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Home > News > Education > School district highlights progress on pandemic recovery goals

School district highlights progress on pandemic recovery goals

By Jeri Chadwell
Washoe County School District administration building. Image: Carla O'Day.

The Washoe County School District (WCSD) board of trustees met with only six members on Tuesday afternoon following the resignation of Jacqueline Calvert, who said she had not realized that she’d moved outside of the boundaries of District F

A timeline for replacing Calvert will be discussed at the next board meeting on Sept. 28. 

Public commenters at the meeting attempted to stop the meeting from going forward. They said trustees should not approve the agenda and minutes from past meetings because Calvert had been wrongfully representing District F.

WCSD legal counsel, Neil Rombardo, said there was no issue with the trustees approving the agenda.

Disruptive public commenters have become the norm at school board meetings. Their rote complaints and conspiracy theories spoken from behind incorrectly worn face masks and shields often take up more time than does actual board business.

Theatrics during public comment at WCSD Board of Trustees meetings have become common among anti-mask, anti-vaccine and conspiracy theory supporting community members.

Most of the same public commenters were in attendance Tuesday afternoon. James Benthem wore a large Star of David affixed to the front of his shirt, while Janet Butcher showed up dressed as Martha Washington.

“Isn’t this hat just as ridiculous as this mask?” Butcher asked of the ruffled bonnet she wore on her head.  

Cathy Kennedy-Reyes mocked gender identity, telling the board she “identified” as the school superintendent that day and asking which trustee was going to get up and make room for her at the table.

With the first public comment period at board meetings still removed from the agenda following many raucous meetings, the public commenters spoke ahead of individual agenda items before the general public comment period at the end of the meeting.

The board still addressed the matters on its agenda.

Progress made in pandemic recovery efforts

The board in June approved a two-year strategic plan for the district’s recovery from the pandemic and has since been receiving updates from staff pertaining to specific goals. 

On Tuesday, they heard updates related to their fourth goal to “continuously improve operational systems that are effective, efficient, transparent, and accountable” in the areas of transportation, facilities management, nutrition services and information technology.

The goals set for the transportation department included delivering students on time 96.5% of the time, reducing accidents to 1.29 per 100,000 miles and reducing the annual number of open bus driver jobs from 45 to 15 among other things.

The school district nearly met its goal for on-time delivery of students at 96% of the time.

The number of accidents was 88. In 57 of them, the driver was at fault. Anytime something comes in contact with a bus—from a tree branch to a trash can—it’s considered an accident. So, these numbers don’t necessarily represent bus collisions with other vehicles. 

More than half of accidents recorded in the 2020-2021 school year happened on district property. The bus lots, it was noted, are a tight fit and mirror taps between buses can happen easily.

The school district has struggled to bring down the number of vacancies across its staffing areas, including transportation. The number of vacancies for bus drivers remains at 40.

The facilities management goals set by the district include decreasing the number of critical repairs that need to be done at schools and decreasing overcrowding.

New schools opened in recent years has helped WCSD reduce the number of schools with overcrowding from 13 to 6. Marce Herz Middle School was completed in time for the 2020-2021 school year. Image: Eric Marks / This Is Reno

Addressing repair needs is done through facility condition inspections that are intended to help the district optimize and maintain the physical condition and value of their assets, develop capital budgets and prioritize resources. 

These inspections happened more often during shutdown periods and revealed that the district still has a way to go to meet its goals in this area. A reduced capital renewal plan budget for 2021 due to the pandemic didn’t help.

The district saw much greater success in the area of reducing overcrowding. Thanks to rezoning and the opening of new schools, the district went from 13 overcrowded schools in the 2019-2020 school year to only six during 2020-2021.

Nutrition services was another area where the district made good progress toward its goals.

Nutrition services is run as an enterprise fund as defined in state law. Basically, the statute defines how these funds operate—which is much like a private business enterprise, wherein the expenses of the business operations are recovered primarily through charges to the users.

It was gutted by the pandemic, forcing the furlough of nearly 100 employees.

One of the goals for nutrition services was to return its fund to the balance it was at in February 2020—nearly $7 million. The district surpassed that amount by nearly $2 million—bringing the nutrition services fund balance to $8.9 million.

The goal of maintaining 95% or greater staffing levels wasn’t quite met but wasn’t far off at 91.2%.

The goals for the district’s information technology department have been deeply affected by the pandemic. With remote learning last year, the IT department was constantly on its toes. Both the volume of IT tickets—requests for help—and the amount of time it took to address them increased.

The district was, however, able to put a significant amount of federal pandemic relief funds toward the purchase of new laptops and other internet connected devices. The IT department was able to do an  inventory of the number of devices in the district’s possession and is on track to meet its goal of annually replacing 20% of the total number of laptops owned by the district.

Redistricting to be done following 2020 Census results

The 2020 Census results have been released, meaning it’s time for the school district to complete redistricting.

Per state law, the school district is required to have five regular districts and two at-large districts whose populations must all be within 5% of one another.

Redistricting is not the same as rezoning. Redistricting does not affect where students go to school. It changes the boundaries of the districts represented by each trustee.

Initial public comment will be solicited for the board of trustees meeting on Oct. 12. The final boundary maps will be considered for adoption by the board on Oct. 26. The Washoe County Registrar of Voters has requested the final maps by Nov. 1.

Safe and Healthy Schools Commission vacancies to be filled

WCSD is seeking applications for three positions on the Safe and Healthy Schools Commission.

The commission assists the board of trustees on issues related to the safety and security of schools which may include prevention/intervention, emergency response and recovery. The group meets on the second Monday of each month at 2 p.m. during the school year, and meetings are held at the administration building on Ninth Street in Reno.

The board uses committees to advise trustees and provide  information about educational programs, safety, operations, financial reporting, maintenance and support services. 

The online application is here.  

Once applications are received, individuals who meet the requirements will be contacted for next steps in the process. Ultimately, the board or superintendent – as applicable to the committee – gives final approval to appointments.

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