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OPINION: Sandoval’s budget proposal adds up for education


By Chuck Muth

Gov. Brian Sandoval’s budget proposal would cut $625 million from K-12 education. Once you get into the millions, that sounds like a lot of money to the Average Joe. But in context, not really. The vast majority of that reduction can be absorbed without impacting classrooms simply by slightly reducing the salaries of school personnel by 5 percent.

For example, instead of Frank Mathews–a regional professional development program director (a what?) for the Clark County school district–making $115,311.78 like he did in 2009 (hat tip: Transparent Nevada), Mr. Mathews would be paid $109,546.19 to do whatever it is he does that’s so crucial to excellence in public education in Clark County.

In other words, the public education system in Nevada, under the governor’s plan, could continue to provide pretty much all of the necessary (and still many unnecessary) programs and services, including classroom instruction, that are currently being provided at less cost.

But there’s a turd in the punchbowl: unions.

You see, while it’s certainly possible to continue providing the same level of service and instruction to Nevada’s children by taxpayer-funded government employees taking a small 5 percent pay cut–especially minor compared with the much larger pay cuts many in the private sector have already endured–the education unions could dig in their heels and say, “Screw the kids; we ain’t takin’ no stinkin’ pay cut!”

And because of Nevada’s collective bargaining law–which should be repealed this upcoming session, by the way–local school districts might be forced by the unions to continue paying school district personnel their current salaries and benefits and will have to cover the budget reduction through layoffs, increased class sizes and program eliminations.

Make no mistake: If those types of cuts are made, it will be because of the greedy public employee unions, not Gov. Sandoval.

Heath Morrison, superintendent of Washoe County schools, opposes the governor’s plan, claiming “it’s unrealistic to believe reducing salaries wouldn’t have an effect on the quality of education,” insisting that asking public employees to pitch in and share the sacrifice by taking a little less pay rather than lay off fellow teachers, eliminate programs and make class sizes bigger will “impact the classroom.”

Think about the “logic” of what Mr. Morrison is saying here. According to his theory, you could take a really crappy basketball coach, pay him 5 percent more, and he’ll turn into John Wooden. And if you take a truly extraordinary coach and pay him 5 percent less, his coaching ability will vanish into thin air. It’s absurd.

As is Morrison’s notion that if you reduce salaries and benefits by a small percentage, “our very talented teachers and principals (might) decide they can get more pay somewhere else.”

Really? Where does he think they’re going to go? In case Mr. Morrison missed it, Nevada isn’t the only state suffering from the Great Recession. Education cuts in some other states are worse than here. Where exactly do these people think they can go where there are tons of high-paying public school job openings?

But let’s say some do find Nirvana and leave Nevada. With 15 percent unemployment in Clark County and around 10 percent nationwide, how hard really would it be to replace a regional professional development program director at $109,546.19? I mean, come on.

Or better yet, how much of a strain on the system would it be to take current overpaid and unnecessary non-teaching school administrators and put them back into the classroom? Does the Clark County school district really need 26 regional professional development program directors who could instead be teaching in classrooms? Get real.

The private sector has been trimming down and making these kinds of tough but necessary budget cuts for more than three years now. It’s high time for government employees to start sharing in the sacrifice, as well.

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Chuck Muth is president of Citizen Outreach, a non-profit public policy grassroots advocacy organization. He may be reached at [email protected].

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