Las Vegas Sun

August 1, 2015

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Nevada education chief: Staffing hurt by cutbacks

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Keith Rheault

CARSON CITY – Furlough of state workers and a loss of health insurance benefits have contributed to the highest employee turnover in the state Department of Education in 20 years, its leader says.

The department has 160 authorized positions but only has 140 of them filled, says state Superintendent of Public Instruction Keith Rheault.

He told the Legislative Committee on Review of Base Budgets Wednesday that employees are asked to do more with less. The picture is the same in many other state agencies, Rheault said.

Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, chairwoman of the committee, opened the hearing with criticism of Gov. Jim Gibbons, who complained the legislative committee was exceeding its authority.

Woodhouse said the legislative budget staff has been denied information from the state Housing Division and the Medicaid program. There has been “a lack of cooperation,” she said.

Gibbons told his agencies any request for information by the legislative committee must be reviewed first by the governor’s office, then his office would determine what budget questions would be answered.

Woodhouse said there has been limited information supplied by the state Parole and Probation Division and the state Buildings and Grounds Division.

The Department of Education is headed by Rheault, who is appointed by the state Board of Education, not the governor.

Rheault said there is $11 million in state funding for his department, with $3.5 million removed in the last two to three years. He said another $1.1 million would be cut under directive from Gibbons to reduce budgets by 10 percent.

He said his staff has left due to retirement or for other jobs, such as in school districts, where salaries are frozen but health insurance benefits have not been reduced. Under the state law, state employees must take a furlough one day a month in an effort to save money.

Rheault said there has been concern there is not enough staff from his department in Clark County. He told the committee that the number has been increased from five workers to 29 staff in the Southern Nevada office in 20 years.

“I’m looking for a way to improve the Las Vegas office,” he said. But it takes just as many staff to help a rural county school district as it does to aid the Clark County School District," he said.

He hopes to station a quarter of his employees in Southern Nevada, Rheault said.

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