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October 13, 2015

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School Board critical of Sandoval plan to use $300 million for state budget

Board president says plan ‘tantamount to a tax increase’


Justin M. Bowen / File photo

The Clark County School District administration building in Las Vegas.

Click to enlarge photo

Carolyn Edwards

Click to enlarge photo

Gov. Brian Sandoval addresses the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at a luncheon held at the Four Seasons Hotel in Las Vegas.

The Clark County School Board harshly criticized this morning a plan by Gov. Brian Sandoval to use $300 million in Clark County school construction bond money to help balance the state budget.

The board voted 7-0 to oppose the use of such money to balance the budget or "for any other purpose" not approved by voters in the original 1998 vote for the multi-billion dollar bond.

Overall, Gov. Sandoval wants more than $400 million reassigned in what are known as debt service reserves for school districts.

Jeff Weiler, the district's chief financial officer, said complying with the Sandoval plan would force Clark County to raise property taxes or go to the public markets with new higher-interest bonds that would be difficult to sell.

"This is tantamount to a tax increase," said Carolyn Edwards, the school board's president.

Board member Deanna Wright compared the move to a big brother stealing money from a little brother's piggy bank.

Linda Young, a board member, raised the possibility of joining with other Nevada school districts to sue the state over the move.

"This is unacceptable," she said.

John Cole, the newest board member, is a former member of the committee overseeing the $5 billion voter-approved bond. The reserves come from that bond.

"We're robbing Peter to pay Paul," Cole said, "we're robbing the future to pay the present."

There was some irony to the dispute because Dale Erquiaga, a former policy analyst with the district, is now a senior adviser to Sandoval and presumably played a role in his budget plan.

Weiler said selling such new bonds would carry higher interest rates and hurt the district's ability to maintain and repair schools. He said the district would be unable to pay minimum principal and interest payments starting in 2013.

Her voice breaking, Chris Garvey, a trustee, said, "How long do I have to tell my constituents to hold on" because renovation of older schools would be delayed.

Weiler replied, "We're only able to do break/fix maintenance," meaning if a major system like air conditioning breaks, it can be fixed. But carpet, paint and other repairs are done on a 17-year cycle.

Meanwhile, Weiler said the current proposed cuts were equivalent to $870 per student.

The district faces a deficit exceeding $250 million, Weiler said. The number includes a sharp fall in property tax and room tax receipts.

He said that if the deficit isn't eased, it would mean as many as 3,800 layoffs of teachers and other positions.

Edwards, president of the school board, said "for all of the teachers and support staff out there, this is not what we're going to do." She acknowledged "rumors are already running wild."

The district must prepare a tentative budget by April, when layoffs would begin, and a final budget by May. The legislature won't approve a final budget until June.

At the same time, the district must negotiate new contracts with teachers, administrators and support staff.

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