The White Pine County School District Board of Trustees held a budget discussion session in front of a standing room only crowd packed into the high school library on April 11.
District Chief Financial Officer Paul Johnson’s worksheet of potential budget cuts came quickly to the center of attention of the public in attendance. Johnson has the thankless task of balancing the district’s budget, and this fiscal year will be brutal.
The proposed budget includes $145,000 in cuts from the Lund School, $206,000 from White Pine Middle School including all athletics, and a tough $431,000 from the high school. The proposal also eliminates one district administrator and one elementary school position.
Johnson is trying to save the district just over a million dollars in total this year. As for the high school, the potential cuts will hit hard. One math and one english teaching position each need to be cut. Auto shop, wood shop and the robotics program would be cut. Entire sports programs would be cut, including boys and girls soccer, boys and girls golf, wrestling, baseball, dance and flag. The football team would also lose an assistant coach.
“I’m curious,” baseball coach and teacher Quinn Ewell said during the opening public comment. “There’s a $90,000 cut to sports, including baseball and dance. I would be willing to cover the stipends. Right now we’re sending a bus down half full, but softball and baseball could go together.”
“This is a bad situation,” coach and teacher Tyler Laity said. “You need to realize how important extracurriculars and sports are for kids.”
“That other road, that’s not good,” boys soccer coach Leif Tokerud said. “It’s a horrible and treacherous road when kids don’t have good things to do, an awful road. This is a huge deal and pretty intense stuff. I want you to understand what all these things mean. I’m getting a little emotional. There are a lot of kids from the program who stepped up and served in the armed forces. I need you to understand these things.”
“I moved down to Ely about three years ago,” senior Jose Pacheco said. “Soccer is a sport that has really shown me a lot. My family was poor moving from Las Vegas and the team really helped me a lot. Now I’m going to UNLV to play soccer. Playing with my little brother on the team was one of the best experiences of my life. Anything I can do to help out, I’ll help out.”
“Auto shop got my son through high school,” said a woman who identified herself as Charlotte Baldwin. “It’s the reason he showed up, the reason he kept his grades up. It’s important stuff to know.”
Johnson then explained his revenue projections for the year.
“Unfortunately, there is a price tag on education,” Johnson said. “It’s not incompetence, it’s economics. I wish there was someone to blame, that would be a lot easier. We have to identify things that are supplemental to our core. Right now we have to play the hand we’ve been dealt. The revenue we have to operate with has not kept pace with expenditures. The state increased our per pupil allotment this year by only $50, which comes out to a total of $60,000. That’s one-fifth of the increase in inflation alone. Over the past two years, there has been a migration of $1.4 million to the charter school. I’m not vilifying the charter school, we’re just dealing with the economics of that school opening.”
“I assure everybody here,” White Pine High principal Adam Young said. “If there were other ways, we would be doing that. Anything that could be described as ‘extra’ was eliminated last year. Everything we talk about is going to be really, really painful and a bad idea.”
“Last year we talked about cuts to sports,” White Pine Middle School principal Sharyl Allen said. “We lost intramurals, wrestling and golf.”
Sophomore Lily Fullmer suggested a 4th of July soccer extravaganza to raise money for the team. Sophomore Hannah Barber suggested softball and golf tournaments and an archery shoot.
“We have our own labor shortage,” Ely State Prison Warden Renee Baker said. “So we have the same problems that you do recruiting teachers. School budget cuts affect us too, and we will have nothing to offer recruits. Officers will ask about the school district: ‘What do you have to offer?’ My officers don’t have much to offer their kids other than sports and extracurriculars, and next to the mine, I’m one of the biggest employers.”
“We’re looking at these cuts,” Meg Rhoades, White Pine Tourism and Recreation employee said. “But we need to spread them out over all the sports. If families are going to stay, they’ll ask which sports we have. Then they’ll say, ‘We’re going to move.’ We can’t put it all on the community. We have to have a plan, or else it’s going to be the same five people at the fundraisers. They’re going to get tired of it, and they’ll be the five families that leave. Hopefully, we can all make a little more solid commitment.”
“We have a group for that,” Young said. “Make sure you joint the athletic boosters before you leave tonight.”
“I’m on the private side,” engineer B.J. Almberg said. “I’ve had to take pay cuts and it’s not very comfortable. I believe it should be pay-to-play, but I also don’t want to raise it so high that no one can afford to pay to play. There’s nothing more important to the community and youth than taking care of these programs. They’re a lifeline to keep them out of trouble. I don’t want it to be a handout. I want them to come and work. Pay-to-play increases their commitment and I am willing to come and fight for these kids. If we really want this to work, everybody has to participate in it.”
“We really need to pitch the White Pine boosters,” said a man who identified himself as Todd Brewster. “They are a small but dedicated group and very hardworking folks. We do need you. We need your strength and your connections. We need one grand plan and not 42 different ones. Cutting ten percent of the budget out of 20 percent of the programs is not how it’s done anywhere else.”
“We have a problem in Nevada,” Johnson said. “It’s the amount of money being put in. We need to increase our base funding. Are we going to have to cut $1.2 million next year? A lot of the factors have plateaued. We really need our voices to be heard and we need to take a look at how much money we spend on education as Nevadans.”
“It’s been a painful few years for all of us,” board chair Lori Hunt said.
The district must file its tentative budget on April 15. It will hold a mandatory tentative budget public hearing on May 18 and must adopt its final budget by June 8.
The board will meet next in the district office’s board room on April 19 at 6 p.m.