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Could East, West share costs?

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By David Giuliani

Just about every government entity is looking at cutting costs because of declining tax revenue.

The East and West school districts are no different. And the leaders of those two districts say they would look at opportunities to share costs.

Veronica Garcia, secretary of the state Department of Education, sent a letter to all school superintendents suggesting they need to begin looking for ways to save money.

“At this time, there has been no recommendation for districts to cut 5 percent from their budgets,” she said in the letter. “However, with the significant shortfalls in projected revenue it is possible that districts and charter schools may be required (via legislation, credits, etc.) to do their part as the state deals with the effects of the national economic downturn. Therefore, it would be prudent for districts to begin to review their budgets and to implement revenue and energy efficiency measures in advance of any potential mandates.”

And a more gloomy perspective comes from the chairman of the Legislative Finance Committee, Sen. John Arthur Smith, who wrote in its November newsletter, “Nothing is sacrosanct. It might seem coldhearted to include education and human services among the areas subject to scrutiny, but those areas make up 80 percent of the budget. We simply cannot make up the entire shortfall if we can only look at the many, many government services in the remaining 20 percent.”

In Las Vegas, the focus right now is saving money on energy use. For example, the West Las Vegas schools reduced their energy costs $260,000 last year and is in the process of updating heating and cooling systems in five district schools this year.

At Las Vegas City Schools, the district has begun using two computer programs, “Utility Direct” and “Maintenance Direct,” to allow it to monitor use and reduce costs, hopefully by at least 5 percent this year.

With the potential for budget reductions as suggested by Garcia, a review of the overhead or administrative side of both districts might be on the horizon. For example, in both districts, the budget just in each superintendent’s office is $800,000, and their business offices operate with some $500,000 each. And total district expenditures on non-instructional administrative support costs are double to triple state and national averages.

Given these facts, West Las Vegas Superintendent Jim Abreu said he is “very interested in sharing costs” with the Las Vegas City Schools in order to reduce costs overall.

Faced with the same potential budget scenario, Richard Romero, superintendent at the Las Vegas City Schools, also said he believes there are “absolutely opportunities for savings with the West Las Vegas schools, not only in administrative support but with educational programs also.”