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EDITORIAL: CCSD once again misleading the public about budget cuts

Updated May 21, 2020 - 9:33 pm

If only every newly unemployed person had to deal with the “cuts” facing the Clark County School District.

On Monday, school trustees received a presentation about how the coronavirus will affect the district’s finances. District officials told the public that they’re facing a $38 million shortfall because of the pandemic.

It’s not the whole story, however. Some perspective is in order.

Last year, the district’s amended final budget anticipated revenues of $2.443 billion. Two years ago, the district’s operating revenue was $2.344 billion. This year — after $38 million in virus “cuts” — the district expects revenues of $2.445 billion. So the district projects its spending will increase despite the virus and a slight decline in enrollment. That’s a year-to-year leap in the midst of the worst fiscal crisis in decades.

District officials claim this is a cut because they had wanted to spend even more. The tentative budget district number crunchers submitted earlier this year anticipated $2.483 billion in revenue. But when Nevada’s unemployment rate could top 25 percent, flat revenue is something to celebrate, not bemoan.

But the district has been running this playbook for years. Despite steady revenue increases, district officials and union leaders keep complaining publicly and disingenuously about budget shortfalls.

In 2017, the district claimed it had a $60 million budget hole. In 2018, it was a $68 million deficit. In 2019, Superintendent Jesus Jara eliminated school deans, before reversing himself, as part of an effort to close a supposed $17 million deficit. Let those in the education establishment talk long enough, and some will claim the district still hasn’t recovered from the $1 billion in funding it “lost” during the Great Recession.

District revenue was generally flat during the Great Recession, but it’s gone up steadily since. In 2013, the district’s total operating revenue was $1.962 billion. After years of “cuts,” its budget will be almost $500 million higher just seven years later. Even this underestimates how much goes to education. It doesn’t include more than $100 million a year for state-funded programs such as Zoom and Victory Schools.

Decling revenues aren’t the biggest reason for the district’s frequent budget problems. Blame increasing costs and collective bargaining laws. For instance, the district has already agreed to boost employee compensation by more than $57 million next year.

It’s possible that after Gov. Steve Sisolak gets around to calling a special session, the district will see an actual year-over-year decrease in revenue. That would cause budget distress — although it’s likely to be much less severe than what many out-of-work Nevada taxpayers will endure.

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