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July 1, 2015

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Education:

School District to hang on to 1,000 teachers, maintain class sizes

Dwight Jones

Dwight Jones

Carolyn Edwards

Carolyn Edwards

The budget situation for the Clark County School District is looking less dire after about $250 million in additional state funds were allocated to the district by the Legislature last weekend.

Up until last week, the School District was looking to bridge a $407 million budget shortfall by, among other measures, laying off more than 1,800 employees.

Now, the district plans to use the $250 million in additional state revenue to maintain class sizes, restore counselors and school support staff targeted for elimination and keep about 1,000 teaching positions.

Employees who were expecting to take furlough days and pay more for health insurance premiums under the proposed budget cuts can also breathe a sigh of relief.

But there is still a $150 million budget gap that needs to be filled, the School District’s Chief Financial Officer Jeff Weiler told board members during a six-hour regular board meeting Tuesday night.

“Clearly, we still have a gap, but it’s a much smaller gap,” he said. “We’ve made up $250 million, which is amazing given where we were a week ago.”

Superintendent Dwight Jones agreed. “Even though we’re still going to still have to make cuts, it’s a lot better than where we were,” he said.

To make up the remainder of the budget shortfall, the district will maintain some proposed cuts, such as eliminating 200 bus driver positions, slashing the textbook and supplies budget in half and freezing salary increases.

About 600 central office positions that include administrators and support staff, and an undetermined number of special education, English language learner and literacy specialists will still be cut, said Bill Garis, the School District’s acting chief human resources officer.

The Legislature voted on a series of budget-balancing measures — mainly extending taxes set to expire to fill a $650 million budget hole — that sent unanticipated dollars back to the cash-strapped district, staving off teacher layoffs.

On Sunday, state lawmakers approved a $2.1 billion statewide education budget for the next biennium, which will increase the state’s basic funding per student. The School District is expected to receive $5,136 per student next year, which is $383 more per student than proposed in Gov. Brian Sandoval’s original budget.

Balancing the School District budget is still contingent on reaching concessions with the four employee unions, Weiler said.

Clark County Education Association President Ruben Murillo said the majority of the union’s 12,000 members are against the proposed pay cuts and concessions, even if that means teacher layoffs.

“Teacher morale is pretty low,” he said. “Teachers are just worried. For them, the fear of the unknown is what’s getting to them — am I going to have a job? What’s my salary and benefits going to look like?”

School Board President Carolyn Edwards said she sympathized with employees as the district finalized budget cuts.

“There is a lot of mistrust and a lot of unsettledness within the district, especially given there is talk of layoffs,” she said. “There are people currently today sitting in their buildings not knowing, and they’re terrified and they’re scared.”

“If we could do whatever can happen to move quickly to address (staffing), we can bring some calm back into our district,” she said. “This has been very difficult.”

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