What’s next for East?

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By Optic Editorial Board

We applaud Las Vegas City Schools officials for persuading the state to kick in $750,000 in emergency supplemental funding to help the district get through this fiscal year.

We also give the district, and Superintendent Sheryl McNellis-Martinez in particular, credit for finally revealing that the true magnitude of the district’s shortfall for the current fiscal year is about $1.075 million.

Under state law, public entities cannot end a fiscal year in the red.

Factoring in the emergency funds from the state, that leaves a $325,000 funding gap that the district must address in the next 10 weeks.

So what’s the plan for addressing that deficit?

Board Vice President Ernesto Salazar posed that question to McNellis-Martinez at last week’s school board meeting.

Among the superintendent’s responses: “We can put out donation jars and stuff.”

McNellis-Martinez’s seemingly flippant response was inappropriate. Board members have every right to be asking how the district is going to come up with $325,000 between now and June 30, the end of the fiscal year. Actually, they have a responsibility to ask those questions, and every taxpayer who supports the school district deserves to know the answer.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a problem that’s going to be solved by bake sales and car washes. And minimizing the seriousness of this issue with flip comments is unproductive.

To be fair, McNellis-Martinez did offer up other potential solutions.

She said the district has ruled out a reduction in force as a solution at this point because it would have to pay off contracts and bring in substitute teachers. On that matter we agree. Besides, this deficit wasn’t caused by the district’s hard-working teachers, and it shouldn’t be balanced on their backs.

Among McNellis-Martinez’s other statements:

• The district needs to increase its revenue instead of trying to cut back expenditures.

• The district needs to work with San Miguel County Treasurer Bertha Bustamante on the collection of past due property taxes.

• The district is looking at postponing payment of some of its recurring bills — such as utilities — for May and June until the next fiscal year that begins on July 1.

Trying to increase collection of past due property taxes is a laudable goal, but let’s be realistic. The chances of collecting enough past due property taxes to make a real dent in the district’s deficit seem unrealistic to us.

We also find it troubling that the district is contemplating holding off paying some of the bills it incurs this year until next fiscal year. At this point, there might not be an alternative to that.

But let’s be honest. That merely kicks the deficit can into next fiscal year and will make it harder to balance next year’s budget.

That seems to be one of the reasons the district is in the financial mess it’s currently facing.

For now, the district needs to be forthcoming with its plan for dealing with the $325,000 deficit, and it needs to communicate that plan in a clear and concise way. We invite McNellis-Martinez to explain that plan in her own words through a guest column.