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School district announces balanced budget during board meeting

By Jeri Chadwell

Trustee leaves meeting early to attend rodeo, public commenter removed from meeting

The Washoe County School District Board of Trustees’ (WCSD) leadership team decided to move public comment to the end of the agenda for the June 22 meeting.

The meeting wrapped up after fewer than seven hours—for the first time in months.

School board President Angie Taylor began Tuesday’s meeting by explaining that general public comment had been moved to the end of the meeting in the interest of the time of district staff, who in recent months have remained on hand to give presentations until the late evening or early morning hours.

She clarified that public comment explicitly related to individual agenda items would still be allowed. It began shortly after the roll call and Pledge of Allegiance with the introduction of agenda item 1.04—the standard action to adopt the day’s agenda.

Speakers largely failed to keep their comments relevant to the agenda item at hand. Instead, they revisited many of the same grievances that have become rote among commenters at recent meetings. They have come before the school board every other week with false accusations, decrying the alleged teaching of critical race theory and “perverted” sex education and talking of patriotism and how COVID-19 is “fake.”

As one public commenter put it, “You know there’s no COVID. Everybody knows there’s no COVID.” She went on to say that she thinks the salaries of administrators should be cut to provide more money for the district’s 62,000 students.

WCSD’s budget for fiscal year 2022 is a bit more than a billion dollars. Of the $522.4 million that’s expected to be spent out of its general fund, 7.7% will be spent on school administration like assistant principals, principals and office staff. Another 1.2% of the spending from the general fund will pay for the board, superintendent, deputy superintendent, area superintendents, general counsel and community relations staff. School board trustees earn an annual salary of around $4,800, which amounts to a little over $19,000 for a four-year term.

Taylor repeatedly reminded people their comments needed to be related to the agenda item and asked them not to be disruptive. Most of those who spoke are people who’ve become fixtures at board meetings. John Eppolito, who runs the Facebook group Save Nevada Children and made an unsuccessful bid for election to the board last year, was among them but was escorted out of the meeting after refusing to be quiet.

Another regular attendee of the meetings, Bruce Parks, became annoyed with Taylor when she leaned in to quietly speak with chief legal counsel Neil Rombardo while Parks was approaching the podium.

Serial commenter Bruce Parks during the WCSD Board of Trustees meeting June 22, 2021. Image: YouTube Screengrab

“Should I wait for you to finish your discussion?” he asked. “Thank you. That was a nice, little speech you gave before the meeting started. Unfortunately, that dog won’t hunt. It don’t hold water.”

It was unclear if the dog won’t hunt as a result of its inability to hold water or if it simply doesn’t want to. Parks’ statements appeared to illustrate the dangers of heedlessly mixing metaphors while heatedly addressing a school board.

After hearing public comment, Trustee Jeff Church voted against the motion to adopt the day’s agenda because he felt moving public comment to the end of the meeting was inappropriate. He did, however, say he felt the behavior of Eppolito and Parks was also inappropriate.

Church later left the meeting early to attend the Reno Rodeo.

Public comment continued during the board’s discussion of several other agenda items, including one that would allocate a little more than $2 million for the placement of up to 45 social workers in WCSD schools. 

One woman called the children and families who need social workers’ help “messed up” in a tirade during which she called the trustees cowards and pathetic.

Superintendent Kristen McNeill addressed her, saying, “I would really appreciate it if you didn’t refer to our families that need the support as ‘messed up.’”

Budget balanced for third year in a row

Staff announced the school district’s budget for fiscal year 2022 is balanced, making it the third straight year without a deficit. The district was, for a time, facing a potential budget shortfall of more than $40 million, depending on what moves were taken by the Nevada Legislature.

On May 18 and 19, a joint budget committee added more than $500 million to the recommended budget for K-12 funding for school years 2022 and 2023. This money will help school districts as they prepare to operate under the new pupil centered funding model adopted this year.

Educators rally for more funding from the Nevada Legislature in Carson City on Feb. 15, 2021. Image: Bob Conrad / This Is Reno.
Educators rallied for more funding from the Nevada Legislature in Carson City on Feb. 15, 2021. Image: Bob Conrad / This Is Reno.

The additional funding approved by the legislative committee resulted in $3.3 million additional in the district’s general fund revenues and $720,752 more in weighted funding.

The school district will in the future benefit from the implementation of a new mining tax, the legislation for which was introduced late in the session.

Assembly 495 was a bipartisan compromise set into motion as an alternative to multiple proposed ballot questions aimed at the mining industry. With its passage, a new excise tax will be paid on gold and silver mining companies with more than $20 million in gross revenue annually. Gross revenue between $20 million and $150 million will be taxed at 0.75%, and gross revenue above $150 million will be taxed at a rate of 1.1%.

It’s expected to generate about $85 million per year, though this will depend on the price of gold and silver. For the first biennium, the funds will go into the State of Nevada’s general fund. They’ll go to K-12 education starting in fiscal year 2024.

Possible school start time changes discussed

The trustees in late 2019 reviewed research on school start times and the amount of sleep children need. Last year, the board directed staff to draft plans for changes to start times. Staff presented the trustees with six options during Tuesday’s meeting, each of which would delay the start time for middle schools until 8 a.m. at the earliest.

The board did not make a decision on the possible schedules and won’t until October. First, there will be virtual and in-person town halls and family and employee surveys in September.

The plans under consideration range from cost neutral to possibly costing an additional $1.5 million annually.

The new school start times would not be implemented until the 2022-23 school year.

Quicker implementation of the new start time for general public comment during board meetings seemed to have its intended effect. The meeting wrapped up around 8:30 p.m., following only a half an hour of general public comments.

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