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December 20, 2014

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State education officials fear deep cuts for public schools

Keith Rheault

Keith Rheault

CARSON CITY — The state Board of Education has agreed to slice 10 percent from its upcoming budget as requested by Gov. Jim Gibbons, but members fear the cuts will be much deeper.

The elective board plans to send a protest letter to Gibbons, the two candidates for governor and state legislators.

Board member David Cook of Carson City said public discussions by the candidates for governor, Republican Brian Sandoval and Democrat Rory Reid, are not taking place. The reductions in education could be as much as 30 percent, and “this is a regrettable situation,” he said.

Board President Christopher Wallace of Las Vegas said the proposed reductions are unacceptable and that will be expressed in the letters to the governor and candidates.

Board members said Sandoval and Reid must disclose how they are going to fund education during the campaign, not after the election. “They are not bringing it to the floor,” Board Vice President Cliff Ferry of Elko said.

Ferry said he was voting for the draft budget “with great reluctance.”

The budget for the state Department of Education has to be submitted by Sept. 1 to the state Budget Office.

The proposed biennial spending for the Distributive School Fund that supplies money to local school districts won’t be made until later this year when final figures are received on enrollments.

Keith Rheault, state superintendent of public instruction, said $1.1 million has been cut from the proposed state general fund budget of 2011 from the present spending program of $11.3 million for the department. Any further reductions would mean laying off staff, he said.

He told the board the state’s budget shortfall is estimated at $3 billion for the upcoming biennium. Slicing the budgets of agencies by 10 percent won’t fill the gap.

“There will be a lot more” reductions, Rheault said, adding that state aid to public schools will also be on the cutting table.

There will be 10 percent savings realized in the Department of Education budget by:

• Renegotiating a consultant contract for the high school proficiency examination.

• Transferring two positions in the department to federal funding.

• Reducing the state match on a nutrition education program without jeopardizing a $90 million federal grant.

• Cutting an estimated $200,000 from a scholarship program involving training in the trades, such as hairdressing.

Rheault said the scholarship program is expected to be eliminated by the federal government that supplies most of the money.

The board also agreed to recommend class sizes in the first through third grades be increased from 16 to 18 students to save money in the upcoming year in the distributive school fund.

Rheault said the special session of the Legislature permitted school districts to move some of the money from the class size reduction program to pay for teachers in the later grades.

Rheault also told the board that each state agency has been ordered to present a list of priorities of their programs. The agencies must say whether the program was mandated by the federal government, the courts or state law.

For instance, the Carl Perkins program for technical education receives $5 million in federal aid, but the state must put up a match of $400,000, Rheault said.

He said budget officials consider court orders the highest priority for maintaining a program, followed by the federal government and the state.

Craig Stevens of the Nevada Education Association, which represents teachers, urged the board to return the draft budget to the governor “and to fully fund education.”

Stevens said he realizes Nevada is in tough times, but “education is a priority and a constitutional mandate.”

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