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August 22, 2014

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Cost cutting at schools pits books vs. personnel

Survey of principals shows majority would trim supplies budget

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Justin M. Bowen

Walt Rulffes

Chaparral Pickets For Administrators

Alex Striegel-Robinson, a former secretary at from Chaparral High School, pickets outside the Vegas Public Broadcasting Station where administrators were being trained Monday, June 14, 2010. Protesters said they were concerned about administrators losing their jobs even after union concessions and about elementary school administration being moved into high school jobs. Launch slideshow »

A majority of Clark County principals would rather have less money to spend on textbooks and other classroom supplies than have fewer fellow administrators on campuses.

The district is planning to eliminate 89 deans and assistant principals to help balance its budget. More than $145 million is being trimmed for the 2011 fiscal year.

One way to keep some of those positions would be to reduce the classroom supplies budget. Individual principals decide how to spend the supply money allocated to their schools, which is used for everything from textbooks to paper and pens, depending on each campus’s needs. On average, about 15 percent of the supply money goes to textbooks.

The district has seen its funding supplies shrink in recent years, including the elimination of $200 purchasing cards for teachers to use on classroom materials.

But Superintendent Walt Rulffes says a number of principals told him they would be able to get by with their existing inventory of supplies, so he decided to survey all the principals about whether supply money should be reduced to retain administrators.

Of the district’s principals who responded to the survey, 54 percent were in favor of cutting the textbook and supply budget by at least 5 percent. Seventy of the district’s 344 principals did not respond to the survey. That would save about 20 administrator jobs, according to a report that will be presented to the School Board today.

Rulffes said the survey results have him leaning toward cutting the supply budget by 5 percent, but the teachers union is against the idea.

For starters, 54 percent is far from a mandate, Ruben Murillo, president of the teachers union, said.

But what’s more important, teachers are going to be facing larger classes as a result of budget cuts, so the public should be “wary of cutting textbooks and supplies at (teachers’) expense to provide a way for administrators to come back to work,” Murillo added.

He also questioned whether returning 20 or so administrators to their posts would make much of a difference. An across-the-board cut in supply funding that would hit every campus would, however, he said.

“You should support the teacher at the ground level working directly with the kids,” Murillo said. “To me, that’s a no-brainer.”

As a result of eliminating 89 school administrator positions, dozens of employees are being reshuffled. The district is sending 46 deans and 43 assistant principals — two secondary and 41 elementary — back to classroom teaching positions. Additionally, 38 assistant principals will be moved to new administrative positions that are either in lower salary ranges or require shorter contracts.

A few principals told the Sun they worried the survey results might be viewed by the public as administrators voting to cut supplies for students to save their colleagues’ jobs and keep their own workloads from getting heavier.

But Valley High School Principal Ron Montoya, past president of the administrators’ union executive board, said he voted for more administrators over supply dollars as a matter of campus safety, not cronyism.

Some of the responsibility for school security falls to administrative staff who patrol the halls and monitor campus activity during lunch periods and when students are moving between classes. Assistant principals and deans are an important part of the chain of authority, Montoya said.

He said he is particularly concerned about middle schools. School Police officers are no longer assigned specifically to middle schools, which leaves it up to assistant principals and deans to support the campus monitors when it comes to security matters.

“There are going to be problems if we don’t get back the (staffing) ratios we had before,” Montoya said.

Green Valley High School Principal Jeff Horn voted against any cuts to his textbook and supply budget, however, even though his campus stands to lose an assistant principal.

“Obviously I want to save jobs, but the cuts to our budget have already been so deep, we’re going to have to struggle to make ends meet,” Horn said. “To have another cut to our supply budget would be devastating.”

Green Valley gets $150 per student for textbooks and supplies, which last year amounted to about $400,000. This year’s projected budget for the school reflects a cut in supply dollars of about 6 percent, or $24,000.

Even with the most careful handling, textbooks wear out and must be replaced, Horn said. And the price tag can be steep — $100 for a single volume isn’t unheard of, he said. With 2,800 students taking six classes, textbook costs can add up quickly, he said.

If the one-time savings from the textbook and supply budget were used to restore administrative positions, it would only be for the 2010-11 academic year, and the positions would then be eliminated. Additionally, principals were told that it was possible they would see a reduction in their supply funding but still have an administrative position at their campus restored.

Green Valley’s principal said he empathizes with the district’s struggle to keep schools both appropriately staffed and stocked with supplies.

“This is the pot of money we have to build with, and it’s only getting smaller,” Horn said. “We’re grasping at straws and ideas, anything to try and do more with less. And that’s getting more difficult every day.”

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