Nevada school districts lay out $904 million in added needs

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Nevada's school districts on Wednesday presented their assessments of what the state's public schools need for the coming two-year budget -- a list of improvements that will require a $904 million infusion of cash.

"We know the price tag is steep," said Washoe Schools Superintendent Jim Hager. "It could have been more."

"Collectively we believe this is what is in the best interests of the students," said Douglas County Superintendent John Soderman.

They told the governor's Task Force on Taxes the first thing school districts need is an infusion of about $60 million a year just to restore the things they've had to cut to balance their existing budgets. They said that includes reduced access to technology, delayed book purchases, eliminating middle school athletics and reducing custodial workers.

Another $52.5 million will be needed to cover the rising utility bills in the districts and they complained that inflation in other areas will require another $23.2 million in fiscal 2004 and 2005.

Another $77.5 million is needed, they said, to provide needed books, supplies and equipment for students.

Soderman said with the budgets so tight, most of the districts are operating with almost no money as a cushion if something unexpected happens.

"Clark County's ending fund balance would allow them to run the school district for about 2 days," he said. "Washoe is in worse shape. The district's ending fund balance is about $200,000 which would allow them to run the district almost until lunch.

"It's a dangerous way to run a school district," he said.

They said the arbitration law should be changed to allow districts to protect any projected ending fund balance of 5 percent or less from labor negotiations and to allow districts to reserve up to 8.3 percent -- enough to operate for a month.

And that, they told the task force, doesn't begin to address the problems Nevada school districts are having recruiting teachers. And the worst is in rapidly growing Clark County.

"That sucking sound you hear nationwide is the sound of Clark County trying to get teachers," Soderman said.

He said Nevada school districts are competing across the nation for teachers and that most of them -- even Douglas County -- have vacancies they can't fill.

To get and keep teachers, they called for 5 percent raises each of the next two years -- costing a total of $241.4 million, another $41.3 million for improvements in health benefits for school employees and $9 million for signing bonuses to get teachers to come to Nevada in the first place. They also urged $54.7 million over the coming two years to give up to 10 percent more pay to teachers in such areas as special education and math or those in at-risk schools.

Finally, Hager said the districts want the state to consider adding 5 days to the school year so that teacher professional development courses don't reduce classroom days in the normal school year. That would cost another $85.8 million.

And they warned the task force that with numbers immigrant students on the rise, they need to put up to $76.9 million into helping those students gain proficiency in English.

The task force heard the report as part of its attempt to assess how much money the state needs to add to its revenues.

The group is charged with developing recommendations on how to increase state revenues for the governor and Legislature.


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