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Education

Readin’, writin’, reality

Things could be worse for education, but it’s hard to imagine how

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Illustration: Ryan Olbrysh

If you have a child in school in Nevada, you might want to stop reading right here.

Yes, during last week’s special session, our legislators were able to reach a bipartisan compromise and adopt a 6.9 percent cut to education instead of the 10 percent suggested by Gov. Jim Gibbons. And yes, Nevada’s budget situation is so bad that it was nearly impossible for education not to be affected.

But this is ridiculous. The Clark County School District will start handing out the news to its employees this week, and Joyce Haldeman, associate superintendent of community and government relations and the head lobbyist for the district in Carson City, says it’s going to be downright ugly. There will be job losses, perhaps in the hundreds, maybe even thousands, and teachers lucky enough to still have jobs are unlikely to find much to be happy about in the future.

To begin with, 6.9 percent translates to $78 million for CCSD, an astronomical enough amount, but when you add in the lost revenue from the decline in the local school-support tax, that number balloons to $123 million over the next biennium. If you have a child in a school in Nevada and are still reading this, don’t say you weren’t warned. To chip away at that number, legislators adopted an amendment that allows school districts to raise the number of students in each class by two for first through third grade. Haldeman says raising class sizes in those grades by just one student will cost 270 jobs, and the 540 jobs cut by raising it to two students will trim $30 million. Teachers displaced from those grades will hopefully find jobs in other grades depending on the natural attrition within the district, which Haldeman says could total 750 by the beginning of the next school year. Still, many teachers may balk at having to teach a higher grade. “There are many teachers who likely won’t want those jobs.”

The district also has $40 million in ending fund balance—money it hasn’t spent yet—that can be used to offset the impact. In addition, legislators adopted another amendment that waives a requirement to use certain funds for textbooks that will save another $10 million (although that comes at a great impact educationally, as textbooks will not be updated).

Another $11 million can be trimmed by reducing the number of jobs in the central office and school administrations by 10 percent—at least 100 jobs, possibly more. “That’s going to be a really hard one,” Haldeman says, adding, “There’s always the perception [by the public] that we have too many administrative positions.”

Assuming all those steps are taken, the district will still be faced with $32 million in cuts. That’s where the teachers themselves come in. Haldeman says two proposals are being brought to the bargaining table—expanding the number of furlough days (days in which kids are already out of school for teachers’ professional-development days) and doing away with step increments, a raise of approximately 2 percent a year. That second one alone would save $26 million, but teachers who are already suffering the effects of budget cuts of years past have to approve it. If they refuse, Haldeman says many more positions will be cut, but could not be specific.

“Bottom line: There’s nothing good about this,” Haldeman says. And if you have a child in school in Nevada and are still reading this, you may now proceed to genuinely worry.

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Ken Miller is Las Vegas Weekly's associate editor, having previously served as assistant features editor at the Las Vegas Sun ...

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