News - March 22, 2017 - by Ray Hagar

By Ray Hagar
Nevada Newsmakers

Former Washoe County School District Trustee Howard Rosenberg said Wednesday that he "had no idea" that the Washoe County School District was facing a deficit of about $40 million dollars when he left office at the end of 2016.

The deficit could lead to the loss of more than 170 elementary teaching positions, according to the Reno Gazette-Journal. The district will consider adding two students to every class in kindergarten through 12th grade, added the RGJ.

"I didn't (know about $40 million deficit) and I should have," Rosenberg said on Nevada Newsmakers. "I had no idea. I knew we were skating on the edge. In education, you do. But every time there was a report that would come through, (it was) this was doing this and this was taking care of this and everything seemed to be, more or less, under control."

When Rosenberg was on the school board it 2015, the RGJ reported then that the school district's deficit was about $29.6 million for 2015-2016, although the district was able to cover the shortfall by dipping into savings.

Rosenberg said it was the superintendent's responsibility to bring information of the budget deficit to the board.

"Ultimately, it is the superintendent's responsibility," he said. "She is the liaison to the board. And I would have expected that there would have been at least been some warning of it."

The news of the $40 million deficit earlier this month comes a just a few months after Washoe County voters approved a sales tax hike to raise money for school construction and repair in November. The tax hike is expected to result on bond revenues of $780 million in the next decade. But by law, that money can only be used for buildings and repair and not to offset the budget shortfall.

"What I just can't get my head around is that we got what we wanted and now we can build new schools but we haven't any teachers to put in the new schools," Rosenberg said. "What good is that? And I think everybody has to understand that that money that we did get is only for building schools or repairing schools, you cant use it for personnel. So that means that that money for personnel has to come from someplace else."

He said the new school board elected in 2016 is not responsible for the $40 million deficit.

"What really disturbs me and I would like to make this very clear, it is not the new members of the board's fault," Rosenberg said. "If it is anybody's fault, it was my fault. I was there four years and had no inkling and I should have had. I just didn't know where to look at the time I needed to look there and that can be very difficult."

Rosenberg did not want to assign blame to anyone on the budget shortfall.

"We know now there is a problem," he said. "Blaming anybody doesn't do any good. Who cares? How do we take care of the problem? Are there people that need to be held to account? If they need to be held to account, does that require firing? I don't know, I am not there."

Teachers should be the last thing to be cut, Rosenberg said.

"For me it is very simple: If something needs to be cut, the last thing you cut is teachers," he said. "Anything else can be cut but teachers, the custodians, the people that keep our buildings running. Those are left alone. You cut other places. And there are any of number of places that can be cut, I'm sure, if we begin looking at them."

Rosenberg said he would consider cutting administration.

"I wouldn't say that the administration is necessarily top heavy," he said. "I would say that there are those in administration that do certain functions that might be able to be doubled up."