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June 30, 2015

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Education:

CCSD’s fiscal outlook brightens as budget discussions begin

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Richard Brian

Jeff Weiler, chief financial officer for the Clark County School District, speaks during a 2008 budget meeting at Western High School.

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What a difference two years can make.

In 2011, the Clark County School District was faced with more than $400 million in budget cuts as the recession continued to ravage the Las Vegas economy.

The worst of those cuts were averted in the final days of the Legislature when Gov. Brian Sandoval and lawmakers extended some business and sales taxes that were set to expire.

As state lawmakers debate the next biennial K-12 education budget this Legislative session, the School District is breathing a little easier.

After cutting hundreds of millions of dollars in the wake of the Great Recession, the district is seeing revenues rebound.

The local school support tax revenue — which represents 40 percent of the district's $2 billion budget — is anticipated to cross the $800 million mark. That would be a record high for the district, about $100 million more than it received in prerecession 2007.

In addition, for the first time since 2009, the School District is anticipating a slight increase in property tax revenue, which represents about a fifth of the district's general fund budget.

The nation's fifth-largest school district also estimates another record-breaking student enrollment next school year. The district anticipates an additional 1,500 students, which would bring the total number of students to an estimated 312,782. Additional state support to the district would accompany those students.

Furthermore, the Legislature is expected to send more state funding to local school districts for a bevy of education initiatives, including full-day kindergarten and English-language learner support. If lawmakers change the K-12 funding formula, Clark County may stand to receive more state money, as well.

How much, and whether it will be enough to match the district's falling expenditures, remains to be seen. However, the additional revenue will go a long way toward helping the district recover from the recession, according to Jeff Weiler, the district's chief financial officer.

Since the recession, the School District has seen more than $500 million in reductions, according to district officials. Last year, the district was forced to not replace more than 1,000 teachers who left the district through attrition.

The district's first priority will be to reduce class sizes by hiring teachers and other school staff, Weiler said. The district hopes to hire 2,000 new teachers using money from an arbitration decision that allowed the district to freeze teacher salaries.

Over the next four or five years, the district also will begin to restore its reserves, Weiler said.

Currently, the district has an ending fund balance of 1 percent of its total budget. School Board policy mandates a minimum reserve level of 2 percent, which would be used to pay for emergencies.

"We really are in a situation where we are not in a fiscally prudent situation with the 1 percent," School Board member Erin Cranor said.

The School District will release its tentative budget figures on April 3. The School Board must adopt a tentative budget before a state-imposed April 15 deadline.

A final budget must be submitted to the state Department of Taxation by June 8. The 2014 fiscal year begins July 1.

The board is expected to have a lively discussion about the district's budget priorities at its next work session meeting at 8 a.m. April 3, at the Edward Greer Education Center.

"The budget is the most 'show me' and least 'tell me' part of what our priorities are," Cranor said. "It literally is putting money where our mouth is.”

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