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December 18, 2014

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School District’s funding influx clears way for new teacher hires, school buses

School funding over the years

School Board member Erin Cranor asked School District staff for an analysis of personnel funding over the past several years to determine if the district's priority is truly on supporting classrooms.

A preliminary look at district funding since 2010 found that the number of school-based and central office positions has dipped over the past several years.

In 2010, there were 23,609 school-based positions, which represented 91 percent of all positions. That figure decreased by about 1,500 positions over the years, settling to 22,164 this year, which represents about 92 percent of all positions.

In 2010, there were 743 central office positions, which represented 2.9 percent of the total positions. That number went down by 100 positions over the years, settling to 643 positions in 2013, which represents 2.7 percent of the total positions.

The Clark County School Board approved increased funding for new teacher hires, computers and school buses on Wednesday.

The issue: Each spring, the Clark County School District must draft a tentative budget, which outlines all the revenue and expenses for the following fiscal year. The School Board must approve the tentative budget — in this case, for fiscal year 2014 — before it heads to the state Taxation Department on April 15.

The vote: 5-1, with School Board member Chris Garvey absent and School Board member Erin Cranor dissenting.

What it means: Unlike previous years in the aftermath of the Great Recession, the School District will begin to reap the benefits of an economy in slow recovery and a Legislature eager to boost education funding.

The district is anticipating a $56.4 million increase in state per-pupil funding, from $5,257 per student this year to $5,445 per student next year.

For the first time since 2009, property tax revenue is expected to increase — albeit it only by $1.8 million.

In addition, student enrollment is expected to rise by 1,500 students to a record high 312,782 students across the district. That means the district can expect to receive an additional $8.1 million from the state in per-pupil funding.

This sounds like a hefty increase, especially when considering that state per-pupil funding rose about $1,000 since 2007. However, over the last four years, the Legislature has taken $85 million from the district's capital funds to balance its budget and given it back to the district as state per-pupil funding.

Essentially, that means the district paid for some of the increase it is receiving, officials said.

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With an increase in funding, the district plans to restore some of the hundreds of millions of dollars it was forced to cut in the wake of the worst recession in over 50 years.

Using money from its arbitration win against the teachers union, the district hopes to hire about 2,000 new teachers next year after 1,015 teaching positions vacated by resignations and retirements weren't replaced this year.

An increase in state funding would help hire the following educator positions:

• About $60 million would go toward 800 additional teacher positions, resulting in a three-student decrease in average class sizes. Currently, average class sizes are 38 students in grades six to 12, and about 34 students in grades four and five.

• About $2 million would go toward hiring additional assistant principals at elementary schools with more than 600 students.

• About $9.4 million will fund 94.5 licensed staff and 45 transportation support personnel to address the growth in the district's special needs student population.

The district is also looking at launching a decade-long, $34 million financing plan for technology and transportation. Here's how that breaks down:

• About $15 million would go to replacing 107 buses that are over 14 years old and $9 million would go toward purchasing 65 new buses to accommodate the growth in the number of special-needs children in the district.

• The remaining $10 million would go to replacing classroom and school computers, about a third of which are over 5 years old. About 15,000 computers across the district can't support the latest version of the Microsoft Windows operating system, much less the newest version being released now, Interim Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky said.

The district also plans to increase its reserve fund, which is used in case of emergencies.

School Board policy mandates that the district maintain a 2 percent ending fund balance, which is the revenue money left over after accounting for expenses. Since 2011, the board has granted an exemption, allowing the district to keep a 1 percent ending fund balance.

Next fiscal year, the district will try to boost its ending fund balance to 1.25 percent, or about $35.6 million.

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A large portion of the increase in anticipated state funding will be eaten up by increases in mandated employer retirement contributions. The additional state funding may also go toward buttressing losses in federal funding due to the sequester.

A 2 percent increase in the Public Employees Retirement System contribution rate will cost the district about $24 million.

Sequestration is expected to reduce federal education funding to the School District by about $14.2 million. Affected federal grants may include funding for "turnaround" schools, literacy programs and services for low-income, special-needs and English-language learner students.

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A final budget is expected to be adopted at a School Board meeting on May 15. The final budget must be submitted to the state by June 8; however, because this is a legislative year, the School District will likely bring back an amended final budget in July for board approval. The next fiscal year begins July 1.

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