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School district 200 teachers short days before classes resume

By Kelsey Penrose

During an update Tuesday to trustees regarding vacancies throughout the Washoe County School District, Superintendent Susan Enfield revealed that there were 200 teacher vacancies remaining throughout the district with less than a week before the 2022-23 school year is set to begin. 

Enfield said she had told the district’s TOSAs [Teacher on Special Assignment] to return to the classroom to help bridge the gap. 

“I made the very difficult decision, with consultation with [HR] and our leadership team, to pull our central based TOSAs back into the classroom so more students could have a teacher on the first day of school.” 

TOSAs can include instructional coaches or curriculum trainers, according to the WCSD Teacher Performance Standards. 

The district, like much of Nevada, has experienced employee shortages across the board including bus drivers, custodial staff, support staff members and classroom educators. 

Enfield said she sent an email message to each of the impacted TOSAs on Monday.

WCSD Superintendent Susan Enfield

“I know that this has created a great hardship for many of them,” Enfield said. “I am deeply sorry for that. I want to say publicly: the timing of this could not have been worse. A one-week’s notice before going back into the classroom is not easy, and I wish it were otherwise, but we are where we are.” 

Enfield said this would have an impact in the central office and what support the district can provide regarding professional learning. However, she added, she had to prioritize student learning over adult learning. 

“I am going back to basics. We are about educating children, and we cannot educate them without teachers in the classroom,” she said. 

Enfield said district leadership will begin planning for the next school year in as little as four weeks so the district won’t be put in this position again.

Planning for 2023 legislative session 

Washoe County School Board Trustees also discussed goals and ideas to be submitted for consideration during the 2023 legislative session. 

The 82nd Nevada Legislative Session is scheduled to begin Feb. 6, 2023. Formal bill draft requests are due by Sept. 1, 2022. 

“From my standpoint, I would like us to be mindful of what could have an impact and what could really get passed,” said Board President Angela Taylor. “To have a better chance [of being passed], we want to look at what might not only be impactful for us as a district, but impactful for the state as a whole.”

Enfield agreed.

“If we want to have impact, we’d want it to be something that our fellow districts would get on board for, that would impact students across the state and not just in Washoe County,” she said.

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

Trustee Diane Nicolet expressed frustration at making a choice, citing a lack of opportunity to choose more meaningful or impactful goals due to unknown funding information.  

“I almost feel at a loss for choosing something like per pupil funding; I can’t imagine there’s more than a handful of people in the state of Nevada who wouldn’t say yes, we could use more money for our students to give them what they need and to be able to ensure academic success,” Nicolet said. “Having said that, it’s hard to identify what the fiscal impact would be for something like that.” 

Nicolet went on to say that without that information, it might mean that the board would have to choose a suggestion that is minimal or less impactful for students and staff. 

“I feel a level of frustration as to how to move forward with this, especially with the Sept. 1 deadline,” she said. 

Trustee Beth Smith asked which legislative requests have been passed in previous years. 

During the last legislative cycle, WCSD submitted a bill to place a pause on student learning objectives for teachers during the pandemic, which was successful, with some modifications. 

Smith went on to say that the first thing that came to her mind was additional funding for school safety, but that she recognized they would be best served to propose something without financial implications. 

Enfield said modernizing educational statutes, with the goal of providing more learning opportunities for students, stood out to her because it wouldn’t add more unfunded mandates. 

“We want our public schools to be schools of choice for our community members,” Enfield said. “To that degree, we need to provide them with options and innovations that will appeal to a broad array of learners.” 

Trustee Jeff Church said that the biggest issue the district is facing is per pupil funding. 

“Let me take that a step further: it’s really the per pupil funding formula, and the allocation of those funds, which Washoe County is on the short end of that stick,” Church said. “That might be part of the conversation, revising that formula.” 

Washoe County students have long been concerned about safety in local schools. On April 20, 2018, a little more than two months after a deadly mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Washoe students walked out of classes to protest gun rights and demand safer schools. Image: Ty O’Neil / This Is Reno

Student Representative Ivy Batmale said that, from her perspective, students are very concerned with school safety. 

Batmale, who attends Incline High School, said that while many might consider the smaller, well-funded high school safer than most, Batmale and other students do not feel safe, because they believe there have not been many precautions taken and that there is a lack of mental health resources throughout the school district. 

“I think something geared towards school safety, especially the prevention of school shootings, would best serve students, because I think that’s something we all fear in the back of our minds. And it takes away from learning time because there are a lot of times where students are thinking about that in the back of their heads,” Batmale said.

Church disagreed, adding that he believed the district has already addressed mental health and that the board shouldn’t ask for a BDR related to it. 

“We’ve spent a boat load of money – I’m proud of the school district that we’ve addressed this,” Church said. “We’ve spent a lot of money on mental health and emotional support for the students and the staff. […] As important as it is, I want to emphasize we’ve done that. I don’t think that’s money well spent for a BDR.”

Batmale also said encouraging civic education would be an important goal with a lasting impact. 

“Preparing our Nevada students to be engaged citizens in the future will solve a lot of our current problems, as long as they have that education going forward,” she said. 

Trustee Adam Mayberry said what he hears about most from parents is safety and security. Other important issues, he added, are increasing pay for teachers and reducing certain burdens for teachers in the classrooms. 

The board directed Superintendent Enfield to research the modernization of statutes including unfunded mandates and possible safety topics to include recent federal legislation as a possible BDR topic. Enfield will bring back details before the board at the next trustee meeting. 

Enfield reviews phased entry plan 

“It’s less about people trusting me, but more about people trusting us. I want WCSD to be seen as a trusted organization by our students, our families and our community members.”

Trustees also viewed a presentation regarding the entry plan of Superintendent Enfield. Enfield described a timeline including three phases for the plan. 

Phase 1, from August through October, includes “listening, learning and building relationships.”

Enfield outlined engagement opportunities for families and students including community coffee chats, student advisory councils and town hall meetings with trustees. 

She said these meetings will involve leaders from the community including business representatives, non-profit leaders, higher education leaders, faith-based representatives, elected officials and superintendents from throughout the state, among others. 

Phase 2, which is to take place October through December, includes “analyzing information and collaborating with staff.” 

Enfield said she’ll review an analysis of the operational budget, grant and funding structures, organizational structures and staffing data, student data, processing and systems and more. 

Finally, phase 3, from December through June 2023, will see a reporting of results and launching the development of the WCSD Strategic Plan. 

The summary report will be available at www.washoeschools.net/entryplan but as of publication time has yet to be posted.

Enfield said she will share updates on the entry plan during the Oct. 11 and  Dec. 13 board of trustees meetings. 

Enfield also plans to provide a comprehensive update during the State of Education address planned for early next year. 

During the presentation, Enfield stated “getting back to basics” was a priority. Trustee Nicolet asked Enfield what she believed “the basics” to be.

“I believe that trust is essential, and trust doesn’t come about through magic beans or pixie dust,” Enfield said. “Trust comes from building relationships, and so what I want to do is build relationships within the community. It’s less about people trusting me, but more about people trusting us. I want WCSD to be seen as a trusted organization by our students, our families and our community members.”

Enfield went on to say that trust takes time and honesty. 

“I don’t think the public expects us to be perfect, but I certainly believe they expect us to own our mistakes,” she said.  

Other decisions made 

Funding for social workers approved: Trustees approved a $1.7 million agreement with Progressus Therapy, LLC for education and education-related services including the placement of up to 45 social workers within WCSD schools for the 2022-23 fiscal year. 

Since the 2016-17 school year, the Nevada Department of Education (NDE) provided funding to place social workers within schools through grant programs. Since that time, WCSD has also worked with Progressus to find social workers for these placements. 

Pursuant to the new Pupil Centered Funding Plan beginning in July 2021, the funds are now included in base funding through the WCSD General Fund. The funds were approved during the 2021 Legislative Session. 

Emergency repairs for Spanish Springs High School: Trustees acknowledged a receipt of notification regarding declared emergency repairs at Spanish Springs High School to clear storm drains  for an estimated $175,000. 

Following a major rain event that carried dirt and debris from upland open range onto school property, floodwater overwhelmed the sand trap which collects sediments. The overflow material plugged the underground culvert, the cleanouts of which are difficult to access. 

In times of emergency, Nevada law allows for contracts to be issued without competitive bidding. Cleaning is projected to be finished sometime this month. 

No increase in health insurance rates: Trustees approved a recommendation by the Group Insurance Committee to enact a 0% increase for health insurance rates during the 2023 plan year. 

The district’s self-funded group health insurance program currently offers two medical plan options and a single dental plan and prescription plan offered through Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield. 

The Committee reviewed the rate analysis information at its May meeting, and based on discussions regarding inflation and increased healthcare costs they recommended no rate increase be made. 

Multilingual learners: Trustees approved an agreement between the WCSD and the Washoe Education Association (WEA) providing for the payment of stipends to certified employees who assume responsibility for providing support to classroom teachers and students identified as multilingual learners. An estimated $27,000 in Title III funding will be used for this program for the 2022-23 school year. 

Charter bus contract: Trustees approved renewal of a two-year, $462,000 contract with  Amador Stage Lines for charter bus services for scholastic, athletic, band and field trip transportation. 

The previous contract with Amador was for three years and just over $600,000. 

Contract approvals postponed: Trustees postponed awarding a nearly $143,000 contract to Bruce Purves Construction, Inc. at staff’s direction. The contract is to install Emergency Response Signage at 17 district schools. 

Also at the direction of staff, trustees postponed approval of a $900,000, three-year agreement with Dyntek to purchase licensing and support services for the district’s telephone system due to changes with the products. . 

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