Education funding sparks spat in between state, district authorities

The Clark County School Board provoked a sharp response from state officials when trustees last week blamed Gov. Brian Sandoval and the Nevada Legislature for the Clark County School District’s decision to get rid of all pay enhances for its 40,000 workers.

District officials advised the pay freeze, which board members authorized on June 29 as part of a $2.3 billion spending plan for the 2015-16 academic year, in order to conserve $32.3 million and help balance a $67 million deficit. They blamed that deficiency, at least in part, on a $15 reduction in per pupil funding that the state assigns to the district.

Board members described the decrease as “disgusting” and “insulting” and expressed indignation on behalf of district employees. Other trustees specified that Clark County schools “got the shaft” and forecasted legislators would later on regret what they did to education in Nevada.

The guv’s workplace, however, did not take kindly to that evaluation.

“The Clark County School Board’s inability to offer instructors a pay raise is not a financing problem. It’s a management problem,” spokeswoman Mari St. Martin said in an email.

She noted that lawmakers pumped an extra $400 million into the state’s public education system, consisting of about $100 million over the next two years for districts to provide 2 percent raise for durability and benefit pay.

However Dale Erquiaga, state superintendent of public instruction, acknowledged the Nevada Department of Education can not control how the district invests that cash.

“It’s a huge, block amount of money. What they do with it is their decision,” he stated.

Nonetheless, Erquiaga added, “it’s disingenuous to attempt to describe their budgeting problem by indicating that small ($15) number because it makes an excellent soundbite.”

At the heart of the conflict is the complicated formula that the state uses to money public schools.

Lawmakers, who closed their recent session on June 1, approved a statewide average of $5,710 in basic per pupil funding for the 2015-16 school year. That’s up less than 1 percent from $5,676 last year.

After receiving the average quantity, Erquiaga’s workplace works the figure through a formula that weighs local tax incomes, transportation costs and other elements to determine a specific dollar quantity for each district. Which formula, for the very first time in a minimum of a years, actually reduced the standard per pupil funding that Clark County schools would get compared to the previous year.

“I’ve never seen this occur before, even throughout the economic crisis,” stated Jim McIntosh, chief monetary officer for the district. “In 2010, we went up $4. As limited as that was, it still implied massive cuts for the district.”

For the 2015-16 academic year, the state will certainly send the district $5,512 per pupil, a $15 decrease from 2014-15 that results in a total decrease of $4.7 million.

In contrast, almost every other district in the state, with the exception of Nye and Storey county schools, will see an uptick in their standard per pupil funding.

State authorities, though, were quick to mention that a boost in regional profits, such as sales and franchise taxes, drives any decline in state funding.

“When local profits decrease, as held true throughout the current recession, the state duty or share increases,” St. Martin said. “Also, when regional incomes increase, the state responsibility lowers.”

McIntosh strongly disagreed with that statement and once again indicated the economic crisis, when both state and local revenues nosedived.

In 2010, legislators returned to Carson City for a special session and cut the state’s education budget. They did the very same throughout a regular session one year later on.

“They generally came in and cut per pupil funding,” McIntosh stated. “… Essentially the state informed us that they didn’t have any money.”

Erquiaga conceded that point, however another conflict stayed.

Echoing the governor’s office, the education department stressed that the district gathers added income outside the moneying formula. That includes continuing to be property taxes and government services and franchise taxes.

Projections put the estimated additional profits available to the district at about $340 million.

Still, the combination of all earnings, both inside and outside the formula, ought to enhance total per pupil funding in the district by 0.46 percent, which isn’t sufficient to even cover the anticipated inflation rate of 1.49 percent, according to the Guinn Center for Policy Priorities.

As for the future, McIntosh shared a rosier assessment.

In the 2016-17 school year, he kept in mind, the state will include $61 to the district’s per pupil funding, which ought to lead to an overall gain of $43 million. Erquiaga also soon will identify a new formula to offer more cash for schools with high populations of special education students, English language students and at-risk kids.

“It’s truly transformational to the state of Nevada,” McIntosh said. “No one’s happier than us for the (money) they gave us.”

He added, “The (funding) formula just didn’t prefer us this year.”

Contact Neal Morton at nmorton@reviewjournal.com!.?.! or 702-383-0279. Find him on Twitter: @nealtmorton.

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