CARSON CITY, Nev. - Gov. Jim Gibbons on Wednesday proposed sweeping changes to public education and eliminating collective bargaining for teachers and other local government employees to reduce spending in the face of a growing revenue shortfall.
In public education, he called for eliminating full-day kindergarten and the class size reduction program.
He also called for eliminating "hold harmless" provisions that protect school districts with declining enrollments. Carson School District has had declining enrollments for seven years but was protected from loss of state funding by that provision.
With just five months of the fiscal year gone, general fund revenues are already $72 million short of the projections used to build the state budget.
Gibbons said the proposals will be drafted for a special session of the Legislature he is expected to call in February.
Most contentious on the list is elimination of collective bargaining. All public employees except state workers currently have collective bargaining rights, which conservatives say have dramatically inflated salaries.
Assemblymen Pete Goicoechea of Eureka and James Settelmeyer of Gardnerville agreed that will be the most contentious of the proposals, making it hard to get through a Democrat-controlled Legislature.
Full-day kindergarten is budgeted at $25.5 million a year this biennium to cover schools in low-income areas. Most kindergarten classes in Nevada operate half a day.
Gibbons also called for adoption of a statewide school voucher system to give parents school choice. He called for elimination of the elected state Board of Education, replacing it with a board of five advisers, three appointed by the governor and two by the Legislature. In addition, the superintendent would be his appointment instead of the board's choice.
Finally, his plan would change Nevada law to allow the state to qualify for Race to the Top stimulus grants. Current state law prohibits using student test scores to evaluate teachers, which disqualifies Nevada from getting those grants. Gibbons wants to repeal that prohibition.
In a joint statement, Democratic legislators termed the cuts "draconian," charging Gibbons was balancing the state budget on the backs of schoolchildren.
Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford of Las Vegas said Gibbons has "abdicated his responsibility to Nevada's kids."
Gibbons faces at least two challengers in the Republican primary - former U.S. District Judge Brian Sandoval and former North Las Vegas Mayor Mike Montadon. Rory Reid, chairman of the Clark County Commission, is the only declared Democrat in the race.
Reid said the proposals are nothing more than "a bunch of old, hackneyed political phrases tied together."
"He's taken the right-wing playbook off the shelves and dusted it off and used it to write a press release," Reid said.
Settelmeyer, Goicoechea and fellow Republican Assemblyman Don Gustavson said most of the proposals, including giving local school districts more control over how they spend their money, make sense. But all three admitted changing the collective bargaining mandate will be very difficult to get through the Legislature.