Nevada Educators Eye Kindergarten, Empowerment For Budget Cuts

Nevada K-12 education officials may target new programs, including all-day kindergarten and school empowerment initiatives, in making budget cuts sought by Gov. Jim Gibbons, saying that would protect existing programs and basic school support.

"There's a lot of that money that's not yet been awarded," said Jim Wells, deputy superintendent for finance at the state Department of Education. "If we take these programs off the top before we determine what has to come from the districts, we're not hurting the districts as much."

Wells commented at a meeting Monday called to clarify what's available for cuts and how the state budget office expects school districts to accomplish the 4.5 percent reduction sought by Gibbons.

The governor's decision to include public schools in the 4.5 percent budget reductions over the 2007-09 biennium came in December, after he had said schools would be exempt from the cuts.

Educators from Washoe, Clark and other districts said reducing or eliminating new programs would be a less painful way to take $96.2 million out of K-12 budgets statewide than cutting existing programs, and state Budget Director Andrew Clinger agreed.

"I think that's a good plan," he said. "Why would you cut an existing program then bring on a new program?"

Cutting the Innovation and Remediation Trust Fund, which contains money for empowerment, all-day kindergarten and remediation grant money, would cover more than half what the schools have to cut, lowering their bill from $96.2 million to about $42 million.

The issue now may be timing, said Mary Pierczynski, Carson City district superintendent and head of the superintendents' association this year.

"This is very important and it's not something that can be turned around in a couple of days," she said in response to Clinger's statement that the governor wants to finish making decisions on the cuts this week.

Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said Monday that
she doesn't think cuts are needed and instead the state's "rainy day" fund for fiscal emergencies can be tapped.

There's about $267 million in the fund now.

Gibbons already has proposed using $126 million of the fund to make up the shortfall in expected tax revenues.

"Our schools simply cannot take the hits that the governor is proposing," said Buckley, who noted that Nevada ranks 46th in the nation in per-pupil funding.