By Carla O’Day
Brown Elementary School will remain on a balanced calendar for 2017-18 because of pleas Tuesday by some parents and teachers to Washoe County School District trustees.
The multi-track year-round calendar for Brown was decided in December 2015 and the school recently completed a lottery process to assign tracks to students for the coming year. School now starts for all Brown students on Aug. 7, including those assigned to green track, which wasn’t scheduled to start until Sept. 5.
However, two overflow rooms of people Tuesday helped convince the board to go against its policy regarding overcrowding.
Teachers said a year-round calendar could adversely affect special education students who struggle with transitions and would overburden counselors and other limited staff if just one employee is off track. Parents voiced many concerns, one about having children in middle and high school on the traditional calendar and their younger students being on a separate calendar.
“It was a good showing,” district spokeswoman Megan Downs said. ”It was overwhelming that people supported the balanced calendar.”
A common public point made when discussing crowding is that portable classrooms should be included in a school’s capacity. However, district staff say such buildings don’t account for use of common areas, such as hallways, playgrounds, cafeterias and libraries.
Brown’s base capacity is 638 but it now has about 877 students and is projected to reach 892 this fall, making it 140 percent of capacity.
“There’s a greater safety risk when there are that many kids in one area at a time,” said Paul LaMarca, chief school performance officer.
Schools expecting to hit 120 percent of capacity on count day in September and reaching or exceeding that threshold are put on the multi-track year-round calendar the following school year.
As part of its School Overcrowding Management Plan this school year, Brown added a full-time dean, a second custodian and put up dividers in some areas.
Trustees requested statistics for the upcoming year on safety, student success and student behavior because of capacity concerns. However, there wasn’t mention about whether allowing a school to operate at such capacity could open the district up to lawsuits should a safety incident occur with crowding at the culprit.
“I don’t think that was part of the discussion,” Downs said.
Several trustees said they’ve been to Brown and mentioned about how well it’s run, from traffic patterns to the cafeteria.
Multi-track calendars increase a school’s capacity by 25 percent as it operates with staggered break times for four tracks of students. It costs an additional $250,000 annually to operate on such schedule.
Double Diamond, Alice Smith and Spanish Springs elementary schools are scheduled to go year-round this fall.
The year-round calendar has 15 fewer school days per year but each school day is 30 minutes longer. Additionally, there’s no fall break, winter break is 2 weeks instead of 3 weeks, spring break is 1 week instead of 2 weeks and no early release days.
A new elementary school expected to relieve crowding at Brown and Double Diamond is scheduled to open by fall 2019. This should set Double Diamond back on the traditional calendar.
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.