District expects strains on budget

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By David Giuliani

West Las Vegas is facing a number of strains on its budget, but a top official doesn’t expect any layoffs in the coming year.

Jim Abreu, the school district’s superintendent, said West Las Vegas will do what it takes to avoid layoffs, which he called a “last resort.” He noted that last year, the district cut the days of employment contracts to save money as a way of preventing layoffs.

The district is facing a number of financial challenges: a continued decline in enrollment, which means less money from the state; increased pay for higher teacher licensure levels as required by the state; higher utility bills; and expected 2-3 percent raises for employees.

Last year, West Las Vegas didn’t replace a number of employees who retired. For instance, the district saved $60,000 in pay after the athletic director retired; West Las Vegas is now giving a full-time teacher a stipend for taking on that duty.

Last month, Abreu sent a memo along with paychecks giving a copy of a proposed agreement with the teachers union for a reduction-in-force policy, in which the schools must clearly spell out why such reductions are happening. Legitimate reasons include enrollment or funding decreases.

In that same memo, Abreu asked for employees to inform him if they were planning to retire.

He said many believed that he was asking people to retire as part of the reduction-in-force policy. But he said that he was actually sending a draft reduction-in-force policy to teachers at the union’s request.

Abreu said he should have worded the memo differently to avoid the confusion.

He said he merely wanted to know how many people were retiring for the purposes of creating a budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. He said the district will examine each retiree’s position carefully to see if it wants to replace those people.

Meanwhile, Abreu said the district is still trying to convince the state Public Education Department to remove its special oversight over West’s budget.

The state agency took over West’s budget in the summer of 2006 after the Optic published stories that the district’s bilingual program had spent nearly $10,000 on an adults-only, invitation-only party.

In December, the state loosened some of its oversight for smaller purchase orders, Abreu said. Now, only the biggest purchase orders have to go through the state, he said. He said he hopes the state will remove its control soon after the district turns in its new budget.

“We’ve been doing good stuff financially. We’ve been pretty responsible,” Abreu said.