By VERNON ROBISON
Moapa Valley Progress
Parents of school children all over southern Nevada were invited to give input last week on where additional cuts should be made in the Clark County School District (CCSD) budget. On Tuesday, Sept. 5, CCSD parents received a barrage of emails and phone calls enlisting their participation in an online survey at the school district’s website.
In recent weeks, the CCSD has been working in crisis mode; trying to explain and address a budget shortfall ranging from $50-70 million. On August 24, the CCSD Board of Trustees approved budget cuts totalling $43 million. But an ever-increasing projected deficit has caused CCSD central administrators to seek deeper cuts to the budget.
In a video connected with the online survey, CCSD Chief Financial Officer Jason Goudie explained the district’s budget problems. He stated that though the district has a $24 billion general operating fund, it also has the lowest per pupil funding of the five largest school districts in the country. That is at $8,074 per student. The highest per pupil funding on the top five list was New York City at $21,154.
Goudie also emphasized that 88 percent of the CCSD general operating fund is spent on strategic budgeting at the school or on direct services to the school, while 12 percent is spent on central administration.
With 40,000 employees district-wide, 87 percent of the expeditures goes to paying people, Goudie said. “That is why it is hard to cut our budget without cutting positions,” he said.
The parent survey listed 11 possible district-wide cuts and asked parents to rank those proposed cuts in order of preference. The items included cuts to school staffing levels, facilities operations, transportation, gifted and talented programs; and even a proposal to shave games off of the athletic seasons in each sport.
In an interview last week, CCSD Associate Superintendent Jeff Hybarger said that he hoped parents would take the survey “at face value.” Hybarger supervises the schools in the rural northeast Clark County.
“I hope that people out there recognize this as an effort to reach out to the community as a whole and seek more voices in solving this problem,” Hybarger said. “The district is genuinely wanting to listen to people and get input that can guide the final decision. There is so much power in having more voices involved.”
Hybarger encouraged people to participate and give thoughtful input. “I’d just tell people to say what they have to say,” he said. “Get it all out on the table. This has admittedly been a tough time for the district and the community should be fully involved.”
Many local parents found themselves wanting to participate but admitted being confused by the survey. In a public comment made on Friday during a meeting of the Moapa Valley Community Education Advisory Board (MVCEAB), Moapa parent Taci May said that she had been unsure from reading the survey questions just what the effect would be on local schools.
“It (the survey) just raised a lot of questions for me,” May said. “There were a lot of things there that I hadn’t heard anything about before. And the responses are due so quickly that there isn’t a chance to ask the questions and get answers.”
Parents in Virgin Valley also expressed concerns that the 11 proposed cuts were too limited.
“All of the cuts listed were only at the school level,” said Virgin Valley parent Courtney Sweetin. “There were no options there for cutting at higher levels in Las Vegas. I don’t think that enough analysis has been done about the extent of cuts that are being made to central administration. Instead it just comes straight down to the school level. Of course, that is the easier path. But I’d like to see some transparency about what cuts are being made to Central office. Otherwise it all seems like it is meant to come out skewed against the schools.”
Logandale resident and MVCEAB member Lindsey Dalley said that this survey shows that it was just mpore business as usual for the district.
“It is just the same old same old,” Dalley said. “They are asking for suggestions on how the central office can cut budgets at the schools. But in reality, given all of the talk of reorganizing the CCSD and bringing decisions down to the school level, shouldn’t that be the school’s job?”
Dalley said that the survey is just more evidence that the CCSD is not really committed to the culture change outlined in Assembly Bill 469, passed by the state legislature to bring major reform to the CCSD.
“You can’t paint with that broad of a brush,” Dalley said. “How can I make a recommendation on such universal issues when I don’t know where it is going to have the most impact? As a rural parent, I’m not equipped to do that on issues affecting urban schools; and it holds the same for urban parents making decisions about things affecting rural schools. Each individual school knows best what it needs and those decisions should be made at the local level. That was the whole point of AB469. Apparently the central administration has still just not gotten the memo on that.”