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School district looks ahead at legislative session

By Jeri Davis
Published: Last Updated on

Washoe County School District Superintendent Kristen McNeill was joined today by the school district’s Board President Angie Taylor for a weekly media briefing. They discussed school funding, COVID-19 vaccinations and the return to a hybrid learning plan for middle and high school students.

Secondary students had been on full distance learning since early December but returned to the hybrid model on Jan. 19.

School district officials are preparing for next week’s State of Education address. It’s scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 28 starting at 5:30 p.m. and will include greater detail on the status of the district’s budget.

Next week, the WCSD board of trustees will have their first budget work session for fiscal year 2022, during which school district staff will update the board and the public on where the district stands.

McNeill also discussed Governor Steve Sisolak’s State of the State address and planned budget, which includes cuts to funding in education. Some of these reductions are expected to be made up for with an expected $450 million in federal aid for education.

Dr. Kristen McNeill
Dr. Kristen McNeill

“We recognize and appreciate the very difficult fiscal situation that our entire state is facing and the fact that the governor and state leaders will be making hard decisions that will impact all Nevadans, including education,” McNeill said. “We will always strive to use our taxpayer dollars allocated to us efficiently and effectively and will continue to focus on supporting our students and classroom teachers and staff as we address the academic and mental health crisis that has taken place over the past year due to the COVID pandemic.”

She said the district knows there will be changes to the way K-12 education is funded and that district staff will be paying close attention to educational priorities during the upcoming session of the Nevada Legislature, which begins on Feb. 1. Included in this is the governor’s proposal to phase in a new pupil-centered funding model for K-12 education rather than setting a date for it to start at schools statewide.

“We appreciate the governor’s strategic look at the needs of our state during this pandemic and understand that K-12 education and having students in person in schools is a priority for him,” McNeill said. “We know that our legislators have a very difficult task ahead of them. We’re going to be working very closely with them and appreciate their dedication to the citizens of Nevada during these exceptionally challenging times.”

Another priority of the school district, which Taylor said the board will be discussing at its next meeting on Jan. 26, is considering ways to expand enrollment for its Northstar Online School. The school, she said, has seen a monumental increase in interest from district families throughout the pandemic.

“Last year, we kind of woke up and were in COVID all of the sudden, but we’ve learned a lot going into this year,” Taylor said, adding that the board will also discuss during its meeting plans for the remainder of this semester and for the new school year to follow.

More than 300 employees have been invited to get vaccinations at a WCSD point of distribution (POD) at North Valleys High School on Jan. 23. All 8,000 school district employees were given a survey to help determine the order in which they’ll be vaccinated. It is the district’s goal to get all of its employees vaccinated, though McNeill noted that accepting the vaccine is not a job requirement for employees.

“I can’t thank our volunteers enough,” McNeill said. “We’ve had over 500 Washoe County School District employees as well as volunteers from the community help us with these PODs. Moving forward, we’re looking forward to having those PODs continue at North Valleys High School, but then also at Reed High School and McQueen.”

While the first vaccination event will include training for volunteers and is expected to result in just over 300 employees receiving shots, the district’s tentative plan is for PODs to be open each Saturday thereafter with a goal of vaccinating upwards of 2,100 employees at each. If things go to plan, this means the district could vaccinate all of its remaining employees who are interested over the course of about a month—again, depending on the availability of vaccines.

Thus far, the school district has invited 2,858 employees to get vaccinated, though district spokespeople said they’re unsure how many have taken advantage of the offer as yet.

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