Educators say governor’s cuts will be damaging | NevadaAppeal.com

Educators say governor’s cuts will be damaging

Steve Ranson
Nevada Appeal News Service

FALLON – Educators and parents from across Northern Nevada convened in Fallon on Thursday as they passionately pleaded with the Nevada State Legislature’s Joint Subcommittee on K-12 Education and Higher Education not to support the governor’s draconian budget cuts for the state’s public schools.

The subcommittee met in Fallon to allow the subcommittee to receive public testimony on the K-12 budget for the 2011-2013 biennium.

The governor’s proposal calls for cuts of $668 million or 27 percent in state support for K-12 education, an amount that disheartened those offering testimony before an estimated crowd of 150 at the Fallon Convention Center.

Although many who spoke were from Fallon, a handful of educators drove hours to attend the Fallon meeting including Susan Davis, president of the Lander County School Board in Battle Mountain.

“In terms of Lander County, we have given back a number of incentives originally given to us by the state,” she said. “We’re now being asked to give back now.”

Furthermore, she said teachers are also facing a

5 percent cut in their pay and cuts into their retirement.

“I beg you not to make it (the budget cuts), so that we cripple our children’s opportunities,” Davis said.

Currently, she said Lander County is in good shape, but if the cuts are enacted, she said staff cuts will occur first rather than cutting programs.

Bob Burnham, a Diamond Valley rancher in Eureka County, is the newly elected vice president of the Nevada Association of School Boards. If the cuts take place for K-12 or higher education, he envisions the next generation will be leaving the state for opportunities.

“The last thing we want to do is export our people, especially our young people,” Burnham said.

He told lawmakers that states spending more on education have better results. Nevada ranks near the bottom of all U.S. states in the money allocated in per pupil expenditure. He also took aim on Nevada’s economic base.

“Our economic model is based on gaming and construction. It’s depressed … the glory days are behind us,” he pointed out. “Growth is generated by knowledge driven by an educated society.”

Eureka County School Board president John Brown added the Legislature needs to target collective bargaining.

Paul Johnson, the chief financial officer for the White Pine School District, said his county is facing a cut of

$1.2 million out of a $13 million budget.

He said no decisions have been made to potential cuts, but he said the worst-case scenario would have White Pine School District cutting 10 to 15 percent in its labor force.

“We would be eliminating counseling, library, vocation, a third of the administrators and also the elimination of athletics and extracurricular,” he said.

Johnson also asked legislatures to sunset a current number of taxes gradually rather than at the same time so that school districts can adapt to the reduction.

Sharla Hales, board president in Douglas County and also the legal counsel for the Churchill County School District, informed the committee that Douglas County has cut $4.9 million from its budget during the past three fiscal years.

The current proposal made by Sandoval would slice $4.1 million from a budget already facing higher costs in utilities and retirement contribution increases.

Hales outlined a scenario in which Douglas could balance the worst-case budget by either eliminating 20 teaching or 40 classified positions. Even if Douglas County eliminated all administrators, she said the district would still be short $900,000.

“We know we have to make cuts, but make them as small as possible,” she said.

Churchill County Superintendent Carolyn Ross told lawmakers the progress the district is making.

“Our schools are being recognized for their growth and their achievement,” she said.

Ross took exception to the governor’s proposal to take school bond money approved for building and technology and use it to balance the budget. She said county voters put their trust in the school district by passing the largest bond issue for education in 2008.

Because of budget woes during the past two to three years, Ross said the district has been reducing staff and streamlining services, yet she fears more if CCSD must cut another $2.23 million from its budget.

“We’ll make it, we’ll remain strong,” she predicted, but still cautioning legislators against taking the bond money.

“We have trimmed the fat. There isn’t any fat left,” said Churchill County Trustee Greg Koenig, who is also the legislative chairman for the Nevada Association of School Boards.

He also is worried that the bond issue will be snatched up by the Legislature. Koenig said if the money is swept by the Legislature and used for purposes for which it is not intended, he predicts voters will not approve another bond issue.

The president of the Churchill County Education Association said local teachers never took a 4 percent increase approved by former Gov. Jim Gibbons two years ago. Additionally, she said deductions are now increasing in medical coverage, and the Legislature may be toying with retirement system contributions.

“Leave PERS (Public Employees Retirement System) alone,” she demanded. “Information shows Nevada is one of the few states where PERS is working.”

Nevada 2008 Teacher of the Year Steve Johnson said the government must consider teachers as second-class citizens.

“The political extremists believe teachers and students shoulder the burden,” said Johnson, a Churchill County High School chemistry teacher since 1986.

Fallon parent Debbie Kissick took the lawmakers to task for not promoting Yucca Mountain because money generated from proposed nuclear storage could fund education.

Both President Barack Obama and Nevada’s Washington delegation, however, are not in favor of using Yucca Mountain as a nuclear storage facility.

Kissick said the mining industry is not paying its fair share in taxes and that the foreign companies that own mining interests should be paying royalties to the counties.

“I am concerned about education,” she said. “I have two children in school. They are our future. Nevada is ranked 49th in the nation (in education). We can do better.”