While the tentative plan for next year’s budget is to keep spending the same, Superintendent Richard Stokes warned that certain expenses can’t go on being ignored.
He told school board members this week it’s time to start setting priorities for the future — and figuring out ways to pay for them.
As it stands now, he said, the $57.39 million budget is moving forward with staffing ratios set last year. In first through third grades, the average ratio is 22 students per teacher, and in fourth through 12th grades, the average is 25-to-1.
“This budget takes into account those staffing counts,” he said. “That’s the number of teachers we’re trying to budget for.”
All but one elementary school counselor position, a shared counselor between Mark Twain and Empire elementary schools, were eliminated last year.
“This budget does not have elementary school counselors in it,” Stokes said, adding that each counselor would cost the district $85,000 to $90,000.
He said he has been looking into possible alternatives, such as a program called Communities in Schools. Through the program, two volunteers — one at the elementary and the other at the middle school level — would come into the schools for one year.
In the second year, the school district would pay 30 percent of the elementary counselor’s salary and 50 percent of the salary of the counselor at the middle school.
“Those salaries are significantly less than what a full-time counselor would cost us,” Stokes said.
School board trustees suggested the board wait to see whether a school-based health center comes to fruition.
“We could be duplicating our services,” trustee Lynnette Conrad said.
Trustee Ron Swirczek argued the situation is more dire than that.
“I believe right now we have a tragedy about ready to happen if we don’t get those elementary school counselors back into place,” he said.
Funding for other programs is set to expire.
The federal $10 million Race to the Top grant has paid to restructure how education is delivered in the school district, as well as other programs. Stokes said the district also used some grant money to fund Jump Start, a partnership between the high schools and Western Nevada College that will allow students to combine their senior year of high school with their first year of college.
“It’s picking up some items that would have fallen to the general fund,” he said.
Swirczek said the success of Race to the Top should be enough to secure more federal or other support.
“If we’re getting to every student, that should be something positive and we would want to keep a successful model going,” he said. “This is something that, if it’s successful, the funding should follow.”
Money from the 2010 rollover fund is running out in June, leaving the capital projects manager position unfunded.
“That’s a loss,” Stokes said. “That’s an area (where) we need to figure out how to solve that problem.”
He said it’s also time to start looking at replacing older school buses.
“We have forgone these purchases,” he said. “It’s time to start budgeting for new buses and retiring the ones that are old.”
Stokes asked trustees to go over their priorities and bring them back for a discussion at the May 8 board meeting before the final hearing May 21. All considerations, he said, are on the table, including adding teachers to strengthen the district’s gifted-and-talented program.
However, Stokes said, there is one area he won’t be looking to fund. The 2013 Legislature mandated that school districts create mechanisms by next year to fund a program to reward teachers financially for good performance.
“I have seen it implemented, and I have to tell you it does not work well,” he said. “All it does is cause a rift between teachers.”
Board President Stacie Wilke advised the board to stick with the priorities set forth by the community at a series of budget workshops last year.
“We decided with the community where we would be going for the next two years,” she said. “Let’s remember our perspective.”