West board votes for budget freeze

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By Don Pace

A divided West Las Vegas school board last week voted to freeze certain items in the budget after a heated discussion over whether the governing body was overstepping its bounds.

Top staffers opposed the board-imposed freeze.

Business Manager Dawn Biagianti said she went into shock when she heard about the proposal.

“I admit when I first saw this item on the agenda I went into shock. I thought, ‘What is it you want us to freeze? Are we supposed to stop payroll? Are we supposed to stop the athletic trips? What exactly did you mean?’” Biagianti said.

She said the administration had already been stopping all unnecessary spending.

“I’m looking at every dollar because we are going to have to cut,” she said.

At last month’s meeting, board member Caroline Lopez recommended 10 measures where she thought the district could freeze its spending. The list was narrowed to four, and then cut to three, which member Kenny Lujan read:

• The school district shall not enter into professional contracts of any kind.

• The superintendent shall refrain from offering or extending any contracts of employment to any person, certified or non-certified, for the 2010-11 school year.

• No existing salary or professional agreement be increased for any person in any amount, whether by additional stipend or otherwise.

Loped had originally proposed that all mileage and reimbursement requests not directly related to student activity and travel be denied and discontinued, except for emergencies. This item was removed from list after Lopez said she wanted students to be able to take field trips at the end of the year.  

Biagianti said a spending freeze may cause roadblocks in reacting to an emergency, especially when it came to sports teams taking trips.  

“I have agonized over athletic trips that are coming up. We have used all the money in the athletic fund, but the requests for our students to go to sporting events through the spring is about $10,000,” Biagianti said.

But Lopez said the freeze would make exceptions for emergencies. “It’s not vague,” she said.

Lopez said the intent of her freeze recommendation was not to stop the operation of the school.

“If one person can tell me where I said we were going to stop the day-to-day operation of the schools and come to a screeching standstill, I didn’t say that,” Lopez said.

Superintendent Jim Abreu said the district is “doing deeper things to save the district money.” But he recommended against approving the freeze.  

“I would recommend that you allow us to continue to deal with our budget,” Abreu said. 

Member David Romero said he didn’t think the administration would spend unnecessarily.

Member Gary Gold said that all contracts had to be approved by the board anyway and warned that this would create roadblocks in providing necessary services to the children. 

By the end of the discussion, Gold was clearly agitated with fellow member Lujan — and vice versa.

“I don’t know how to say it, without Mr. Lujan sighing every five minutes. We’re getting into telling them (administration) how to spend money. When you say it doesn’t affect anyone, it does, it affects our staff very much when we micromanage because that’s what we’re doing when we tell them how to spend that money,” Gold said.

Lujan took exception to Gold’s position, saying that a former board didn’t properly oversee the budget. He was referring to the instance in which the district held a $10,000 adults-only, invitation-only party at taxpayer expense, which triggered the state’s decision to control West’s spending.

Biagianti said that if the board gets involved in specifics, that’s micromanagement.

Lopez, Lujan and board member David Romero voted to approve the measure. Gold and board President Christine Ludi voted no.