars are disruptive and interfere with families’ routines.

"Give families their family members back," she said.

Converting 55 year-round schools to nine-month calendars could save the district another $12 million, but that figure is also fluid since School Board members have expressed interest in allowing for exceptions.

For 2010-2011, the district will be supplementing its operating budget with $40 million from its ending fund balance and $25 million from its capital budget. But districts officials worry about relying on one-time savings to balance the budget. That money won’t be available for future deficits.

Because the district is in such dire straits, Stephen Augspurger, executive director of the Clark County Association of School Administrators and Professional-technical Employees, said the district needs creative solutions.

Augspurger has called for all four bargaining units to sit down with district officials in a public forum to openly discuss the concessions needed to resolve the budget woes.

Neither the School Board nor the superintendent responded to Augspurger’s request.

When a former teacher complained about the teachers union going to arbitration instead of agreeing to concessions like the other unions, School Board member Carolyn Edwards urged the public not to jump to conclusions, since it’s hard to "know the whole truth" when there are so many competing interests involved in negotiations.

Ruben Murillo, president of the Clark County Education Association, which represents teachers, clapped silently in approval.

Contact reporter James Haug at jhaug@reviewjournal.com or 702-374-7917.

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