Douglas County schools piece together budget
ZEPHYR COVE, Nev. – With input from parents, teachers, administrators and even students, the Douglas County school board was able to patch up a $5.5 million hole in the school district’s funding. Teachers and administrators seemed to agree that the main goal was to avoid cutting programs that would directly affect students.
“One thing we need to keep in mind is our business is to educate students,” said Susan Desrosiers, a second and third grade teacher at Zephyr Cove Elementary, during the public comment period of the April 12 board meeting. “If we were a hamburger business we wouldn’t cut our hamburger production. We’d cut the peripheral stuff.”
But having cut millions of dollars over previous year, there was very little left to reduce that would not directly impact students.
The tentative budget includes the reduction of more than 50 positions, including 36 certified teaching positions, 15 classified support staff and 3 bus drivers. Elementary art and music programs were cut by a third and physical education programs were cut by nearly half.
Though it wasn’t in Noonan’s initial budget, the board decided to cut secondary athletics by 15 percent and use the $40,000 instead to save the student intervention funds.
Though the tentative budget did pass, changes to it could be in store as the district won’t know the final level of state funding until the state budget is passed later this year.
“There’s just nothing left,” superintendent Dr. Lisa Noonan said. “I think we’re going to have to accept the fact that the legislature holds the key.”
Noonan will be forced to issue layoff notices to staff before the May 1 deadline, before the state legislature decides on a budget. She said staff may be called back if funding is more than currently expected. The tentative budget is a worst-case scenario, board president Sharla Hales said.
“I want to keep people working but my first obligation is to the students’ experience,” Noonan said.
Noonan decided on what to cut from the budget by examining what the district spends. In three open meetings, she invited the public to suggest what should be cut and how the district could save money. Between 40 and 50 parents, teachers and administrators showed up to an April 5 meeting at Zephyr Cove Elementary. Their list of suggestions filled pages of a oversized notebook.
“My belief is at the lake we’re already at the core,” Zephyr Cove Elementary parent Greg Felton said at the meeting. “If we’re standing around deciding where to use the scalpel next, I think we should move to the real cushy programs.”
Felton pointed out the differences in electives between George Whittell High School and Douglas High School. He also suggested corporate funding for the schools.
“They need well-educated employees and we need funding to get there,” he said
Other suggestions included combining schools, cutting MAP testing, cutting athletics completely, shutting down the administrative office for a week to a month during summer and reducing the substitute budget among others.
Noonan compiled the suggestions into a spread sheet. During the school board meeting she went through them one by one explaining why they wouldn’t save the district money or what negotiations or requirements were needed before they could be implemented. Some in the audience thought the budget could have been examined more carefully before the cuts came down on what they did.
“My concern is that we’re looking at the same programs instead of taking the extra few weeks to find the appropriate places to cut,” Felton said during the public comment period.
Of the $3 million in cuts that go directly to the elementary or the secondary sections, more than $2 million in cuts go to elementary schools and about $900,000 go to the secondary schools. The rest are district wide. Noonan hopes to balance this out if the legislature settles on a larger state education budget than is currently proposed, she said.
At the April 5 meeting, teachers voiced concerns that, with cuts this deep, students may choose to go to other schools. Parents said they are worried about the schools ability to provide quality education and the options the kids will have as they grow older.
“It’s definitely a concern,” Felton said. “It’s not just how well our kids can compete within the states. It’s international too. It’s pretty obvious the U.S. is in a horse race with a number of other countries.”