Assembly votes for schools to keep bond reserves

On a party-line vote, the Assembly on Thursday approved a bill designed to let school districts keep excess bond reserves sought by Gov. Brian Sandoval to balance education budgets.

Assembly Bill 183 cuts the reserve requirement from 12 months to six months, which both the administration and lawmakers agree can be safely done. But Sandoval's proposed budget would sweep the $425 million freed up in Clark and Washoe counties into the school district operating budgets.

AB183 instead lets the districts decide what projects from repairs to new construction to use the money for.

"This money was approved by the voters for this very purpose," said sponsor Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks.

She said redirecting the money to operating budgets would violate that.

"If we violate the will of the voters, how will they (districts) ever go back to the voters and ask for more?" said Smith. "The districts all support this and they do not support using these funds for another purpose."

Smith said the need is out there. Both Washoe and Clark counties have large numbers of schools more than 50 years old that need renovation and modernization for the students who attend them.

"We know it's the right thing to do for out students," Smith said.

As a side benefit, she said, allowing the districts to use the money for remodeling and construction "would create a significant number of jobs."

Technically, the money is not bond proceeds. It is, instead, tax money from the revenue stream designated to pay off the bonds.

Sandoval said when he introduced the plan that the money will stay in the county where it was generated but that, in these tough economic times, it is needed to support operating budgets like teacher salaries more than for construction.

Minority Leader Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, opposed the legislation.

"I feel it would be inappropriate to dedicate this to classroom construction," he said. "If any reserves are available, they need to be dedicated to the classroom."

The measure was approved 25-16 with one member absent. It goes to the Senate.


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