School budget cuts could lead to layoffs
Nevada’s school district superintendents told Gov. Jim Gibbons on Thursday a 4.5 percent budget cut would cause severe hardship, especially this school year, which is already half over.
But Gibbons said he had no choice but to include public schools when the projected revenue shortfall climbed to $440 million over the biennium.
He announced Friday he could no longer exempt K-12 education from cuts because “the impacts were so devastating to some agencies at 8 percent that layoffs were unavoidable.” He said the biggest example is the Health and Human Services Department, which would have suffered severe damage to programs.
Spreading the pain across education, corrections and public safety reduced the percentage from 8 percent to 4.5. But it means school districts will have to reduce budgets by more than $96 million over the biennium.
Clark Superintendent Walt Rulffes and others pointed out that by protecting state agencies from personnel layoffs, they would instead force layoffs in the school districts since 80-90 percent of the districts’ budgets go for salaries of teachers, administrators and support staff.
“We will have cuts in direct personnel that provide services to our children,” said Elko Superintendent Antoinette Cavanaugh.
Director of Administration Andrew Clinger pointed out that the 4.5 percent reduction is to state general fund money only. He said when all public school funding is counted, the overall reduction drops to less than 1.5 percent.
In addition to state general fund money, schools get the 2.25 percent sales tax and 75 cents from the property tax rates collected in their counties, plus federal money.
Carson Superintendent Mary Pierczynski said the news came as a shock to school officials statewide because they thought they were exempt.
Ben Zunino, Eureka superintendent, said the small counties are hit harder in some cases because of scale.
“Any cut means personnel because it’s all personnel,” he said.
And Zunino said staff reductions will reduce what kids learn.
“I’m not sure you can expect the same level of achievement,” he said.
“We don’t have any dispute over the economic situation,” said Rulffes. “But we have to make a point that being halfway through the first year means we have a much more difficult time making cuts the first year.”
Gibbons gave them some hope, saying his experts believe the state’s economic situation will start to improve by the end of 2008, and, if so, he may be able to release some of the reserved funding back to schools and the agencies.
In the end, Gibbons said, he has no choice because Nevada’s Constitution prohibits spending more than the revenues the state receives. But he said he would have his staff, including Clinger and Department of Education personnel, work with them and give them the flexibility needed to minimize the impact – including possibly shifting more of any reduction to the second year than the first.
He also said he believes it’s more defendable legally to take the same reduction across the board instead of different amounts in different agencies. Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Reno, said afterward that legislative legal staff says that’s never been an issue in the past, and that the governor clearly has the power to cut different percentages in different places.
Rulffes said it would also help if the governor described any reductions as “delays, rather than cuts.” Gibbons agreed, repeating that if things improve next year, some of the reductions could be restored.
When asked about the Rainy-Day Fund, which contains $267 million, Gibbons said he is planning to take half of it next year. But he pointed out if the actual shortfall remains at $440 million or higher, that would only cover half the problem.
“Hopefully, it won’t ever reach $440 (million), but it may go to $500 million,” he said.
• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 687-8750.