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Critical Mass: The Backup Plan to Overcrowded Schools


Image: Washoe County School District.

By Michelle Beck

Who in Washoe County hasn’t at least heard the term “overcrowding”? While the situation has been brewing for several years, most residents and parents feel they are just now learning of our critical problem.

Are they scare tactics? Double sessions can’t possibly work, parents say, and some just think it won’t happen. Others like myself and those involved in SOS Washoe know that it will. Here’s what we know so far…

WC1 will be on the ballot in November and if it passes, plans are already in place to break ground on a new addition to Damonte Ranch High School which is already 350 students over capacity. Plans are already made for several elementary schools with areas of focus around Brown, Mt. Rose and Double Diamond. It will not happen fast enough to stave off some plans for going back to year round and multi-track but seven years is too long at the pace we are growing.

On the dark side though…there is really not many options left without the passage of WC1. Property tax revenues are up enough that we aren’t incurring a larger deficit in repairs but many storage rooms and even boiler rooms are being looked at for additional space. Large rooms are facing the addition of temporary walls to break them into two classes, and many music rooms will no longer exist on their own.

Elementary schools like Brown, which is 45 percent over capacity, have already been informed of multi-track sessions for the 2017-2018 school year. Additional schools like Double Diamond, Westergard and Spanish Springs will not avoid the change to year round as well regardless if WC1 passes…whether they stay that way is at issue.

Middle and High Schools cannot do the same rotation that elementary schools do. With multiple classes throughout the day, double sessions have already been approved as the backup plan and five schools are expected to be the first: Damonte, Depaoli, O’Brien, Spanish Springs and Shaw.

In 2015, charter schools like Coral Academy were already at capacity and had some children that had been on a “lottery” waiting list for years. This year they listed numbers at nearly 1,200 students after an expansion to an office building on Neil Road increased their capacity by 400.

Manogue High School routinely encourages registering early to avoid a waiting list. Charters and privates will give little to no relief as the district gains 1,000-1,500 new students annually.

Online schooling would be the likely last refuge…at least until the time comes that we get the legislature to revisit addressing our funding which, like this November, may or may not even pass.

By then though, maybe those who thought it was all scare tactics will know better. Maybe.

Critical Mass is a series that addresses questions, myths, misinformation, state statutes, the school district and the 2016 bond initiative that will appear on the November 2016 ballot. Read the complete series.

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