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August 30, 2014

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Gibbons’ staff: Education plan includes decrease in spending

Gov. Jim Gibbons' staff clarified today that the Republican governor's education reform proposals would indeed mean cuts to state support for the K-12 system.

"There will have to be some decrease in spending at the statewide level, including at the education level," said Stacy Woodbury, Gibbons' deputy chief of staff, at an interim legislative education committee meeting.

On Tuesday, Gibbons himself was less clear explaining his education proposal, saying the idea was to reform education, but that it wouldn't necessarily mean a decrease in funding to schools.

Gibbons' proposal, released last week, includes eliminating a $145 million per year fund for class-size reduction for first through third grades and eliminating a fund for all-day kindergarten. Most of that money would be returned to the school districts to spend as they see fit.

But Lynn Hettrick, Gibbons' other deputy chief of staff, said "there's going to be some kind of cuts."

Woodbury told the legislative committee that the shortfall between tax projections and actual revenues is projected to total $300 million to $450 million between now and June 2011. If cuts went into place March 1, a 10 percent cut to state general fund spending would total about $400 million.

Democratic legislators have been critical of Gibbons' education plan, saying it's unfeasible to overhaul education in what are normally short special sessions and it would lead to teacher layoffs and larger class sizes. Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, called it a "non-starter."

Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, sent a letter with her own ideas to deal with the shortfall in the state budget, which over the past six months is at about $72 million.

She said the state should "do everything we can to avoid further cuts to education funding in our state." Referring to a past Gibbons initiative, she wrote, "'Education First' should not mean cutting education first."

She also suggested that the Interim Finance Committee could be used to process cuts or budget changes, rather than call the Legislature back to Carson City for a special session.

In an interview today, Hettrick said, "We will be in special session no matter what. We will need law changes."

He specifically cited equities in the furloughs instituted by the Legislature, where some state employees have been exempted, such as correctional officers. When asked if the administration would seek to institute a straight pay reduction for employees who have argued they could not take a day off, he said, "We believe it's a fairness issue going forward."

He said the Interim Finance Committee would be used by Democrats to beat up on the governor.

Follow David McGrath Schwartz on Twitter.

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