Carson City schools seek to lessen deficit

Carson City School District's administrative office.

Carson City School District's administrative office.

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The Carson City School District is looking for ways to reduce a $5.7 million deficit for its projected fiscal year 2019 ending fund balance by $3 million, but everything hinges on outcomes from the Nevada Legislature in the remaining weeks of the session.

The district’s Board of Trustees heard Tuesday during its fifth presentation in a series of budget updates more information is forthcoming from the Capitol. Representatives continue to work through a number of education bills related to funding, and as of Wednesday, a specific bill hadn’t been presented. Gov. Steve Sisolak and lawmakers have been seeking an overhaul to a decades-old formula, and while Nevada once was one of the best funded states for education, some worry the pattern of decline evidenced throughout the years will take its toll.

The Silver State has gone from a 9 percent increase in its per-pupil funding between 1979 and 1980 to just a 1.4 percent increase between 2019 and 2020 under the current model. Looking ahead, statewide, Sisolak’s plan would mean raising per-pupil funding from this year’s amount of $5,897 to $5,967 for FY 2019-20, based on a Nevada School Finance Study by Augenblick, Palaich and Associates.

Ultimately, funding for educational support hasn’t kept up with inflation, putting pressure on the state and its school districts as growth continues, so certain impacts are expected given the current levels of funding as Director of Fiscal Services Andrew Feuling told trustees Tuesday.

The Nevada Department of Education recently released a document showing Carson City receives $7,198 in per-pupil spending that would decrease to $7,060 in FY2020. Adding to the district’s frustrations, Feuling said Tuesday, is having to “live between the old model and new model,” waiting to hear what the Legislature will do on changing its funding mechanism.

Trustees have asked what it would take to help get Carson City’s deficit down to $3 million, and Feuling said it would take a combination of non-staffing and staffing plans to go from a $5.7 million to $2.7 million deficit. Some of those plans include eliminating $1 million in curriculum purchases and going without the district’s annual bus replacement, among other renewals, that add to up about $1.9 million in reductions.

In staffing, there are multiple positions the district has taken on in its own budget that will move to grant-funded positions, including learning coordinators, interventionists and Read by Grade Three paraprofessionals, as well as two teachers at Empire and Fremont elementary schools, totaling a little more than $1 million in reductions. None of these jobs will be eliminated; they were previously approved by the board in the event there had been a change in funding, Feuling said.

The next steps for Carson City now are the tentative budget presentation to the board on April 9 for discussion and input only, followed by its submission to the state Department of Taxation on April 15, a budget hearing at the district’s May 28 meeting for approval and the final budget will be due to the state by June 8. The state should provide the final per-pupil amount to school districts after that.

Feuling said Carson City’s staff remains hopeful the per-pupil amount will improve overall for the next fiscal year.

“It seems so strange we’re dealing with this when times are good in the economy,” he said Wednesday. “And you have — for the third time in 13 years — you have a study telling you that education is clearly not funded adequately in the state of Nevada, yet … the question’s been asked three times and nobody’s doing anything about it.

“So now I think there were hopes that K-12 education would benefit because the question was being asked about it and economic times were good, and it looks like we’re going to have less than we do this year. I think that’s the biggest piece.”

Superintendent Richard Stokes and Feuling said with all the unknown variables at this point, there’s still no need for immediate great concern while the Legislature makes its determination on final numbers, but greater local involvement is encouraged.

“After three reviews of public education funding in Nevada by a nationally respected educational analysis firm over the last 13 years and the remaining challenges public schools face due to lack of funding, now is the time for the citizens of our state to become involved in the legislative process by asking their citizens to adequately fund education in Nevada,” Stokes said in a statement to the Appeal.

Trustee Laurel Crossman on Tuesday said she’d hoped to provide the document handed down from the NDE to help the community understand how some of the smaller counties will be impacted.

“I think we as a community need to be the squeaky wheel,” Crossman said. “We’re supposed to improve education funding and we’re getting hit. … Staff and citizens need to be aware of this and become active.”


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