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Gibbons: School districts should brace for 10 percent cuts

Updated Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2010 | 5:46 p.m.

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School districts should prepare for a budget cut of about 10 percent, Gov. Jim Gibbons told reporters today after meeting with school superintendents here.

"Some will have to take more than that," he said. "Some agencies can't cut that much."

Gibbons cited Department of Corrections and public safety as one area that would be spared the deepest cuts. For the second time in two days, he said he has rejected a proposal to close a state prison in Ely.

While the Legislature last session cut funding for school districts, it's up to local school boards to decide how to implement any cuts -- whether through lower pay or less classroom funding. Because of collective bargaining teachers have not taken the 4.6 percent pay cut that state workers have through furloughs.

But Gibbons said he would consider issuing an executive order to ease rules on collective bargaining. And some Republican lawmakers are calling on teachers to take a cut in pay in order to prevent layoffs and lessen the impact of cuts on the classroom.

Clark County Schools Superintendent Walt Rulffes said a 10 percent cut in funding from the state equates to $28 million for the current fiscal year and $85 million for the 2011 fiscal year. When declines in the district's local funding are included, Rulffes the loss of funding for schools will be "profound."

The options for the district are massive layoffs or "smaller sacrifices by all," Rulffes said. He is asking the leaders of the unions representing teachers, administrators and support employees to survey their members and look for possible concessions, including the possibility of furloughs.

The governor could order pay cuts on top of the 10 percent reduction in state support. Superintendents have been warned of such a scenario by Keith Rheault, Nevada's superintendent of public instruction.

To deal with the state budget shortfall, Gibbons' senior staff are coming up with "a list of recommendations and a list of possible recommendations" to address the $880 million state budget shortfall.

Dan Burns, spokesman for Gibbons, said the "possible recommendations" are proposals that the governor would rather not do, but need to be considered. The administration projects 300 employees would be laid off, with K-12 teachers and higher education employees being spared the axe.

"Grab a hold of the notion of shrinking government because that's our destiny," Burns said.

Burns said state salaries will be affected. "This cannot be done without impact on salaries," he said.

Regarding pay cuts, Gibbons told reporters Monday that he believed "we couldn't go much more than 6 percent" before state employees began walking away."

Gibbons is expected to call the Legislature into special session later this month to cut the budget and address the shortfall. Gibbons will give a State of the State speech Monday.

State services, from higher education, K-12 and various departments, are bracing for the governor's recommendations and what the Legislature ultimately does with those recommendations.

Higher Education Chancellor Dan Klaich warned today of the "unwinding of almost a decade of significant progress in higher education” from proposed cuts.

Local government officials who met with Gibbons on Monday expressed relief that Gibbons said he would not raid counties' and cities' revenues, though they also warned of unintended consequences of cuts to social services.

Gibbons' senior staff will meet with legislative leadership Wednesday to go over some of the governor's recommendations. Lawmakers will begin a series of public hearings about possible budget cuts during Wednesday's Interim Finance Committee meeting.

Sun reporter Emily Richmond contributed to this story.

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