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WCSD battles $40M shortfall
by Jill Lufrano
Mar 12, 2012 | 1773 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune/Jill Lufrano - Washoe County School District Superintendent Heath Morrison speaks to reporters on Monday.
Tribune/Jill Lufrano - Washoe County School District Superintendent Heath Morrison speaks to reporters on Monday.
RENO — Washoe County Schools Superintendent Health Morrison is pulling out all the stops to ensure every student in Washoe County schools receives a good education next year, though the district faces a massive $40 million budget shortfall before the year begins.

However, the district might have to accomplish this with fewer programs, cuts in many areas, larger class sizes in every grade and fewer staff.

“It’s a daunting challenge,” Superintendent Health Morrison told a crowd of news reporters Monday morning. “I can’t wait for the day when I can stand at this podium and talk about that we have additional monies for education and here’s what we want to do with them. That’s not where we find ourselves now. Where we find ourselves now is still in the midst of a national recession that our great state has been impacted by more than any other.”

If school trustees accept Morrison’s recommendation for the $40 million budget reduction plan, it will include reducing staff by 154, though this number might not equate to layoffs, Morrison said. Some staff have taken advantage of two special retirement initiatives and some have moved on through natural attrition

“Hopefully we will take care of those without any reductions in force,” Morrison said.

Although Morrison said he is working at with the governor’s team to build future plans, the superintendent said he is focused on how to get through the next school year.

“Right now, these are the challenges that we have and as leaders we have to stand up and be ready for them,” Morrison said.

The superintendent spoke often about all-day kindergarten classes. Possible cutting of a proposed expansion of full-day kindergarten will save $4 million, something Morrison said was needed this year but he felt strongly that early-childhood learning was one of the most valuable tools a in education.

“National research shows that with every dollar spent in early childhood, you get $7 back. And so this is the best return on investment you can have,” he said. “These are kids who don’t need interventions. These are kids who don’t need summer remedial courses. These are kids who are on a pathway to go to college.”

Other proposed savings include:

• $7 million drawn from the contingency fund;

• $6 million from the health insurance savings;

• $7 million from maintaining class-size increases of two students in first through third grades;

• $2 million from deferring new textbooks for the third consecutive year;

• $4.5 million from tax and enrollment adjustments;

• $2 million in energy savings from a mild winter;

• $500,000 from a special early separation incentive program;

• $2 million from the use of Incline property tax lawsuit reserve;

• $1.2 million from the use of reserves to cover the loss of federal funding (the unused portion);

• $2 million from additional central office reductions (in addition to cuts to central services and direct school support services of $9.5 million during the past two years); and

• $1.8 million in increase to class sizes in grades 4th to 12th grades by half a student.

Morrison said he still feels the district will continue to serve its students as best as possible, regardless of the cuts.

“I feel very comfortable and confident as the superintendent of the Washoe County School District in saying that as best we can we are putting all available resources in the classroom,” Morrison said.

Also discussed Monday was an application from the Nevada Department of Education to the U.S. Department of Education to opt out of the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, enacted in 2001.

The Washoe County School District joined other districts in Nevada supporting this request. Twenty-five other states also applied for waivers. Ten states have been granted waivers by the federal government.

The waiver does not waive accountability, it waives the current Adequate Yearly Progress requirements and enables states to create an accountability system built on academic growth. Nevada’s achievement would be based on student proficiency scores, growth from year to year, closing the achievement gap and achieving goals set by school districts across the state.

The U.S. Department of Education is expected to announce its decision on Nevada’s waiver request in June.

In other news, Morrison announced how he will use $10,000 in funds he received as part of his National Superintendent of the Year award from the American Association of School Administrators, given to him at a conference in Houston, Texas, on Feb. 16. He had the choice of giving it as a scholarship to either the school district he presently works for or to the high school from which he graduated.

Morrison decided to split the funding in half: $5,000 will go to a Washoe County high school senior and $5,000 to a senior from Hayfield High School is Fairfax County, Va. The scholarships will be given to two graduating seniors who overcame adversity, succeeded in their studies and will be the first in their families to attend college.

Morrison asked the Washoe County and Fairfax County communities to provide matching funds for these scholarships.
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