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August 29, 2014

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School District might increase class sizes to deal with decreased budget

The Clark County School District is considering temporarily increasing the class sizes in kindergarten, first and second grade as a way to balance the budget for the next biennium.

If that option is taken, it would amount to a $15 million savings, Lauren Kohut-Rost, deputy superintendent of education, said. That would allow another program such as block scheduling, which costs about $11 million annually, to be saved or partially saved.

The discussion was part of a vote Thursday by the School Board to cut $120 million per year for the next two years from its budget to comply with state mandates of a 14 percent budget cut.

The State Legislature will decide when it convenes in February how much the School District will get over the next two years. How to make the cuts will be considered at future School Board meetings.

The move to cut the budget being submitted to the Legislature was approved 5-1, with Board Member Larry Mason opposed and Board Member Shirley Barber absent.

"I can't support anything like that, to be honest," Mason said. "We need to stand up and say, hey, you need to support education … not cut it."

Things may get worse, Superintendent Walt Rulffes said, and the responsible thing is plan for the worst.

Maintaining low class sizes in the lower grades is a state requirement. However, Rulffes said, the School District was able to increase class sizes of third grades by one child about five years ago, when it was having difficulty balancing its budget.

"We're finally getting some good, strong increases there and I do believe it's because of those smaller class sizes," Board Member Sheila Moulton said. "But, is that something that maybe (principals) could work with?"

The plan presented Dec. 11 included cutting $35.5 million from administration; $22 million from the fund balance, similar to a rainy day fund; $13 million from district-wide programs, including 15 percent cuts to athletics and extracurricular activities; and $50 million from the school level, including cutting block scheduling and partially cutting the Advancement Via Individual Determination, or AVID, program.

The total saved would amount to more than $120 million.

That plan was not approved in its details. The board instead offered feedback to Rulffes, who was directed to bring back budget cuts for discussion in January.

The School Board does not have to submit a final amended budget to the state until June, but the School District does need to have an idea of how to staff the schools by February, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Weiler said.

Positions cut would include administrators, support staff, teacher mentors, teachers and permanent substitutes. Each school would be staffed at 97 percent, Weiler said, a difference of one to two positions lost per school.

Public input collected by the School District showed a split over block scheduling. It was in the top five lists of programs to keep and to cut.

Like the public, board members were divided in their feelings.

"It helps all of our students, and that's why I feel so strong that I'd like to fight for it," Terri Janison, board representative for schools near north Summerlin, said.

All of Janison's high schools are on block scheduling.

Ultimately, block scheduling ended up on the cut list, because research does not support the idea that it is beneficial, Rulffes said. Block scheduling allows students to take up to eight classes instead of the regular six. To do so, each class is 30 minutes longer and taken on alternating days, but it requires more teachers.

School Board President Mary Beth Scow, who represents Henderson and Boulder City, said, because of that, she would cut block scheduling. None of Scow's high schools are on block scheduling.

Principals would still have the ability to use the schedule, in full or modified, if they can make it work in their own budgets, Rulffes said, but he acknowledged that is difficult to do without additional funding.

Frances Vanderploeg can be reached at 990-2660 or [email protected].

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