Las Vegas Sun

November 24, 2015

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School officials told to brace for cuts in excess of 10 percent

Walt Rulffes

Walt Rulffes

Brian Sandoval

Brian Sandoval

Clark County school officials who met with Gov.-elect Brian Sandoval this week to discuss the budget described the tone as gloomy and were told to brace for cuts in excess of 10 percent.

Walt Rulffes, the outgoing Clark County schools superintendent, said Tuesday’s meeting was profoundly pessimistic.

Carolyn Edwards, vice president of the school board, said the budget outlook is “not going to be pretty; we all know that.”

Gov. Jim Gibbons had asked all state agencies to assume budget cuts of at least 10 percent. But public schools, including the Clark County district, and colleges, including UNLV, have resisted cuts of that magnitude.

On Tuesday, Dale Erquiaga, Sandoval’s senior adviser and a former financial analyst for the Clark County School District, told school officials that cuts will be “something in excess of that,” Rulffes said.

“I don’t know if we’ll know much more than that before Jan. 24,” when Sandoval announces his budget, Rulffes said.

Erquiaga, who confirmed Rulffes' account of the meeting, said the governor’s staff was assuming the state budget deficit would be at least $1.2 billion.

Estimates of the deficit have been as high as $3 billion, and a Sun analysis has pegged it at about $2.2 billion.

Education — including higher education — accounts for more than half of all state spending and may bear the brunt of budget cuts.

The Clark County School District’s annual budget exceeds $2 billion, and three out of four public-school students lives in Clark County.

Furlough days for state employees — which saved millions in salary costs and helped balance last year’s state budget — will be continued, Rulffes quoted Erquiaga as saying.

Rulffes also said Erquiaga wants to streamline the myriad state funding sources, which Erquiaga studied as a school district analyst.

“They want to put all the money in one bucket and the bucket will be smaller,” Rulffes summarized.

Also attending the meeting was Terri Janison, the outgoing president of the Clark County School Board, who has accepted a job as a senior aide to Sandoval.

“I was wearing two hats,” Janison said, referring to her two jobs.

Officials from smaller school districts — including those in Douglas, Churchill and Nye counties — were also at the meeting.

Sandoval wants to see the use of vouchers to allow parents greater choice in schools; the encouragement of innovative charter schools; and an end to what is known as social promotion, or advancing unprepared students to the next grade, Rulffes said.

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