Home > Opinion > I will be the watch dog for Jeff Church (opinion)

I will be the watch dog for Jeff Church (opinion)

By ThisIsReno
Denise Hausauer and students break ground for the addition to Damonte Ranch High School.

Submitted by Richard Jay

Washoe County School District Trustee-Elect Jeff Church’s last opinion contains material that is less than accurate, again! Here’s a rundown:

1. “Taxes are going up and nothing we can do about it.”

Please show us what taxes are going up.  Who is raising them and how has the public been ignored? What does WCSD have to do with the RTC gas tax? As to RTC gas: voters passed this gas tax in 2003 and 2010 for roads in Washoe County, and it is indexed for PPI yearly. Look at all of the paid projects since then; the list is enormous. Why mention this in a WCSD paid opinion?

2. “Reno wants to raise your taxes!”

Reno simply can’t raise the tax on car registration. You register your car in Washoe County and the Nevada legislature has control over fees. Please tell us the difference between a service tax and other taxes!While the City of Reno might be talking about this idea, it’s a long ways off and has many legal hurdles to overcome. Funding for homeless projects–how would you fund to help get the homeless off the streets?

3. Sales tax the highest in the state.

This is clearly WRONG. Washoe County sales tax is 8.265%. Clark County voters approved a sales tax increase, effective Jan. 1, 2020, bringing them to 8.375%. Just another example of misinformation.  

4. Car sales outside of Washoe County.

What he doesn’t tell you is car lease tax payments are calculated based on where the person lives, not where the car was leased. Car leasing is increasing–32.2% of cars are now leased.  Ask him how much of the sales tax goes to education, much less than he thinks or portrays.

5. WC-1 audit.

For the last several years, financial experts have been telling him the WC-1 funds are audited and monitored closely. He finally admitted that after the latest CAFR report. WCSD passed the audit with “no issues.” In an e mail to Superintendent McNeill on Nov. 5, which I was cc’d from him, he stated the following:

“I do congratulate WCSD on an improvement in test scores such as ACT in 2020 and passing the WC1 Audit with flying colors. Likewise the just released annual 2020 CAFR shows strong controls and solid accounting principals (sic) and no major issues.”

His public comment to the City of Reno Financial Advisory Board later that day he states:

“Like Reno, WCSD faces a financial tsunami and failed to act responsibly.”

6. ACT scores in Nevada are 45th in the nation.

He is a WCSD Trustee-Elect not Nevada Board of Education. Nevada has a 17.9 ACT average score, and the national average is 20.6. WCSD is 18.2 (Niche shows over 20). He fails to tell you that Nevada is one of 12 states that requires ALL students to take the ACT test, whether or not they plan to attend college. Why? From PREPSCHOLAR: “rather than creating their own tests for high school juniors, they [states] would contract with ACT, Inc. to use the ACT as a statewide assessment.” States also determined it was a good way to provide students with the chance to take a college admissions test and open the door to higher education, according to the post.

Let’s talk SAT scores. The national average is 1001, Nevada’s is 1017 and WCSD is 1160, per NICHE.

Construction of the new Procter Hug High School.
Construction of the new Procter Hug High School.

7. Wildcreek High School costing $253 million.

That is an outdated number, and has since been revised (advance to the 49-minute mark) due to COVID.  In the May 18, 2020 publication of School Construction News reported on bids received lower than had been budgeted and, “The Washoe County School District in Reno, Nevada is moving ahead with more than $600 million in construction projects—including a $200 million high school— despite the current coronavirus pandemic and uncertain tax revenues.”

Turner Construction Cost Index cites the following: “Third Quarter 2020 Turner Building Cost Index—which measures costs in the non-residential building construction market in the United States—has decreased to a value of 1171 (1967 base 100). This represents a -0.51% quarterly reduction from the second quarter of 2020.”

The WCSD board presentation in June clearly stated that due to COVID many construction projects in the community are coming in under budget, and the district’s Adam Searcy, at the April 16 meeting said Hug would be “comfortably under budget.”

From that same WCSD April 14, 2020 board meeting: “Based on bids received for vertical construction and premium on bonds sold, we maybe able to reduce the face value on bonds sold by as much as $50,000,000.”

Let’s wait for the final number before jumping to conclusions. He fails to tell you when WCSD builds a school they include everything, from land to pencils/computers. Many school districts do not include these numbers.Please look on line the presentation made that day as to CIP projects and their costs.

8. Cost per student of $11,833.

In 2011 cost per student was $9,169, in 2020 $11,833– a 2.87% annual increase. Yet state funding has not kept pace during the same time period. State funding in 2009 was $5,446 per student, and now $5,677, or $5,101 when adjusted for inflation. If we used a simple 2% annual increase then the funding would have been $6,509, or $7,039 if we kept up with the 2.87% increase. Give the full story.

9. Capacity of 82-84%.

Spanish Springs High School
Students crowd the hallways at Spanish Springs High School. Image: SOS Washoe

Again, not presenting the entire picture. With COVID, many parents have elected to keep their students out of kindergarten classroom. Prior to WC-1, WCSD suffered from extreme overcrowding. Not all schools were overcrowded, and the last school built was Damonte Ranch High School in 2003.The student enrollment for WCSD was far less and our community has grown since then; 372,000 residents in 2002 versus 482,539 today.In 2016, we had 28 schools overcrowded, today only 13 schools are overcrowded given the new schools built with WC1 funds. Ten schools are over 90% capacity.

He didn’t tell you the expansion at Damonte Ranch High School was originally budgeted for $30 million but came in at just $13 million and was completed on time.

What happens when they register next year after COVID has been contained?  As of September there were fewer students due to COVID.  Again he is giving you one year of data and not the entire story.  EDAWN publishes a list of the new companies moving here and the list continues to grow. Our community is growing, and as such new housing developments are needed, which equates to more students. KOLOTV reported on this in 2017:

The Washoe County School District says that the two new middle schools alone could potentially relieve overcrowding in 25 to 30 schools and impact about 15,000 students.

“It really is going to impact a lot of overcrowding concerns all over the county,” says Malena Raymond, WCSD Board of Trustee. “So even some of these older schools that don’t have the ability to expand, they’re going to see some relief even from this.” But some classroom congestion will be relieved even before those new schools are built. The 22-classroom expansion of Damonte Ranch High School helped with overcrowding.

10. His idea for funding future needs is“simple.”

He wants to reallocate the use of WC-1 funds. He is wrong as to the estimated WC-1 revenue falling 50% short. He is using the entire CIP budget and thinking its all coming from WC-1, absolutely wrong. WC-1 is running ahead of anticipated revenue and evidenced in the April 14 WCSD Board meeting.  The voters voted YES for WC-1 funds and it can be used only for Capital Expenditures as per NRS.  

You simply can’t change the use of the funds. This would have a negative impact of the bonds issued so far and could have an adverse effect on future bonds.  It could lower our credit rating, thus paying higher interest for future bonds issued by WCSD.  This has been explained to him numerous times.  Using it for teacher housing–how would that work and who determines the recipients?  He complained when he thought it was being used for salaries (which was proven to be wrong), now he wants to use it for teacher housing.

11. His comments as to sun-setting and“Reno or Washoe County stepping in” is completely unfounded.

Voters said YES to WC-1 with no sunset.Why sunset when older schools need maintenance, new paint, new HVAC, parking lots repaved, roofs and more.Some of the oldest schools will have to be replaced at one point. Look at the average age of our schools, well over 50 years.Does your house need repairs/upgrades and such as it ages?Neither Reno nor Washoe County has control over the district; they are their own governmental agencies.

12. Free speech.

City of Reno and Washoe County are following the governor’s request for non-public meetings, including other agencies such as the Reno-Tahoe International Airport. Public comments can still be made viaemail, mail or Zoom. No one is stifling public comment before, during or after the meeting.This is evidenced by his public comment to the City of Reno Financial Advisory Board on Nov. 5.

Open Meeting Law violation: wouldn’t the Attorney General have stepped in by now declaring any violations?WCSD meetings are live in person. He knows that as he has attended numerous meetings live, in person.

13. His comment regarding City of Reno Financial Advisory Board (disclosure I am on theboard).

As the name implies, it’s advisory only. We advise the City Council and they can choose to follow our advice or not. Union contracts are negotiated between the city and the various unions. He knows this better than anyone as he is a retired Reno Police officer.

If Trustee Elect Church really wants to make an impact let’s focus on the following:

  • Why is funding down from 2009 when adjusted for inflation yet cost per student has increased?
  • Why is the beta testing of the new funding formula showing WCSD will receive even less money in the future?
  • Why wasn’t WCSD included in the Incline Village $58 million+ negotiation/lawsuit over property taxes? WCSD will be forced to pay up to $19 million.
  • What are you going to do about teacher fatigue due to COVID?
  • What are you going to do about the overworked and understaffed administration staff?

Jeff states he will be the Watch Dog for WCSD, I will be the Watch Dog for Jeff Church.

Richard L. Jay

Richard Jay has lived in Reno since 1967, attended local schools and was in the 100th graduating class from Reno High School. He earned a BS in Economics from University of Nevada with emphasis in accounting. He’s been involved with the WCSD since 1999 in as a coach, FBLA instructor, JA instructor and helped with other academics groups. Jay was also chair of the WC-1 Business Advisory Board, a member of 1999 Bond Issuance committee and assisted with rewriting the Nevada High School Business curriculum, and currently serves on the City of Reno Financial Advisory Board, Reno Tahoe International Airport Board and several other local non profit boards. Jay is a First Vice President-Investment Officer of a major brokerage firm and has one son, Jonathan.

Submitted opinions do not represent the views of This Is Reno. Have something to say? Submit an opinion article here.

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