School district could face $1 million shortfall
MINDEN – Douglas County school trustees got a cold shot of reality Tuesday from Business Services Director Rick Kester.
A “deadly combination” of rising health care costs, increasing utility bills and shrinking enrollment could force the school district to make about $1 million in cuts this budget year, he said. And Friday, Superintendent Pendery Clark said if state legislators refuse to provide additional aid, the district could be forced to cut some jobs. “If we’re not successful (with the Legislature), there will be budget cuts,” Clark said. With 87 percent of district spending related to personnel, it “realistically means people will have to be cut,” she said.
School board member Jim Keegan said Tuesday that Clark’s summarization would surprise many local residents. “I don’t think there’s 10 people in this whole valley who understand that,” Keegan said. “It could be a freaking, financial major problem.”
Board President Cheri Johnson said services that Douglas County students and parents are accustomed to also might be trimmed if the Legislature does not provide adequate funding during its session, which ends June 1.
The discussion came as trustees reviewed the district’s tentative 2001-02 budget.
Trustee George Echan said he was frustrated by the appearance of Wendell Williams, a Las Vegas Assemblyman, during a March rally for additional funding.
“What’s he doing there?” Echan asked. “He’s the target of the damn march.”
Echan also expressed frustration with Gov. Kenny Guinn. “What’s wrong with doing the march at the (governor’s) mansion?” he asked. “Why aren’t we calling on the governor?”
Echan said he wants Guinn to help schools and wants signs focusing attention on the governor prepared for a second Douglas County rally planned April 26.
Clark said four of Nevada’s 17 school districts are on the verge of going bankrupt. “There’s a political cost to inaction,” she said. Clark wants that message conveyed to legislators.
Kester also told trustees the budget is based on an assumption enrollment will shrink by 83 students during the upcoming school year. “In my 21 years (with the district), I’ve never talked to a board with this kind of explosive budget information,” Kester said. “To get nothing (from the Legislature) is a devastating situation.” It is difficult to restructure an employee health plan to provide for 30 percent increases in health care claims, he added.
Trustees unanimously approved the tentative budget Tuesday night.
A public hearing on the proposed budget is set for the board’s May 16 meeting at Kingsbury Middle School.
CAN CUT HERE
(you can stop now, Pat)
Clark said Friday the upcoming legislative rally is not counterproductive, despite Guinn’s warning to superintendents last week that help is not on the way. Nevada’s long-term funding problem should be addressed by a major overhaul of the state’s tax system, Guinn told superintendents. A study is tentatively planned before the next legislative session, Clark said.
Meanwhile, districts need a short-term funding solution, she said. Clark said Douglas County employees have not had a cost-of-living raise in the past two years. “Something needs to be done for K-12,” she said. “It may not be completely fixed, but we’re asking for some sort of cost of living raise.”
District officials want to retain their ability to attract teachers and maintain competitive salaries for veteran teachers, Clark said. A potential 20-30 percent increase in employee health care costs could cause a 2 percent budget cut, she added.
Legislators should realize if funding is not increased, numerous districts face immediate problems, Clark said. “I think (Guinn) recognizes where (superintendents are) coming from. We’re there because that’s our job,” Clark added. The rally’s purpose is to make the district’s message “visible,” she said.
Because gaming and sales tax revenues have flattened recently, Clark said an additional revenue source is probably needed. “It’s a problem,” she said. “And it’s our job to let people know what our problems are.”
In other business Tuesday, a new design for report cards to be used for K-2 students was shown to school board members. The “Competency Progress Report(s)” will define a student’s contribution to group discussions, ability to complete tasks and if they speak with an appropriate voice.
A child’s ability to read and write is also graded separately. A “reader profile” scores a child’s development level and provides target ratings. Also, 20-minute meetings are scheduled for teachers and parents to discuss the cards, said Zephyr Cove’s principal Robbie Robeison.
Also Tuesday, Douglas High School Principal Charlie Condron updated trustees on the school’s study by Northwest Accreditation officials. A visit by Northwest is planned for May, Condron said. Preparation by the school revealed DHS needs to be “more creative” in offering curriculum to students. Teachers are also analyzing effective ratings of various programs.
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