Class size reductions pose budget problems
LAS VEGAS – A new plan to reduce the size of special education classes is expected to pose problems for school districts, since no provision has been made for funding the plan.
The Nevada State Board of Education on Saturday voted to reduce caseloads and class sizes for speech pathologists, special education teachers and early childhood special education teachers. Beginning July 1, speech pathologists will carry a maximum of 50 cases instead of 60, while those who teach special needs students will have classes of 22 students instead of 24.
While the reductions are being mandated, there is no new funding to meet the requirements. Statewide, school districts now face an additional $4 million in special education staffing needs.
The lion’s share of that is concentrated in the Clark County School District, which now has to find $3.7 million in its existing budget to hire additional personnel.
Walter Rulffes, chief financial officer for the Clark County School District, said the district does not oppose class size reduction, but the state must understand obstacles the program will face.
The mandate was originally approved by the board in December. It was brought back for another hearing because it was mistakenly presented as having no fiscal impact.
The biggest stumbling block in Clark County will be finding additional personnel. The district already has 35 special education vacancies being filled with long-term substitute teachers. Under the mandate, the district will need to find an additional 30 special education teachers, 12 early education teachers, and 32 speech pathologists for the next school year. That does not account for the special education teachers who will need to be hired to handle growth in the district’s special education population, which increases by about 10 percent a year.
”Staffing is a very difficult situation for us,” said George Ann Rice, Clark County’s assistant superintendent of human resources. ”There’s not one thing you can think of that we haven’t tried, yet with all our recruiting efforts and the 371 special education teachers we hired last year, we still have 35 vacancies.”
Rice said the district already recruits in 43 states, advertises locally and nationally, and has special programs to prepare interested locals for special education positions. Her points and those made by Rulffes, were unsuccessful in persuading board members to delay the mandate until the 2001 Legislature convenes and additional funding could be sought.
”The sad truth is that we’ve had intolerable conditions for our neediest children,” said Board of Education member Dave Cook. ”I find the excuse that inadequate funding allows it to continue is not an adequate one.”
Cook said passing the mandate guarantees that parents, districts and teachers will pressure the Legislature for appropriate funding.