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October 8, 2015

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CCSD budget, unburdened by cutbacks, wins easy approval

Reduction In Force Notice

On Wednesday night, the Clark County School District emailed a Reduction In Force notice to all employees. The letter, written by Chief Financial Officer Jeff Weiler, is standard procedure for whenever any positions may be eliminated from the district.

The reduction in force is not expected to impact teachers -- only employees overseeing remaining funds left over from the 1998 capital bond program, according to School District spokeswoman Amanda Fulkerson.

"A reduction in bond funding along with other potential changes in staffing needs may require a reduction of a limited number of support, licensed and administrative positions," Weilier wrote in the letter. "I want to assumre you that this decision is not intended in any way as a reflection upon any employee's professional skills. In addition, we will be working as much as possible to identify vacant positions for which the reduced employees may be qualified."

The Clark County School Board unanimously approved a $2.1 billion final budget for next school year, which includes funding for nearly 50 new special education teaching assistants and summer remediation programs for middle and high school students.

The issue: By June 8, the Clark County School District must submit a final budget to the state Taxation Department. This budget document outlines all revenues and expenses for fiscal year 2014 — which begins July 1 — and represents the funding priorities for the nation's fifth-largest school district.

The vote: 6-0, with School Board member Erin Cranor absent.

The impact: After several years of drastic cutbacks, the School District is finally seeing a budget that doesn't include severe cuts, said interim Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky.

Clark County's 312,000 students next year will be buoyed by increased property tax revenues and a slight uptick in state per-pupil funding, according to district estimates. Pending approval from Carson City, additional state funding is also expected for class-size reduction, full-day kindergarten and English-language learner programs.

"We hope this budget means the beginning of our rebuilding process," Skorkowsky said, addressing the School Board on Wednesday.

Not much has changed from the tentative budget, which was approved by the board on April 3.

However, the final budget includes several additional funding priorities:

The School District plans to reallocate funds from the previous school organization system and eliminate some vacant positions. This will save the district $4.3 million.

With additional funding and budget savings, the district plans to hire 46 teaching assistants to help special-education students.

The remainder will go to several summer and online courses to help remedial students:

• $1.5 million will go toward a summer credit recovery program for high school seniors who are just shy of the 22.5 credits necessary to graduate.

• $750,000 will go toward an online credit recovery program, which officials say will help increase the number of high school graduates.

• $650,000 will go toward a summer "bridge" program to help remedial middle school students prepare for high school.

Since this is a legislative year, the School District is expected to create an "amended final budget" for the School Board to approve in July or August.

This amended budget document will include any new state funding for education programs, as well as the potential impacts from sequestration, which is forcing across-the-board cuts to federal education grant programs nationwide.

School Board members seemed pleased with the budget priorities set by the School District.

Board member Deanna Wright said she was relieved the state did not take $20 million from the district's capital project fund to supplement the state's general operating budget.

During the recession, the cash-strapped state government took a percentage of local government money to balance the state budget. The state has taken $85 million in Clark County schools since the recession began.

This practice — common among Dillon's Rule states, such as Nevada — has been a "sensitive issue" for the School District, said Chief Financial Officer Jeff Weiler.

School Board member Carolyn Edwards was particularly critical of the state's funding formula, which has taken more than $300 million in surplus property tax money from Clark County schools to fund rural school districts and other state projects.

During the boom era, this wasn't such a problem since Clark County had surplus funds, Edwards said. During the recession, however, the state's raiding of local coffers hurt cash-strapped schools, she said.

State lawmakers are currently debating changing the funding formula for Nevada's 17 school districts.

"Clearly, the Nevada plan isn't working," Edwards said, blasting the funding formula. "It only works in good times, and it doesn't work in bad times."

For more information about the budget, view this PDF.

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