School Trustees Discuss, Question Community Budget Survey Results

 

An online survey to query citizens on how to best handle the Washoe County School District’s budget woes was presented Tuesday to trustees, although some questioned how characteristic it was of the populous.

The district’s community budget survey was conducted online anonymously Dec. 12 through Jan. 2 and garnered 2,202 responses. Such information will be considered when drafting next fiscal year’s budget.

Veronica Frenkel
Veronica Frenkel

Trustee Veronica Frenkel noted only three of the respondents took the survey in Spanish. Reaching minorities who might not normally fill out such surveys is challenging, she said.

“It warrants pointing out that it isn’t reflective of our community by any stretch,” Frenkel said. “That’s not a criticism, but a challenge of anything we do.”

About 71 percent of survey takers indicated they were white, 6 percent Hispanic, and 22 percent declined to answer. Districtwide, the student population is as follows: 45 percent white, 40 percent Hispanic, 4 percent Asian, 2 percent black, 1.5 percent American Indian, 1 percent Pacific Islander, and the remaining identify with two or more races.

Trustee John Mayer questioned where most respondents lived. Those who suggested increasing walk zones by a quarter mile might either already be walking or live far enough away from their school and wouldn’t be at risk of losing bus transportation, he speculated.

District chief financial officer Mark Mathers said survey participants were asked for their zip codes and that such information can be extracted.

Findings of the survey were as follows:

  • Cutting central services and administrators, reducing teacher support, and cuts to student transportation were the top three areas overall that should be considered when reducing the budget.
  • When given a list of top cost-cutting measures in instructional or special programs, the top three were to reduce academic assessment of students, to reduce or cut special assignments, and to reduce teacher development and training
  • The preferred areas in operations to see cuts included reducing school administration and deferring purchases of buses and other fleet.
  • Of respondents, 93 percent were either very or somewhat familiar with the district’s current funding challenges, 85 percent were familiar with previous cost-cutting efforts, 91 percent were very or somewhat familiar that ongoing costs have outpaced revenues, and 89 percent were aware that money for capital projects is separate from day-to-day operating expenses.
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Community responses to the WCSD’s budget survey, identifying the first, second, and third choice programs respondents felt the district should cut first to reduce expenses. Image: WCSD

Trustees filled the approximately $40 million shortfall for the 2017-18 school year by cutting $30 million from central services and by saving $10 million by increasing class sizes to about 28 students in fourth through eighth grades and to an average of 29 students per class in high school.

Central service reductions and savings were accomplished last year by freezing 40 vacant or soon-to-be-vacant administrative positions, including additional teacher on special assignment positions, postponing the purchase of some new school buses, along with fuel, utility, and other savings.

The survey showed 49 percent thought class sizes were too large, 27 percent said it was appropriate as it is, and 19 percent said increasing class sizes would be acceptable.

About half of respondents were district employees, 42 percent were parents, less than 2 percent were students and the remaining participants either identified as county residents or refused to divulge their affiliation.

Mathers said respondents didn’t have the dollar amounts for programs in the survey, but such information has been discussed during a series of community forums.

“There was little difference between employee and non-employee responses,” Mathers said.

The district faces a potential budget deficit of $22 million to $28 million for the 2019 fiscal year. Major causes for the deficit are related to use of fund balance/savings to develop the prior year budget (-$16 million), along with base funding increases being less than ongoing salary and benefit costs (-$9.7 million).

Other factors include increased costs for textbooks, loss of some grant funding, property insurance rates rising, restoration of other post-employment benefits, and possible increases for revenues and opening fund balances yet to be determined.

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Mathers said two of five community forums on the budget remain. Both start at 5:30 p.m.:

  • Jan. 31 at Incline Middle School, 931 Southwood Blvd., Incline Village
  • Feb. 8 at Sun Valley Elementary School, 5490 Leon Drive, Sun Valley

Forums were already held at Traner Middle School and at Double Diamond and Caughlin Ranch elementary schools.

Results collected from those, along with a further breakdown from the online survey, will be presented at the Feb. 27 board meeting, Mathers said.

For more information on the school district’s budget, visit https://www.washoeschools.net/domain/1199.

Carla O'Day
About Carla O'Day 360 Articles
Carla has an undergraduate degree in journalism and more than 10 years experience as a daily newspaper reporter. She grew up in Jacksonville, Fla., moved to the Reno area in 2002 and wrote for the Reno Gazette-Journal for 8 years, covering a variety of topics. Prior to that, she covered local government in Fort Pierce, Fla.