A Brinks truck filled with gold bars from Fort Knox couldn’t sate the Clark County School District’s appetite for money. Consider the events of the past week.
Thanks largely to state lawmakers, the district will receive $154 million more next year than it did last year. That’s a healthy increase for a general fund approaching $2.5 billion, especially with enrollment projected to decline for the second consecutive year.
Fewer students, more funding: That should result in a worry-free financial year. Except the the goalposts keep moving. Superintendent Jesus Jara now says the district needs even more money — $167 million — to pay its bills. District officials say they need to reduce expenses by $17 million this year and next year to balance the budget.
That’s a spending problem, not a revenue problem. An actual “cut” occurs when you must decrease spending because there’s less money than the year before.
On the other hand, spending less in one area because you seek to boost spending in another is called prioritization. For instance, the district is giving employees a 3 percent pay increase. To help pay for it, Mr. Jara announced Monday that he had eliminated 170 dean positions.
Regardless of the wisdom of Mr. Jara’s decision, the root cause of the layoffs wasn’t a lack of money. It was how district officials allocated resources. Mr. Jara and the School Board’s decision to increase employee compensation made it necessary to decrease other expenses. Gov. Steve Sisolak promised teachers a 3 percent raise, but the school district wasn’t obligated to use the money as the governor desired.
This is emblematic of how district officials have repeatedly created a dubious budget-cut narrative. They receive more money than the previous year, but rather than use those additional funds to maintain expenditures, they create new programs or dole out raises. They then bemoan a budget “shortfall” and the need for “cuts.” The charade ends with district officials sticking their hands out for more dollars like street-corner mendicants.
You can’t fix this system by throwing money at it, because district officials, education unions and public school “advocates” will keep redefining “adequate” spending as just a little bit more than taxpayers provided. Recall it was just four years ago that lawmakers imposed the largest tax hike in state history, $1.3 billion, to be directed to the public schools.
The Clark County School District needs both an outside fiscal and performance audit. These might help restore the public trust that the district has squandered over the years thanks to annual budget “crises” and dismal academic results.
Directing funds to new programs and positions makes sense at times. Eliminating ineffective programs is important and beneficial. But prioritizing certain spending over other options isn’t the equivalent of enduring a budget cut.