The Clark County School District’s budget hole could be nearly twice the initial estimate and now close to $60 million, meaning cuts approved Thursday evening may be only the beginning.
The Board of Trustees voted 4-2 to approve a plan that would chop roughly $43 million from this fiscal year’s budget, which sets in motion layoffs and program eliminations. Trustees Chris Garvey and Kevin Child cast the two dissenting votes.
But the district’s new chief financial officer, Jason Goudie, warned the board that the budget shortfall is “significantly” larger than the existing $45 million estimate — likely in the $50 million to $60 million range — and would necessitate more cuts. The original estimate, announced in early July, was $34.4 million.
“A number of factors have changed since that shortfall was forecasted,” he said. “We have performed additional accounting procedures to get more accurate information for 2017, and other numbers have been updated as well. I want to ensure that everyone understands that we’re still in the process to finalize the 2017 (budget) results, and there will be additional changes to the 2018 projections.”
The announcement further sobered what was already a grim meeting, as trustees reviewed a plan that outlined where the first round of cuts would occur: $17.3 million from schools’ strategic budgets, $14 million from direct services provided to schools and $11.8 from central services.
What trustees didn’t learn: the exact number or description of positions eliminated. The plan essentially lists the reductions by category and dollars saved.
For instance, the plan calls for trimming $831,000 from the Student Services Division, which includes a broad array of programs such as special education, gifted and talented education, speech pathology, psychology and social work. The district also plans to cut $1.6 million worth of positions designed to help monitor individualized education plans for special-education students and ensure that they’re complying with the law.
Those cuts drew the ire of some community members who said children with disabilities are a vulnerable population that the district needs to protect — and not doing so could open the door for litigation.
“Please recognize the overall impact of the decisions you might make tonight,” said Robin Kincaid from Nevada PEP, a parent advocacy organization. “Students with disabilities and their families are counting on you.”
The district’s lawyers said the cuts are in compliance with federal and state laws that guarantee children with disabilities receive appropriate services.
Trustees expressed concern about a $975,000 budget cut to school police. Officials from the union that represents school police said that reduction could result in the elimination of up to 11 officers.
“Our kids deserve great places to be safe,” Child said. “ … I can’t support anything that would cut our police department.”
The state-mandated reorganization effort also adds a new wrinkle to the budget cuts. To cover the cost of collective bargaining agreements, which is a contributing factor to the deficit, the schools must decide how to shave their budgets accordingly. That process will involve seeking input from the school organizational teams, the advisory groups consisting of parents, staff and community members created through the reorganization.
The lack of detail about the cuts didn’t sit well with some board members, including Trustee Chris Garvey who has become an outspoken critic of the district’s financial transparency.
“That’s a little concerning to me that again the trustees are being put into a leap-of-faith decision when, ultimately, we are the ones that have to make the final, push-the-button decision,” she said.
Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky said the district needed the board’s approval for the general distribution of cuts before making decisions about specific programs or positions that will be eliminated.
Goudie said the reductions will occur as soon as possible because delays would just end up costing the district more money in terms of salary and benefits. The board will see the exact positions and programs eliminated in the final amended budget.
The cuts should bring the district’s ending-fund balance back up to 1.75 percent by the end of this fiscal year. School officials have blamed the deficit on a variety of factors, including arbitration costs and less-than-expected funding from the state.
Trustee Linda Young lamented what she described as a frustrating, painful situation that underscores the need for a community and state conversation about education funding.
“Look at this paper, bleeding like this,” she said, referring to the list of budget cuts. “Practically all of it is going back to students.”
Board President Deanna Wright was absent from the meeting because of an illness.