Jim Clark: School budgets in Nevada
August 21, 2013
Taxpayers currently face two major tax increase initiatives by K-12 education interests. Locally, the legislature passed Assembly Bill 46 which delegated to the Washoe County Commission the authority to raise our real estate taxes by a nickel per $100 assessed valuation and to raise Washoe County sales taxes by $0.25. Proceeds would be earmarked for the Washoe County Schools property maintenance, repair and replacement fund.
Statewide, the teacher union has qualified a proposal for the November 2014 ballot that would tax businesses 2 percent of their gross revenues whether or not profitable. Proceeds would be directed into Nevada's K-12 education account.
Although neither tax has been enacted yet there has been an exodus of Washoe Republican Central Committee members reregistering in the more conservative American Independent Party to protest the fact that some Republican legislators voted for AB 46.
Statewide there has been an abrupt halt in businesses moving, or even expressing interest in moving, from California to Nevada as owners wait and see whether the gross revenues tax will pass.
In an attempt to better understand the constant demands for increased taxes by K-12 education interests I recently spent some time with the Nevada Department of Education looking at budget reports.
I was struck by the fact that Nevada's school districts rely on local property taxes to pay for maintenance, repair and replacement of school buildings.
By contrast, Nevada's 31 charter schools survive and thrive solely on funds from the state for all their expenses including costs of occupancy. Charter schools have the same challenges as county schools in meeting needs of English learners and special education students. How can they do as well for less money?
The answer to this riddle recently became evident. At a recent Washoe County Commission hearing on AB 46 Commissioner Marsha Birkbigler told Washoe School Superintendent Pedro Martinez of the painful steps the county took to reduce personnel costs during the recent recession.
She asked him how many staff the school district laid off; he responded that they spent their "reserves" to avoid layoffs. She asked the ratio of teachers to total staff; he replied that of his staff of 8,000 employees 4,000 are teachers.
The answer to the riddle became clearer during a recent AB 46 debate on radio station KKOH between School Trustee Dave Aiazzi and me.
I asked him why the school district was pushing increases in local taxes to raise $20 million per year when new state education budget is $37 million per year higher than the fiscal year just ended.
His response was that the increase was already committed for teacher salaries and benefits.
Nevada charter schools don't commit money they don't have … their teachers receive one-year contracts. Charters perform the same tasks as county schools but are run by independent boards composed of citizens and teachers. They are managed like businesses.
Charter boards and administrators know that they don't have the political clout to demand tax increases as county schools are constantly doing every time they overspend.
Excesses by government employee unions flexing their political muscle have bankrupted the cities of Vallejo, Stockton and San Bernardino in California and more recently have bankrupted Detroit.
In Nevada they are choking property owners and consumers and just the threat of a tax on gross margins discourages business (and jobs) from coming to Nevada. If the initiative passes we can bid farewell to mobile enterprises such as Apple and Microsoft.
As recently reported (but not emphasized) in the Reno Gazette Journal Washoe County School District's current state budget allocation amounts to $14,789 per student, which does not include local taxes imposed to pay school debt. That should be enough to get the job done.
Jim Clark is president of Republican Advocates, and has served on the Washoe County and Nevada state GOP Central Committees. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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