Superintendent: Gibbons’ cuts raise serious concerns
Nevada’s school administrators met Friday and Saturday in Las Vegas, and the center of discussions was Gov. Jim Gibbons’ proposed cuts to public school budgets.
Carson School District Superintendent Richard Stokes said his prime concerns for the capital are the elimination of funding that supports class size reduction in first, second and third grades and the elimination of the “hold harmless” provision that keeps a district from losing per-pupil funding if enrollment dips.
In the Carson district, Stokes said, $4 million in class-size money pays for 53 teachers.
Class size requirements set a maximum of 16 students per teacher in first and second grades, 19 students for third grade. Eliminating it would for all practical purposes double the size of first, second and third grade classes not only in Carson City but statewide and put some 2,150 teachers out of work. But it would reduce education spending by $145 million in 2011.
“If they’re taking class size money out of the picture, the districts are going to have to figure out how to pay those teachers,” he said. “We still have the same number of students.”
While details of the governor’s plan were unclear, Gibbons gave some indications when outlining it for lawmakers that he planned to put some of the money back into the regular per-pupil funding and give school districts more flexibility in how they use it.
Stokes said he and other superintendents like the idea of giving districts more control over how their money is spent. That would allow districts to tailor programs to fit their specific needs.
“There are programs that come out of the Legislature that, if we could take some of the money set aside for those specific earmarks and put it into our regular funding, the school districts could make decisions about how to use those funds,” he said.
That, he said, could help the districts make their money go farther.
Stokes said the hold harmless change “scares me a little.”
Carson, he said, has experienced at least six years of declining enrollment.
The problem for districts is that they must hire and sign contracts with teachers before they actually know how many students will show up each year. The official count is taken in October, a month after school starts. Hold harmless gives districts a year to reduce the number of positions.
The governor’s proposal to create vouchers allowing parents to move their children to different schools – including private schools – is problematic. Stokes said doing so would require creation of a bureaucracy to manage it and ensure those vouchers were actually used to provide children with an education.
“I know the folks who have school-age children are interested in having the ability to make some choices, but I’m worried about that process because I don’t see a large enough infrastructure in place,” he said. “There has to be an infrastructure ready and able to take on the program.”
He said Friday that he and the other superintendents planned to discuss the proposals at their Las Vegas meeting but would have a better idea of their impact once more details of the governor’s proposals are made public.