Churchill County School District trustees voted last Tuesday at their regularly scheduled meeting to approve approximately $2.5 million in tentative cuts to next year’s budget as proposed by a budget committee.
After more than three hours of discussion and input from the public and school-district employees, trustees unanimously voted to approve a tentative slate of cuts. On a separate 4-2 vote with board member Phil Pinder abstaining, trustees decided not to include food service workers as part of the budget reduction by having Chartwells, which provides food services for the district, employ them instead. When the school board approved Chartwells to provide food services on April 18, 2016, the understanding was for employees vested in the state retirement system to remain with CCSD and those on Social Security or new hires work for the vendor.
Trustee Matt Hyde, who voted three years ago for Chartwells to provide food services along with current board members Carmen Schank and President Kathryn Whitaker, refused to approve any change in the employees’ status.
“I’m not supporting that,” Hyde said about shifting the food service workers’ employment to Chartwells. “I gave my word on that. I feel that will open us up for litigation and rightfully so.”
Schank, Fred Buckmaster and Amber Getto voted to keep the food service workers employed by the school district.
A representative from the American Federation of Teachers, Mike Osborne, spoke on behalf of the district’s classified workers and warned trustees they could encounter major problems if they didn’t follow the agreement from 2016.
Business director Phyllys Dowd, though, said the trustees then must look for other areas to cut that would amount to $92,000 in savings, the cost of moving the food service workers to a private employer. Pinder abstained from voting because his wife, who asked the board to honor its 2016 agreement, has worked in food services for 10 years.
During the past two years, Whitaker said the district gave staff a much needed pay raise, and she thought the district’s budget problems had been resolved. She was frustrated with the current situation in which funding from the state is unknown and won’t be approved until June by the Legislature and that a possible cut in federal grants could also be forthcoming. Trustees won’t know the status of the grants or amounts until the summer.
“This is not where we wanted to be,” she said.
Because of the unknown status on grant amounts that have paid for instruction at the Northside Early Learning Center, the school district is looking at replacing retiring educators with teachers who have been working at NELC. The district will not hire for positions that are open including Lahontan Elementary School principal, eight classified and four licensed employees to include three special education teachers and a physical education teacher.
The board briefly discussed a furlough day, but several speakers who are classified employees said the reduction in hours could affect their retirement. Elena Marsh, president of the Churchill County Educators Association, said teachers have shouldered the school district’s financial burdens more than once.
“We have not kept up with the cost of living,” she said.
Dowd said she researched what savings would be derived if every employee took a furlough day, and the savings would be about $138,000.
Trudy Dahl, the office manager at Churchill County High School said she has concerns about work hours being cut for instructional aides and also the RIF of the warehouseman position, which would amount to a savings of more than $70,000.
“From my office manager perspective, the warehouse plays an important job,” she said.
Osborne told trustees that the classified staff and school board have been successful in solving problems.
“I think the relation is changing,” he said, adding he feels 20 to 25 families could be affected by the cuts.
Pinder said the tentative budget goes out April 15, but at this time, he doesn’t know how much the state will distribute to the various school districts.
“The word tentative is just that,” said Pinder, who’s a member of the budget committee. “We don’t know.”
Dowd said the district, along with several others, also faces a shortfall because the state overpaid certain school districts based on student enrollment. Dowd said the error was caught but only after the state had overpaid the school districts for several years. To correct the error, the state is proposing to cut the Distributive School Account by $294 per student or $984,000 in Churchill County, which amounts to a 4 percent reduction.
In a joint message to the Senate Committee on Education, school district officials form Churchill, Carson and Elko wrote, “As charter schools were added to the DSA funding formula, some of their enrollment was included with the district’s enrollment while most was not. Churchill CSD’s enrollment in the formula included the enrollment for Oasis Academy. The same thing happened for Carson City and Elko County School Districts.”
“The enrollment figures within the formula are used for various calculations, one of which determines the number of teachers schools need to meet the student-teacher ratios. When the charter schools were included in the three districts, it inflated the staffing needed for those districts and therefore increased the DSA amount for all schools in the counties, although, those three counties were not entitled to that increased funding.”
The error was not discovered until 2016, but a working group, according to Dowd, was told the error would be fixed for the 2019-21 biennium. There is a discrepancy, Dowd said, whether the state will cut money to the school districts or phase the reduced amount over a period of years.
“This calculation error did not happen by any action of the three school districts,” the working group informed the Senate committee. “This error was inadvertently calculated by NDE staff. The districts recognize the need for the correction, but to reduce funding in the next biennium without a phase-in model will cripple the current operations and programming for our students.”
Dowd, though, apologized at the school board meeting for not catching the error sooner.
Also looming for every Nevada school district is a proposal by Gov. Steve Sisolak for staff to receive a 3 percent raise. Dowd said that amount has not been figured into the school district’s budget but approved in the state budget. Trustees were apprised that the tentative budget can be reviewed and adjusted until the end of May. Superintendent Summer Stephens said she would like more time to look for solutions.
“I want to avoid as much chaos as possible,” she added.
Editor’s Note: The information on the governor’s 3 percent pay raise for educators has been clarified to show the Churchill County School District has not figured that raise into the new budget.