Thursday, June 13, 2019 | 12:05 a.m.
Emotions ran high during an education town hall at UNLV Wednesday night as state lawmakers and education activists discussed the state’s new funding formula and a plan to cut 170 dean positions from the Clark County School District.
Shadow Ridge High School dean Cristal Boisseau, like many others in the district, took issue with the manner in which CCSD Superintendent Jesus Jara announced the cuts this week — via an online video.
The cuts would close a funding deficit of $17 million for the next school year but would take a valuable administrator position from the middle school and high school levels. The dean handles disciplinary issues, meaning the cuts could jeopardize school safety, school administrators repeatedly said.
Jara told the crowd the decision was not one he came to lightly, saying he wanted to keep the cuts away from teachers.
“My commitment has always been you have to cut furthest away from the classroom,” he said.
John Vellardita, the executive director of the Clark County Education Association, said that while the union hasn’t come out against the cuts, they will oppose any shifting of the deans' responsibilities to teachers.
“The services that any of these deans provided are not going to be transferred to you, not happening. It’s just not going to happen,” he said.
The cuts have to end, and Nevada school districts need to receive more money, he said.
The talk eventually shifted to the overhaul of the state’s funding formula. Near the end of the recently concluded state legislative session, education funding received an overhaul for the first time in over five decades.
The bill enacting the change, Senate Bill 543, will revamp the state’s 52-year-old funding formula, granting more per-pupil funding to students with further needs, such as English-language learners and at-risk students.
Sens. Joyce Woodhouse, D-Henderson, and Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, were two of the bill’s primary sponsors, having worked on it since 2013. Denis stressed the amount of time change can take, saying he came into politics to help his kids in the education system, but is now in it to help his grandkids.
One of the most common criticisms of the bill was the last-minute introduction of language giving the governor more power over the final funding numbers. Opponents said that language does little to protect money from being used for other reasons rather than education.
Caryne Shea, the vice president of Honoring Our Public Education for Nevada, said a 3% room tax increase approved in 2009 for schools has been used for other budgetary reasons since its passage.
“I’m very tired of having our children used as an ad campaign to raise taxes,” she said.
Educators criticized the bill because it didn’t include revenue increases, instead redefining how the current funds are distributed.
Vellardita said the conversation is not going to end without further funding being allocated.
“In 2021, the next legislative session, this is not going to be any different,” he said. “Unless there is new revenue that is introduced, we’re going to be talking about the same thing with this new plan.”
Senate Bill 551, which extends the state’s modified business tax, also was discussed briefly. The bill was passed without a two-thirds majority, which Republicans say was unconstitutional because the bill should be classified as a tax increase and therefore require the two-thirds vote.
Woodhouse said that if the bill were defeated in court, Gov. Steve Sisolak may call a special session in order to fix the hole that would cause in funding.