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Coral Academy expansion decision postponed by school trustees

By Kelsey Penrose
Published: Last Updated on

By Kelsey Penrose

Washoe County School District’s Board of Trustees on Tuesday spent more than four hours discussing an expansion of the Coral Academy of Science. They made no decision on the charter school’s request. 

Trustees also worked through other business during the meeting, including a new logo for Gerlach K-12, transportation and custodial recruitment numbers and saying goodbye to departing Superintendent Kristen McNeil.

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Coral Academy proposes K-5 expansion

Coral Academy of Science, a district-sponsored charter school that opened in 2000, serves close to 1,300 students across four campuses in the community: two elementary, one middle and one high school. 

Representatives of the STEAM-focused charter school said they are exploring a site expansion for a K-5 school in northwest Reno due to an increase in enrollment interest. 

Officials submitted to WCSD a proposal for the expansion on April 6 with site interest at 1595 Sky Mountain Drive, a former 24 Hour Fitness location. The nearly 24,000-square-foot building is on just under three acres and is for sale for $7 million. 

Coral Academy recently renovated the south Reno 24 Hour Fitness building on Neil Road, also for use as a K-5 school. 

Following more than four hours of discussion and public comment, the decision to approve Coral Academy’s request for charter amendment to create the additional campus was continued. 

District officials said they performed a “thorough review” of the proposal, including analysis surrounding academics, finances, organization and sustainability of Coral Academy. None of the concerns had to do with academics, according to staff, but rather with site feasibility and financial sustainability. 

Some of the issues within the initial proposal that WCSD officials found in the analysis included: too small classrooms – some without windows – and too large of classes; no dedicated space for elective programs such as art, music or library; not enough kitchen space and no custodial plan; no outdoor recreation areas; and potentially unsafe pickup and drop-off areas in the parking lot.

In a revised proposal, Coral Academy officials provided maps and plans for a small playground area and a traffic design for pickup and drop-off of students. They also responded to concerns about the size of classrooms and kitchen.

According to WCSD staff, Coral’s responses regarding the district’s concerns “are satisfactory, although certainly not ideal. The facility standards and class sizes proposed by Coral do not meet WCSD’s building and staffing standards, but Coral is not legally held to these requirements.” 

Coral Academy officials are also proposing a 40-year debt commitment for the facility, which the district says could create a long-term risk to Coral if enrollment does not meet the school’s goals. 

Following the analysis, district staff did not recommend the charter amendment. 

“We could not in any way shape or form consider that anytime soon we could get to a spot where we as staff doing our due diligence could say this expansion has a good chance at being a success,” staff said during the meeting.  

Public comment on the school’s proposal continued for more than an hour, all of which was in favor of the proposed campus expansion.

Madeline Slayton, a senior student at Coral Academy, said she had attended the charter school since kindergarten and encouraged trustees to approve Coral’s expansion. 

“The skills I have gained academically, socially and personally I will carry with me into my next chapter…Maybe someday I’ll become that Coral teacher who empowers and encourages the next generation,” Slayton said. 

Several other current and former students spoke as well, all in favor of Coral’s expansion. They said the academy’s small class sizes have had a positive impact on their education. Parents of students echoed these sentiments. 

Mark Gardberg, the school’s legal counsel, said during public comment that there are a lot of families very interested in the expansion, with more than 500 new families already stating they would like to enroll their students if the expansion were to be approved. 

“These are your constituents and they’re begging you, really, for this opportunity for this campus,” Gardberg said.

He added that within the regulations set down by the Nevada Legislature, the district could only reject the proposal for a few reasons, one being if Coral Academy was rated as three stars or lower academically. Coral Academy has four- and five-star rated campuses.

Another reason the district could reject the application legally is if the application was not compliant or complete. 

“We really believe we’ve worked with your team and we’ve answered the questions,” Gardberg said. 

Trustees have mixed reactions

Trustees were tepid on the proposal.

“I support the right for any parent, any family, to choose what is best for their child,” Trustee Diane Nicolet said. “As long as it is right and good, and I believe that Coral Academy is right and good… I know first hand the quality.”

Trustee Beth Smith said she is a huge supporter of Coral Academy and that she would love to see it grow, but asked whether or not representatives from the charter school knew they needed to receive approval from the board before signing a purchase agreement for the new location. 

Counsel from Coral said they did not believe they had broken the law because it was a purchase option, not a purchase agreement, which means that Coral’s purchasing representative can walk away. 

Counsel said “lesson learned” regarding telling parents they’d agreed to a purchase before receiving formal approval from the district. 

Coral Academy representatives also indicated the option agreement on the property was due to the volatility of the current market and the desire to lock in on a lower price. 

“I cannot vote for this right now, there are too many questions,” Trustee Angela Taylor said.

The board chose to postpone the decision by a vote of 6-1 with Trustee Joe Rodriguez voting against. 

The item will be continued until a future date when Coral Academy officials will come back to the board with additional information that would adhere to the district’s necessities fiscally, legally and academically. 

Gerlach K-12 to get new logo

Gerlach school logo.

The district’s chief communications officer Michele Anderson and Stacey Black, assistant principal of Gerlach K-12, presented the board with the new Gerlach K-12 logo. 

Officials said that while Gerlach High School had logos that represented the school and its varsity athletic teams, the consolidation of schools in Gerlach into one K-12 campus has created a new school community and with it, the need for a new school mascot. 

Anderson and her staff worked with students, staff and community members to develop the new logo. The design is based on the old Gerlach High School mascot – the Lions – along with the traditional school colors of blue and yellow. 

Seven logo concepts were submitted by Anderson and her team and were reviewed by the school’s community. Feedback included adding the phrase “Lion Pride,” which is meant to denote both pride in the school and community, as well as to represent the K-12 nature of the school relating to a family, or pride, of lions.

Gerlach students, staff and community members voted for their preference June 1, with the new proposed logo receiving 46 of the 69 total votes cast both in person and online. 

As of Sept. 20, the Washoe County School District is short almost 50 drivers and drivers began making double runs to make up for the shortage.
As of Sept. 20, the Washoe County School District is short almost 50 drivers and drivers began making double runs to make up for the shortage. Image: Richard Bednarski / This Is Reno

Recruitment discussions continue

Trustees spent more time hearing challenges and solutions to the district’s staffing levels in transportation, nutrition services and housekeeping departments. 

Between July 2021 and June 2022, WCSD hired an additional 85 employees in transportation, 72 employees in nutrition services and 94 employees in housekeeping. In transportation, 45 bus drivers are still needed and the district is offering a new starting salary of $19.93 per hour and a new salary range of up to $32.13 per hour to attract job seekers. 

The district has outlined two tracks to tackle the goal of “providing daily transportation service for general education eligible students utilizing the ‘Hub System’ for Middle School and High School, a new WCSD level of service.”

Track one includes retaining drivers with incentives and pay increases, hiring and training new drivers, and optimizing transportation routes through “AlphaRoute” analysis, which should return data as early as next week. 

Track two, which will be used if there are not enough drivers by the start of school in August, includes developing a “weighted area rotation plan” using attendance and hardship data “heat maps” to target bus service to areas of greatest need. This track also uses a “double run” model, which was first used in September 2021.

In custodial and housekeeping, there are 355 custodian and site facility coordinators and 20 current vacancies. Pay increases similar to those offered in transportation were implemented for recruitment and retention, including a new starting salary of $14.75 per hour, up from $12.83 per hour, with a new salary range of up to $23.74 per hour. 

Due to staffing issues, vacuuming at many schools over the past school year had to be reduced to once a week. This will continue into the new school year, with once-per-week vacuuming occurring at middle and high schools, and daily vacuuming at elementary schools if staffing allows, prioritizing the lowest grade levels. 

WCSD Trustee Beth Smith during the Jan. 25, 2022 Board of Trustees meeting. Image: Ty O’Neil / This Is Reno

Trustee Smith commented that these decisions were made based on meaningful feedback from school staff members involved. 

In nutrition services, there are a total of 390 positions, with 72 current vacancies; there were 95 vacancies at the start of the 2021-2022 school year. The new starting salary will increase from $11.80 per hour to $14.16 per hour, with a new salary range of up to $22.81 per hour. 

While there will be an end to “universal free” meals, all students in Nevada will eat for free for the 2022-2023 school year using American Rescue Plan Act funds which were approved in June. 

Free and Reduced Lunch applications will need to be filled out, however, with parents who qualify being able to access those applications beginning Friday, July 1. 

McNeill bids district goodbye

At the end of the meeting, the board presented retiring Superintendent Kristen McNeill with a spa day package to thank her for her service to the school district. 

McNeill thanked the board with a tearful goodbye, as well as praise to both the board and district staff members. 

“I look out in this room and I have been in this room a long, long time,” she said. “And I have been with boards that [have made] decisions that transformed this district, that were impactful to students and our staff, and I just want all the trustees, including the past trustees, to know: the work you do for public education means so much to our children and our parents and our community. I want to thank you all for doing the tough work that you all do. 

“To my staff, we could not do what we do without our staff. I push you hard, I know you do. But one thing I’ve always done is, if I’m not in the trenches…it’s important to be that kind of leader. I thank you all for what you’ve done for our students and our family and our staff. I love you all. I will become a community member, something that is really important to me, and to continue to give back in any way I possibly can.” 

Other board business 

During the vote to reappoint Dave Solaro as structural/civil engineer representative and the appointment of Chris Cobb as Public Works Construction Representative for two years ending in June 2024, Trustee Jeff Church opposed the reappointment of Solaro. 

“I generally always oppose men just reappointing people, I like the idea of fresh eyes on a target, fresh eyes on an issue,” Church said. “For this particular case it’s more complicated. Mr. Solaro has applied for reappointment. [Solaro] is one degree of separation from his bosses on that committee. In this case I’m particularly opposed.” 

When asked if Trustee Church had a specific complaint against Mr. Solaro, Church said he did not, that he didn’t know him very well, that he was an “outstanding human being,” but he did not think an employee of the county — Solaro is the assistant county manager — should be in a volunteer position. 

The reappointments of Solaro and Cobb was passed 6-1 with Church voting against. 

Shelley Buchanan was appointed as at-large representative and Zara Darby as student representative to the Safe and Healthy Schools Commission for terms ending June 30, 2024. 

Trustees approved a budget for Washoe County P25 Radio System Interlocal Agreement Fiscal Services in the amount of $262,209 for July 1, 2022 through June 30, 2023. 

A purchase agreement was approved to obtain Fleet Propane Fuel estimated at $510,000 from FerrellGas LP, and Fleet Diesel and Unleaded Fuels estimated at $2.9 million from Pilot Thomas Logistics, both for July 1, 2022 through June 30, 2023. 

A purchase agreement was approved for Fleet Tires from Goodyear Tire for an estimated $375,000 from July 1, 2022 through June 30, 2023. 

Construction bids were ratified or approved for the following: 

  • Roof Replacement at Huffaker Maintenance Center to Kodiak Roofing and Waterproofing Co. for $313,905
  • Flooring Replacement at Huffaker Maintenance Center to contract Flooring and Interior Services, Inc. for $114,755
  • Hand Soap Dispensers and Hand Soap to Tahoe Supply Company for an additional term of one year beginning July 2022 and ending July 2023 for an estimated amount of $108,108
  • Pavement Rehabilitation at Archie Clayton Middle School to Spanish Springs Construction in the amount of $368,007
  • Fire Alarm Upgrade at Edward Van Gorder Elementary School to Triumph Electric, Inc. in the amount of $182,000

Approval was also granted to increase the contingency for the guaranteed maximum price for the William O’Brien Middle School Replacement School Project by $1 million, to $3.22 million total. 

Approval of an agreement to provide professional architectural services was granted with Collaborative Design Studio for the Central Transportation Yard Modernization Project for $1.97 million.

Approval was granted for the grant application to the Dave and Cheryl Duffield Foundation for the Personalized Learning Program at Incline High School for $812,600. 

Preliminary approval was granted for proposed revisions of various board policies, which begins the 13-day public review and comment period. Revisions of board policies were made to update formatting and clarify language, and can be reviewed in the agenda here. 

The board heard a presentation regarding the 2023 legislative session, including election impacts, legislative timelines and possible issues facing education. 

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