I've been asked repeatedly about the current issues at CCSD and how the Legislature helped set up this crisis. Even though the strike was “averted,” the underlying problem is still glaringly present. Legislative leadership did nothing to fix the fundamental cause of this problem: too little transparency in, or understanding of, the schools budgets. Let me lay out a few facts.
Let me say at the outset, I share the desire to fix the funding problem! As always, there are two sides to every dispute, and this one is no different. But from my vantage point, I think CCSD made a bargain with teachers that they appear not to have adequately spotlighted in their budget, and teachers should NOT be the ones to pay the price. It's simply not fair that teachers kept their end of the bargain, did the work, and will now not be paid as promised.
I’ve heard many people call for action, including holding a special session. I agree with the sentiment, though there are several things that can and should happen that will resolve the problem without spending the millions of taxpayer dollars on a special session. What we need is the political will of the Governor and the majority leaders in both houses to adequately fund education – a will that is painfully absent. I was disappointed that the Governor and the majority leaders went on camera on Friday 8/23 and refused to do anything; they simply kicked the football back to CCSD saying they did their part. That's nonsense. They can fix this.
First, a special session would have to be called by the Governor or a 2/3 vote of both houses of the Legislature and it’s expensive – maybe more than the fix. The Governor, and particularly Senator Nicole Cannizzaro, are loathe to call a special session. Neither do they like the thought of a strike. These would be seen as a blight on the Governor’s first term and on the Democrat-majority legislature led by Senator Cannizzaro.
The fact is that CCSD never settled on a needed budget number as we closed out the session. As much as I like and respect the representatives from CCSD personally, when the Republican Caucus conferenced with the Superintendent, the Chief Financial Officer, and various others, it was evident that they either didn’t know what the final number needed to be, or they were simply pushing for as big a number as they could get. The latter is common in Carson City. What was frustrating to me, however, was that their number would change over time, yet Senator Cannizzaro, Speaker Frierson, Senate Finance Committee Chair Senator Woodhouse, and others, summarily rejected calls for a forensic audit to figure out where prior appropriations had gone or how much the District actually needed to do the job. And CCSD couldn’t help. But here’s the thing: there’s enough money in state coffers today to fix the problem – without the Modified Business Tax (“MBT”) buy-down money.
Second, there is and always has been enough money to close the gap. I was the first to call for using as much as $250 Million more on education back in May of this year when we saw the joint Finance Committees strip money out of the Governor’s recommended budget. (See NV Independent May 23.) Instead, Senate Finance Chair Woodhouse denied knowing of any extra money (the reporter kindly said in the article she “declined to confirm”) and never did explain what the Democrats’ plan was for the money. Neither did Senator Cannizzaro when asked.
Even in the last two days of session, after most of the budget line items had been finalized, there was still $142 Million confirmed available by the legislative fiscal staff. (See NV Independent June 1.) And that was before Senator Cannizzaro and the majority illegally eliminated the MBT buy-down to raise another $98 Million. As it turned out, the $250 Million I called to be spent on education was strewn over several appropriations bills, mostly putting that money in individual legislator’s districts or their “former” employers' pockets rather than in education as a whole. (See NV Independent June 18 for an example: SB 528.) Things like raising the cost of government without increasing or improving the services provided, or paying outright for university buildings that could have been bonded and the cash used for school teachers, was, in my view, a mistake.
And this doesn’t even touch the $174 Million received from revenue streams that is sitting in the state’s bank account (over and above the minimum 5% ending fund balance we’re required to save for contingencies) that wasn’t even allocated or spent. Because accessing this money now for education would take a special session, it makes more sense to me to use it next session to backfill money used from the Rainy Day Fund today, though admittedly that would take fiscal discipline – something also painfully lacking in 2019.
But why should the state bail out CCSD yet again? Because we stand to lose our best and brightest teachers over this! If nothing else was evident at the August 21 CCSD School Board meeting, it was the palpable sense that, this time, teachers had truly had enough. You could feel it in the air – this time is different. We’ve put the burden on teachers for far too long. They are the least equipped to shoulder the huge financial and practical burden, yet they are the “financiers of last resort” – given no choice but to take less money for doing the most important work this state has.
Right now, the Governor and the Board of Examiners can meet, declare a fiscal emergency, and spend money from the Rainy Day Fund to plug this $30 Million (+/-) hole, which would be backfilled with the money above the ending fund balance. Better still, we could do a relatively quick high-level audit to find areas of contingency savings and waste within CCSD’s $2.83 BILLION budget, followed by a full forensic audit, and use that money on the promised teacher increases. Best of all, CCSD Administrators could simply decide today to place teachers at a higher priority than things like bicycles. All of this can happen without a special session that you and I, as taxpayers, would have to pay for.
Believe me when I say I’m as interested in getting this resolved as any legislator. But there are things to do before anyone calls a special session – which, by the way, I’m not opposed to do if the first steps turn out unfruitful.
Bottom line, I’m in full support of the teachers here, particularly those that relied upon CCSD’s promise to pay after the teachers completed additional professional training. There is simply no reason we don’t make them whole.
And our kids are depending upon it.