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Re-opening takes a back seat as trustees review funding cuts

By Eric Marks

The Washoe County School District held its regular meeting of the Board of Trustees on July 21. The meeting, which was considerably shorter than others in the recent past, was held as teachers’ unions voiced opposition to the district’s plans for WCSD staff to return to school facilities, preferring entirely remote learning be implemented until later in the year. The agenda for the meeting, however, did not include any agenda items regarding final decisions about school re-opening. 

The board plans to begin in-person meetings again with the reopening of schools.

District assesses funding cuts

The meeting began with information and discussion about the consequences of the Nevada special legislative session. The session, which ran for 12 days and nights, addressed the state’s budget deficit of $1.15 billion for fiscal year 2021 and resulted in five bills being passed, and a massive budget reduction, including almost a half a billion in state agency cuts. 

Several educational programs were not defunded, including the district’s main priority, the Distributive School Account.

Funding was eliminated for the Read by Grade 3 program. Teacher supply reimbursement was also cut, as was the Turnaround Schools Grant and the New Nevada Education Funding Formula. The district hopes to restore funding for some of these programs with potential federal funding. 

Partially defunded programs included the Gifted and Talented Program, school safety funding and bullying grant programs. College and Career Readiness and Teacher Incentive programs were also affected. In total, 71 district positions were eliminated along with about $15 million in grant reduction funding. The district does plan to reassign any staff to other positions within the WCSD to avoid layoffs. There will be about $18 million in reversion savings, WCSD Chief Financial Officer Mark Mathers said. 

Legislators agreed to allocate $50 million in federal CARES Act money to a grant program for which schools can apply to fund programs they design to provide students with alternative instruction, including providing Internet connectivity and developing and providing programs to mitigate deficits in educational attainment for categories of vulnerable students identified by the Nevada Superintendent Jhone Ebert.

Some WCSD program reductions will be covered with the CARES Act money once the district identifies how much of the $50 million it will be receiving. The district said understanding additional COVID operation costs will be an important factor for future funding needs.

Attendance policy revised

A new attendance policy will be instituted by the district. The district announced students can and will be held back or fail a class if their absentee rate exceeds 10% or more of a specific class, although the board admitted it does not know how attendance will work with distance education or hybrid learning models. 

The district is also exploring ways to keep students engaged, including consulting with students to identify potential concerns and encouraging family support. Although Nevada law requires weekly attendance, the district will be requiring daily attendance. The district will work to keep students that are identified as habitually truant on a path toward success. One of the Professional Learning Requirements teachers will be trained on will be the new attendance policy structure. This allows for teachers to factor attendance into grading.

The meeting adjourned with WCSD Superintendent Kristen McNeill discussing feedback the board has received through surveys and her meeting with the Washoe County Health District. She thanked WCHD for answering the district’s questions and noted that she would be submitting questions from staff to the health district also.

She also expressed appreciation to the Junior League for its assistance with the nutrition services and an upcoming telethon it is hosting to raise money for food-insecure students.

Feature image: Protestors rally against budget cuts to education outside the Nevada Legislature on the first day of the 31st Special Session in Carson City, Nev., on Wednesday, July 8, 2020. (Pool Photo by David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

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