Carson City schools budget | NevadaAppeal.com

Carson City schools budget

Teri Vance
Nevada Appeal Staff Writer
Brad Horn/Nevada Appeal
ALL |

With nearly 1,000 fewer students in the Carson City School District than there were in 2003, there is no longer a need for six elementary schools, officials are saying.

And closing a school would save about $3.5 million, according to fiscal director Bob Anderson ” putting the district well on its way to making the $7.2 million cuts officials predict will be handed down by this year’s Legislature.

“Receiving about $6,000 per student, and having 900 fewer students, that’s about $5.4 million less revenue we’re bringing in,” Anderson explained in an interview before a town hall-style meeting on the budget Monday night. “Yet we’re still operating the same square footage. When you’re just talking about cold, hard cash, the best way to save money is to close one of the schools down.”

However, teachers attending the meeting at Fremont Elementary School ” the third in a series ” said it’s not just about cash.

“When you talk about closing a school, it’s invasive,” said third-grade teacher Lori Browning, who called on officials to research a four-day week instead. “These kids have established relationships, and those relationships are important for when they move on to middle school so they’ll be more stable when they get peer pressure.”

Anderson said it costs about $4.1 million to run a school, but will cost $600,000 annually to maintain an empty building. In 2003, there were 8,834 students enrolled. This year, there are 7,908.

Savings from closing a school would come from operational costs as well as eliminated positions. While most teachers would be absorbed into other schools, positions like principals, vice principals, librarians, counselors, nurses and custodians would not need to be duplicated.

In addition to losing staff, drawbacks would include a massive rezoning and increased student-to-teacher ratios, Superintendent Richard Stokes told those in attendance.

Some parents said they’d rather see sports and other programs cut before a school was shut down.

“As a parent, what’s important to me is quality education and safety,” said Fritsch Elementary School father Dan Bowler. “It seems when you increase classroom sizes, those things are adversely affected. As sad as it would be, I’d rather see every secondary program cut before I saw a school close. I beg of you not to close a school, or give every other consideration first.”

It would also mean transferring all schools to a traditional schedule, which would mean Fremont, the district’s only year-round school, would have to switch schedules.

About 100 parents and teachers attended Monday’s meeting, where school board members’ e-mail addresses were circulated, encouraging people to contact board members to voice opposition to closing a school.

Paul Brugger, whose seven children attended Fremont, pointed to the markedly higher attendance at Monday’s meeting than at the other meetings, held at Carson High School and Eagle Valley Middle School.

“That’s because Fremont is different,” he said. “Fremont consists of teachers and parents and students who care deeply about the (year-round) schedule.”

A number of parents and teachers suggested the rest of the district switch to year-round rather than the traditional schedule to make all calendars universal.

District officials were also asked to consider dipping into the $11 million savings to buffer some of the costs.

Stokes said he would support using some of that money, but that significant cuts must also be made.

“If we don’t do anything, we’ll be broke before Christmas time next year,” Stokes said.

– Contact reporter Teri Vance at tvance@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1272.

WHAT: Carson City School Board meeting

WHEN: 7 p.m., today

WHERE: Sierra Room,

Carson City Community Center, 851 E. William St.

ALSO AT THE MEETING:

Carson High School officials will discuss drug testing for athletes.On the ‘Net

To make a suggestion on ways the school district can save money, or to see the presentation given at the town hall meetings, go to http://www.carsoncityschools.com.

Faced with the prospect of cutting about $7.2 million from next year’s budget, Carson City School District officials have compiled a list of possible ways to do that.

Topping the list is closing a school. Missing from that list, however, is changing the school week from five to four days.

Officials say that’s because it’s not a viable option, but some teachers are calling it a gross oversight.

“If you’re looking at a four-day week, I volunteer to be on that committee,” Fremont Elementary School third-grade teacher Lori Browning told district officials during a town hall-style meeting Monday. “I want to know that we’ve looked at all the options.”

Teachers at other such meetings have expressed similar interest in exploring the option of a four-day school week.

Browning said she’s done her own research and found there’s up to an 18 percent savings associated with reducing the school week. She determined the school district would save about $2 million a year by shutting their doors one additional day a week.

Bob Anderson, finance director for the school district, said in an interview before the meeting that the equation doesn’t work.

“The idea that you go four-fifths instead of five-fifths, that is just an irrational way of looking at four days instead of five,” he said. “This isn’t simple arithmetic.”

He said there are categories of cost associated with running a school, and some of those costs wouldn’t change. Teachers and other school staff are paid by hours worked in a year, not days. So the four days would be longer and salaries, benefits and taxes would remain the same.

Browning did not include salaries in her calculations, but Anderson said electricity and other operational costs like maintenance can’t be cut by 20 percent.

He said districts that have schools spread over large areas would benefit most from a reduced-day week by saving in transportation costs. Carson City schools, he said, are spread over about an eight-mile radius.

At most, he said, the district would save $400,00 of its annual $1.8 million transportation budget.

Browning is more optimistic.

She said she has done her own research, even calling a school board member in Arizona whose district adopted the four-day schedule.

The board member said a survey in the district showed a 96-percent approval rate after two years.

Browning also cited a study conducted by the Western Nevada Regional Training Program.

According to the study, the benefits of a four-day week include cost savings in transportation, maintenance and food service as well as a decline in dropout rates and disciplinary problems. There is more time for lessons and for teacher development, the study indicated.

“One of the things I struggle with as a teacher is I can’t get through everything I need to get through in a day,” Browning said. “In a longer day, I think I could be a better teacher.”

She said it would also boost the morale of teachers who, she said, often spend a part of one weekend day preparing for the school week. She said it would be a welcome relief to have an additional day to take care of her personal needs before returning to work.

“It’s hard to get down time,” she said. “With laundry, and housework and children, where’s the time for me to have that down time and still get prepared?”

The challenges, according to the study, associated with the shortened week include child-care issues, trouble for younger students adjusting to longer days and negotiating the modified schedule with the teachers union prior to implementation.

Browning said stories she’s read online and people she’s talked to indicate those problems can correct themselves over time.

In an e-mail accompanying the study, analyst Steve Pradere wrote, “Let me caution you, this is not the magic bullet in cost savings. Most districts that participate in a four-day school model, do not achieve projected cost savings that may be intuitively associated with the movement. Though some districts did see some cost reductions, they tended to be rural districts where transportation and utility costs made up a greater percentage of the budget than urban districts.”

Superintendent Richard Stokes said a workshop will be held at the school district office on Saturday with the school board to go over all the options, including a breakdown of the costs and savings of a four-day school week in Carson City.

“Obviously these are issues that are very emotional for people,” he said. “If we can explain why some of these things are being considered in a rational way, it may be helpful.”

– Contact reporter Teri Vance at tvance@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1272.

WHAT: Carson City School Board workshop

WHEN: 8 a.m. Saturday

WHERE: Carson City School District Office, 1501 W. King St.

WHAT: Carson City School Board workshop

WHEN: 8 a.m. Saturday

WHERE: Carson City School District Office, 1501 W. King St.




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