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‘Terrible’ Budget Cuts Mulled by School Board (Subscriber Content)

By Bob Conrad
Published: Last Updated on
Washoe County School Board Trustees, 2019. Image: Ty O'Neil.
Washoe County School Board Trustees, 2019. Left to right, standing: Dr. Angie Taylor, Andrew Caudill, Jacqueline Calvert, Scott Kelley, and Ellen Minetto. Seated: Katy Simon Holland and Malena Raymond. Image: Ty O’Neil.

The Washoe County School District is facing a $7.5 million deficit and is bracing to make cuts to a variety of programs to fill a budget hole as part of its legal mandate to have a balanced budget. A survey issued by the district revealed that community members wanted to see reductions to administrative salaries and positions, as well as central services, while cuts to instruction and extracurricular activities were ranked as low priorities.

Parents, community members, and teachers spoke yesterday at a school board workshop against proposed cuts to athletics, gifted-and-talented programs, and library services.

Teacher librarians spoke against being grouped in for possible cuts with classified staff librarians.

“We have been identified by the district as one of the areas that don’t align with the district strategic plan,” said district teacher-librarian Sara Stewart. “We were rated along with the elementary library assistants who are not certified teachers and are not evaluated to the same degree as us.

“It appeared that other departments were broken down to a more granular level for ratings. Why on earth wasn’t library services rated the same way- classified and certified separately?”

“These are terrible choices to be forced to make, and none of us on the Board wish to see anything reduced.”

Stewart said that the district should not rate library assistants the same as certified teacher librarians. Washoe County Library Director Jeff Scott also spoke in favor of preserving library services.

Board President Katy Simon-Holland said, however, that library services are not mandatory.

“They are not mandated by statute or other governing regulation,” she explained “Like family engagement and custodial services, though, we know they are critical to giving our students a world-class education, and we can’t achieve great outcomes for our students without them.

“They are prioritized lower because we are not mandated to provide those programs. Being a lower priority doesn’t mean they will be eliminated and everything else is untouched.”

Others spoke against potential cuts to gift-and-talented programs.

The district’s budget director said that there are a lot of unknowns at this point, and the district’s “priority-based budgeting” process is being implemented in case the budget cuts are required.

District officials said the cost of new schools, health insurance, staff salary increases, and a cost of living adjustment are increasing costs the district has to cover.

District Maintains State Made Mistake

Trustee Katy Simon Holland.

School Board President Katy Simon Holland said that the district is punished by the state’s funding model.

“It’s an odd feature of the Nevada plan that Washoe and Clark counties actually receive the lowest per-pupil funding in the state of all counties. In a sense, we are penalized for our good economic performance,” she said.

Officials with the Department of Education said its budget formula has been implemented correctly, but Simon Holland called the district’s budget deficit an “error” the district is hoping the legislature will cover this legislative session, as proposed in the governor’s recommended budget.

“That assumes that the state legislature will approve the $8.6 million allocation to make Washoe County whole for an error that was made in the application of the funding formula in the last biennium,” she said. “We’re all very hopeful that that the legislature will pass that as well.”

She encouraged people to go advocate to the legislature for what she said should be “a better educational system.”

“These are terrible choices to be forced to make, and none of us on the Board wish to see anything reduced,” she added. “It is unfortunately our statutory responsibility.”

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