Las Vegas Sun

July 20, 2018

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School Board holds off on some cuts, will pursue furloughs

A meeting punctuated by emotional speakers and pleading students from a closing school led the Clark County School Board to postpone making some cuts proposed to bridge a multimillion-dollar budget shortfall.

Board members voted unanimously Thursday night to cut three administrative positions and 27 other unfilled positions. They accepted most of the proposed cuts and held off on a handful of other options, including a reduction in support staff positions.

Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky reminded board members that postponing cuts now would mean more later, as the School District continues to incur costs. He said he would be willing to take furlough days and that he would ask his staff to do the same.

The district needs to cut up to $80 million for the year to realize $50 million to $60 million in savings. Arbitration losses for the district are among factors that led to the shortfall. Board members approved more than $43 million in cuts on Aug. 24, and less than $14 million on Sept. 14. Board members set aside some of up to $4.1 million in cuts on Thursday night.

A few speakers Thursday night were frustrated that most of the cuts were hitting support staff and special education. One student, who said he is autistic, asked board members to keep special education services intact, and others noted that top administrators were making six figures while support staff were hit hard with cuts.

Some board members questioned whether the district was in compliance with federal requirements for disability services, and Skorkowski said it was.

The board’s vote also directed staff members to pursue up to two furlough days with unions but specified that the focus should be top-down, starting with administrators. The board is expected to receive an update on those talks at its Oct. 3 meeting.

Board members had previously agreed to cut the $2.5 million Burk Day Program, which has 89 full-time students at a cost of about $28,000 per student.

District spokeswoman Melinda Malone said the district would work on individual transition plans with each student in the program, which ends in mid-October.

Students were in the audience at the meeting, and some who spoke asked board members to keep Burk open until at least the end of the school year. One high school senior said the damage was done and that the district should consider cutting salaries of higher-ups.

Board member Linda Young said that while she initially agreed to the cuts, she now wants to revisit the issue. To reconsider a vote, a member on the prevailing side would need to make a motion on a future agenda.

Young also mentioned the possibility of asking the Legislature for a special session. One speaker said the Washoe County School District, which also faces a multimillion-dollar shortfall, should join Clark County and ask Gov. Brian Sandoval for the state’s help.

Board members also discussed the possibility of further auditing the district. Many speakers said an audit and more transparency were needed, citing a lack of trust.

Chief Financial Officer Jason Goudie said that depending on the scope, an outside audit in addition to the annual analysis that’s already being done could cost millions of dollars.

Glenn Christenson, Community Implementation Council chair and member of a recently-created district budget task force, said in a written statement the he recommended a comprehensive financial evaluation. The review would look at categories such as internal controls, which include who can authorize certain payments.

EideBailly is the firm that conducts the annual audit at a cost of $155,800 for the district. The district also pays the firm $26,400 for an annual Nevada PBS audit.

Most agreed that a forensic audit was not necessary, as it usually deals with criminal behavior and would be much more expensive than looking specifically at internal controls, for example.

Board member Lola Brooks said she spoke with forensic auditors and learned that these types of analyses can cost between $3 million and $5 million. She said that, after coding the Facebook and Twitter comments from the public and analyzing the data, most of what people want to know won’t be found in a forensic audit, such as improving future budget projections.

One major complaint is that the district is top heavy, Brooks said, and that administrative cuts would save money. She said officials should look at how many administrators there are and what they do. She also pointed to a common recommendation in forensic audits: a whistleblower hotline and system for processing tips.

The board took no action on the discussion-only item at the meeting and did not say when they wanted to revisit the issue. Trustees meet again Oct. 3.

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