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Schools planning for uncertain future

Teri Vance
Nevada Appeal News Service

Carson City School District Superintendent Richard Stokes knows there are big budget cuts on the way.

Although he’s not sure exactly how much, he knows it’s going to be drastic.

“We’re a little uncertain just what we’re going to be told in January,” he said. “I know I’m not alone in shaking my head and wondering how we’re going to be able to maintain a high level of education and endure a mass cut we’ve been told can be up to 34 percent.”

The governor will submit his budget to the Legislature on Dec. 31. Carson City School District will submit a draft to the school board on April 15 and a tentative budget to the state on May 20.

Other districts have outlined some potential program cuts, such as middle school sports and gifted and talented classes in Douglas County. Churchill County has considered a four-day school week.

However, the Carson City School District hasn’t suggested anything concrete.

“We want to make sure we don’t do something quickly just because people want us to,” Stokes said. “We want this to be well thought out, and we want to weigh all the options.”

And they may have more options to consider than other districts.

According to budget reports filed with the state in 2007, Carson City had a savings of 17 percent of its total revenues. Douglas and Lyon counties both have an ending-fund balance that is 8 percent of their revenues.

Eureka County School District has the highest ratio at 71 percent of its revenues, but that county is funded through mining rather than state distributions. Storey County had an ending balance of 29 percent.

Numbers for all counties for 2008 were not available, according to the Department of Taxation, because the audits have not been completed.

The Carson City School District this year has an $11.5 million ending-fund balance. If the state mandates a 34 percent cut, that would come to about $11 million from the school district’s budget.

Stokes said while he is in favor of using a portion of the savings to “buffer” cuts, he doesn’t want to use it all.

“We’re comforted somewhat knowing we have a healthy ending-fund balance, but that is limited so we have to be aware of some cost-saving measures we can take,” Stokes said.

So far, he said, “the cuts haven’t been cuts per se. They’ve been giving back appropriations given in 2007.”

For instance, a program to provide academic coaches for teachers was not continued once the appropriations were sent back.

“We had early success with those programs, so we hated to see them go away,” Stokes said.

Other cost-saving measures have been taken as well, including limiting each teacher to one field trip a year within a 60-mile radius of the school.

He said principals and teachers have offered to make do with less money for supplies and are helping look for ways to reduce expenditures.

The special session of the Legislature reduced the amount of money schools would have for textbook replacement, Stokes said, so the district will put off buying new language arts books for another year.

“In most cases, we have plenty of books to go around,” he said. “Teachers, of course, have access to a lot of online resources.”

Stokes compared it to a family putting off buying a new car for another year when the budget gets tight.

He said the district has been cutting back since 2003 when enrollment began declining. Schools districts receive money based on the number of students enrolled.

The majority of savings, he said, came from leaving positions vacant when staff resigned or retired.

“I believe we’ve still managed to maintain the delivery system recognizable from the Carson City School District,” he said.

However, he said, he cannot guarantee the same when the budgets for fiscal year 2010 are finalized.

“It’s the same as with a family budget,” he explained. “If you reduced your income by 34 percent, you’d have to change your lifestyle in some fashion.”

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