School District Still at Odds With State Over Funding

Washoe schools Superintendent Traci Davis gives the state of education address at Billinghurst Middle School. Image: Bob Conrad.
Washoe schools Superintendent Traci Davis gave 2018 the state of education address at Billinghurst Middle School. Image: Bob Conrad.

“There’s nothing wrong the formula, and there’s no mistake. Every other district figured it out. The only district that’s having an issue is Washoe County.”

The Washoe County School District (WCSD) is pushing back – again – against the state over a complex funding formula that led to a $6.5 million budget deficit last year, a hole that was eventually filled once the funding gap was recognized.

Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval.
Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval.

Governor Brian Sandoval said at the time: “While there is no state error, I do believe bridge funding is necessary to avoid budget cuts that affect children and teachers in the upcoming school year.”

The district maintains that the state changed its school funding practices, causing harm to Washoe County students.

“The state refuses to solve the problem it created by changing decades of past practice on budgeting and failing to follow its own laws,” the district’s Chief Legal Counsel, Neil Rombardo, told ThisisReno this week.

A 30-page opinion by the state Legislative Counsel Bureau, however, claims otherwise.

“WCSD claims that when the State Department of Education … developed and administered the equity allocation model required under the Nevada Plan, the department used an improper method for counting enrollment of certain pupils enrolled full-time in a ‘virtual charter school,’” said the LCB’s Kevin Powers. “As a result, WCSD claims that the department improperly estimated the enrollment of each school district for each fiscal year of the 2017-2019 biennium.”

In short, the state maintained that WCSD claimed that a counting method short-changed per-pupil support in Washoe County.

“WCSD claims that, during the 2017 legislative session, the department changed its counting method … despite WCSD’s objections,” Powers said.

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WCSD Superintendent Traci Davis disagreed last year.

“A different calculation was used that we were unaware of,” she said. “There was a different formula that we were not aware of.”

Not so, Powers countered. “It is the opinion of this office that WCSD’s claims do not have any merit as a matter of law because the counting method used by the department to count pupils enrolled full-time in a program of distance education provided by a virtual charter school located within another school district is consistent with (state law), which provides the statutory formula for counting enrollment in order to calculate the total basic support guarantee for each school district…”

Education Department spokesman, Greg Bortolin, said, in short, last year: “There’s nothing wrong the formula, and there’s no mistake. Every other district figured it out. The only district that’s having an issue is Washoe County.”

School District Protests

“(Senate Bill) 544 has hurt the students of Washoe County and continues to do so. The district will continue to entertain all options to solve this problem.”

Neil Rombardo, chief legal counsel for the Washoe County School District. Image: WCSD.
Neil Rombardo, chief legal counsel for the Washoe County School District. Image: WCSD.

The issue remains unresolved more than a year later. WCSD continues to push back against the state.

Rombardo tersely criticized the LCB opinion:

“The LCB opinion lacks legal merit and contains strained circular reasoning,” he said. “The District is concerned that on June 18, 2018, the LCB stated it already provided the opinion to the Legislature, yet, interestingly enough, the opinion is dated July 23, 2018.

Rombardo said that the state is contradicting it’s own education superintendent.

“The LCB opinion is also clearly inconsistent with the memo issued by Nevada Superintendent of Education Steve Canavero last October (2017) regarding WCSD’s funding and per pupil funding,” he said. “The LCB opinion is also inconsistent with the comments of Governor Sandoval at the Board of Examiners and the vote of the Board Examiners. The opinion is also inconsistent with (state law). The District has worked in good faith with its legislative delegation and the governor’s office to address this issue.”

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Rombardo provided no additional details, but he hinted at escalated action to resolve the situation.

“(Senate Bill) 544 has hurt the students of Washoe County and continues to do so,” he wrote. “The district will continue to entertain all options to solve this problem.”

Read the LCB opinion and Canavero’s memo below.

About Bob Conrad 959 Articles
Bob Conrad is co-founder of ThisisReno. He manages ThisisReno and Conrad Communications, LLC, his marketing communications consulting company. He also works part time for the University of Nevada, Reno.