The Carson City School District Board of Trustees on Tuesday passed a balanced budget that reflects significant reductions to prevent what would have been a $3.2 million shortfall for the 2020-21 fiscal year.
In 2019-20, the board faced a $5.7 million deficit and asked district staff to make approximately $3 million in cuts. This year, another $3.2 million was pared, according to district Chief Financial Officer Andrew Feuling. The board had asked staff to find ways to eliminate the deficit as much as possible.
COVID-19 this year, however, has presented challenges to the state that have trickled down from the Governor’s Office impacting schools at large. Feuling highlighted COVID-19’s general economic influence on Nevada as a whole that began in March. Gov. Steve Sisolak’s declaration of a fiscal emergency two months ago as a result of the pandemic created an unforeseen shortfall to the state’s Distributive School Account. In turn, this prompted the Nevada Department of Education to ask school districts to return any unused grant funds not currently being used. Carson City School District has identified between $600,000 and $1 million and gave these funds back to the state.
The state’s biggest sectors for revenue, including gaming, tourism and business, have felt some of the biggest impacts, Feuling reported, and as Sisolak has asked all state and local agencies to make 4 percent cuts for fiscal year 2020, a special session has been expected to be announced.
In the meantime, Carson City School District has worked to make reductions in other areas and to find solutions to many of the challenges presented by COVID-19. Schools this year did not need to make certain technology replacements such as Chromebook laptops for students. Some staffing positions in the human resources, fiscal, education services, safety and operations departments and other full-time positions were eliminated.
There were also other savings as staff and students moved from operating in the classroom to working at home with directives coming from Sisolak’s office for Nevadans to work under self-quarantine. With students no longer needing to be bused to school, the district has identified gasoline savings in transportation and infrastructure costs have been down considerably with school campuses closed since the middle of March.
“With pulling back and the move to remote learning, from a financial standpoint, it’s been making quite a difference,” Feuling said.
The district also tracks weighted average daily enrollment figures, which, for 2021, is expected to be about 7,740, an increase of nearly 500 from 2016-17’s numbers. Carson City’s per-pupil support has dropped from $7,184 to $7,308, affecting the district’s revenues for next year.
The trustees expressed concerns about a potential downturn with the start of the 2020-21 school year and planning for future impacts if remote learning continues should the pandemic force the district on its current path.
Further staffing reductions, for which many kindergarten paraprofessionals opposed regarding their own position during the item’s period of public comment, eventually would need to be considered, he advised.
“We have to be fair and let people know with as much warning as possible that there is a likelihood in reductions,” Walker said. “We just want people to know we support you, that we understand you.”
Trustee Stacie Wilke said a multitude of budgetary scenarios were considered and wanted to assure the public that the district was not seeking to target any particular employee group.
“This has the least amount of impact on children’s learning,” Wilke said. “We knew this was coming. We’ve been very blessed to have an ending fund balance the way we’ve had. But as many board members have said, we can’t keep doing that. We were going to have to be tough and it was going to hurt.”
The district continues to meet its required staffing ratios, though human resources Associate Superintendent Jose Delfin, calling into the meeting, reported to the trustees there is a reduced level in attrition. Delfin theorized due to the coronavirus, most families have opted to stay in place with most companies implementing hiring freezes across the nation.
Trustees asked whether the class size ratio increase to 27 to 1 next year for some grades, a potential worst-case scenario, would impact funding increases for the district, and Feuling said nothing has changed since March.
Walker said it’s important to remember protecting teachers in the classroom is top priority in these fiscal decisions.
“You need good teachers to provide education to these students,” he said. “If these budget cuts come to fruition, we’re all going to be sitting up here with some unhappy decisions. When you look at the nice-to-haves and the must-haves, you must have teachers in the classrooms.”
The district is required to submit its final budget to the Department of Taxation by June 8, and if a special legislative is called, it will be allowed to submit an amended budget 30 days at the end of the session.