Washoe County School District’s Chief Financial Officer Mark Mathers talks about being prepared amid uncertain funding as state faces tough economic times because of the coronavirus pandemic. Reno Gazette Journal
Larger class sizes, furloughs, hiring freezes and a bump in student fees could be facing the Washoe County School District, the University of Nevada, Reno and Truckee Meadows Community College amid the financial fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak has asked all state agencies for budget reduction proposals from 4 to 14 percent over the next two years.
For higher education, reductions could mean budget cuts of $125 million. Statewide K-12 education cuts could top $100 million.
“It doesn’t take a financial genius to know there is a big impact to the state and its revenues due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Washoe County School District Chief Financial Officer Mark Mathers.
Mathers outlined possible scenarios moving forward for the district, which has already frozen about 70 open positions and cut discretionary expenses.
“I don’t want people to read into the numbers and assume the worst will happen here,” Mathers told the school board earlier this week
“We don’t have a crystal ball,” he said. “There will probably be reductions but whether that really touches K-12 is unclear.”
Cuts and expenses influenced by COVID-19
At a recent school board meeting, the Washoe County School Board considered proposals that would reduce class sizes and expand a bus route for the district’s gifted program.
Both were tabled amid many financial unknowns.
“We want to position ourselves for ultimate flexibility,” Mathers said.
Historically, the Washoe County School District has faced budget shortfalls including in the last few years of over $40 million.
Last year was the first time in many years the district presented a balanced budget.
The district has faced immediate costs to print learning packets, help subsidize food programs for children and buy devices for remote learning.
But the district has said there is good news, including possible federal funds to help.
The school district’s government affairs director, Lindsay Anderson, said everyone is watching for funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act that could pump more than $13 billion into K-12 education.
Washoe County is expecting $10 million to $12 million.
“The use of that fund, our interpretation, is very broad,” Anderson said, adding that the district is hoping the money could be used for anything.
UNR, TMCC brace for cuts
The Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Thom Reilly said that, as during the Great Recession, the state’s colleges will look at a “shared sacrifice model” for budgets cuts.
“The weeks and months ahead will be a difficult burden for all of us to shoulder, however, if we share this burden the individual sacrifice can be lessened,” Reilly said.
Reilly said the budget cuts directly impact the ability of the state’s seven public colleges to graduate students.
He said the most severe cuts could mean layoffs and an increase in student fees.
Higher education in the state has a budget of $1 billion.
“Seventy percent of that is from the state and we know the state is going to take a hit and there will be significant reductions,” Reilly said.
UNR says programs won’t be cut
During the recession years of 2008-2013, UNR cut programs.
This time, UNR President Marc Johnson said in a letter to students and staff, UNR budget reductions would focus on salary and operating fund savings.
Savings have already started from a hiring freeze, reduced travel and cutbacks on purchasing equipment and supplies.
Moving forward, Johnson said higher workloads may be expected of existing faculty, research might have to be done by fewer professors and there may be longer wait times for advising, tutoring and help for students. He also said maintenance projects may be delayed.
“This approach is designed to limit job layoffs to the greatest extent possible and only in the highest levels of budget reductions,” he said.
Budget reduction task force at TMCC
TMCC has assembled a budget reductions task force.
The group of stakeholders will provide recommendations on reductions and create a fiscal strategy.
“The TMCC leadership is committed to doing our best to avoid direct impacts to students, or layoffs of permanent employees,” said TMCC Associate Vice President Elena Bubnova.
She said TMCC is dedicated to training people for the jobs needed to aid in the economic recover of Nevada.
Siobhan McAndrew tells stories about the people of Northern Nevada and covers education in Washoe County. Read her journalism right here. Consider supporting her work by subscribing to the Reno Gazette Journal.
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