School officials argued Friday the estimated $400 million in bond reserves Gov. Brian Sandoval wants to sweep for school operating funds should instead be used for construction and refurbishing projects in the districts.
Similar to the governor's proposal, Assembly Bill 183 by Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, would reduce the amount of reserves school districts must maintain to make bond payments. But instead of pumping the money into operating budgets, it would allow districts, at their discretion, to use the money to expand, update, repair and refurbish older schools.
She said 10 districts including Washoe, Clark and Carson City could benefit from the legislation.
Caroline McIntosh, superintendent of the Lyon County School District, said the legislation would free up as much as $11 million for badly needed maintenance.
"Roofs are a big deal in Lyon County," she said. "We have a roof in Fernley that absolutely must be done immediately."
Mark Stanton of Washoe County School District said the bill would "almost double the bond capacity available to us." He said Washoe has schools ranging from 60 to 100 years old and that the up to $75 million AB183 would generate would go a long way toward repairing and remodeling them.
Joyce Haldeman of Clark County School District said a third of that district's 357 schools are 40 or more years old.
"We are very much in need of this money," she said adding that her board has voted to oppose the Sandoval administration's plan for the money.
Carole Vilardo of the Nevada Taxpayers Association said Smith's bill "is a viable use of the money."
Sandoval's administration issued a statement when Smith presented the bill opposing the idea. He said Friday the proposal "creates a $400 million hole in the budget." He also said he thinks the money would be better spent on teacher salaries and classroom supplies than construction.
Doing so enabled his administration to save an estimated $425 million in general fund cash they would otherwise had to put into the K-12 education
Under state law, school districts must maintain a full year's worth of bond payments as a reserve in case of fiscal shortfalls. Every other governmental entity in the state is required to maintain just half that six months worth of payments. The Sandoval plan would cut the requirement to six months, matching other governments.
Smith said she hopes to get the bill out of committee with a "do pass" recommendation next week.