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School trustees approve plan for 2023 legislative session

By Kelsey Penrose

Washoe County School District administrators said they hope to reduce some of the reporting burden on district staff by updating the state’s education laws. 

District staff on Tuesday presented its recommendation to the Board of Trustees on which bill draft request (BDR) the district should put forward for the 2023 legislative session, which starts  Feb. 6, 2023. 

In previous discussions, both modernizing educational statutes and addressing school safety were proposed. Ultimately, modernizing statutes across the state’s education system won out among district leaders.

Seng-Dao Yang Keo, deputy superintendent, answered trustees’ questions about its potential implementation. 

“Sometimes the mandates are very burdensome — schools might have five different plans they are beholden to, forcing them to submit 35 reports every year,” Keo told trustees. “This is an opportunity to streamline the work.

WCSD Deputy Superintendent Dr. Seng-Dao Yang Keo

“The intent is to ensure that public education funds are used strategically on what works to improve student and school outcomes, and so that we’re improving effectiveness and efficiency across the entire system,” Keo added. “There is an immediate need to do this to update the statutes and policies to meet current needs within the district, and to plan strategically for the future of the education system.” 

The district’s BDR is due by Sept. 1. After that, if the BDR is accepted, the district would create a commission and work groups of experts to study the education statutes and provide recommendations. 

Keo outlined the “core tenants” of the BDR, which include: innovation impacting students and teachers across a spectrum of topics from academics to behavioral health; alignment of systems to built “capacity and pipelines”; a focus on evidence-based decision making and outcomes; and streamlining statutes that were created separately, and according to Keo “don’t speak to each other.”

She said that if passed by the legislature, the bill would address current issues and build upon itself at least over the next two decades.  

“The purpose is to make recommendations to adjust our current statues to meet our current needs [and] to prepare for the next 10 to 20 years,” said Keo. “This is a long-term strategic plan.” 

District staff decided to focus on this particular BDR because it would have wide-reaching effects, instead of only focusing on Washoe County School District systems. 

“Putting forward a BDR that would have an impact across the state was important to us,” said Superintendent Susan Enfield. 

“This is critically important,” Board President Angela Taylor said. “I’m particularly interested in taking a look at some of the mandates that may not be unfunded, but may be extra work for educators in the classroom – are there ways to streamline these? This takes a look at all of that stuff in the long haul.” 

Trustee Adam Mayberry agreed.

“Frankly, I find it hard to believe it wouldn’t get through,” he said. “It’s very non-polarizing, it’s a non-controversial issue. I look forward to being a part of it.” 

The board voted unanimously to submit the BDR. 

New principals introduced

In total, 15 new principals began their first days at their respective schools this week across the district. 

All five areas of the school district received new principals, ranging from one new principal in Area 5 up to four in Areas 2, 3 and 4. 

The new principals are: 

Area 1: Erin Dawnson, Hunsberger Elementary School and Marcus Culpepper, Echo Loder Elementary School.

Area 2: Kimberly Crowley, Yvonne Shaw Middle School; Teresa Quintana, Desert Skies Middle School; Ryan Smith, Glenn Duncan Elementary School; and Ashely Oliveira, Sun Valley Elementary School.

Area 3: Ryan Doetch, Diedrichsen Elementary School; Denise Paul, Jerry Whitehead Elementary School; Kevin Sady, Anderson Elementary School; John Stern, Incline Elementary School.

Area 4: Freeman Holbrook, McQueen High School; CJ Waddell, Sparks High School; Amy Howe, Peavine Elementary School; and Jason Shipman, Drake Elementary School.

Area 5: Mandie Sheridan, Cold Springs Middle School.

Coral Academy Northwest Expansion approved 

Trustees approved an amendment to the charter agreement and to a purchase option agreement and bond purchase agreement for Coral Academy of Science Charter School’s (CAS) additional campus located in Northwest Reno, located at 1595 Sky Mountain Drive. 

CAS entered into a lease-purchase option agreement in December 2021 which required CAS to purchase the Sky Mountain facility by mid-July. 

The planned Coral Academy of Science school building at 1595 Sky Mountain Drive. The location used to be a 24-Hour Fitness.

At the June 28 meeting, the Trustees reviewed the CAS proposal including facilities, enrollment and financing, after which the Sky Mountain landowner agreed to extend the purchase date to mid-September. Trustees decided in June to continue the issue to a future meeting.

During a financial analysis, district staff said they made adjustments for actual 2023 per-pupil revenues as well as for certain costs. 

Staff also found that the projections made by CAS rely on rapid enrollment growth at the Sky Mountain campus in order to be financially sustainable. During a risk assessment, district staff determined that future enrollment may decrease similarly to school districts in Denver and many California areas due, in part, to rising housing prices. 

In the case of CAS’s closure, the district would be responsible for certain costs including post-employment benefits, unemployment insurance claims, unpaid PERS contributions and potential other unpaid obligations. 

Following the meeting, staff concluded that the appraised value of the Sky Mountain facility equaled the purchase price with the landowner; CAS’s debt financing plan was reasonably structured; and CAS provided updated information on letters of interest, but could not break this out by geography, nor could they identify interest from existing CAS families. 

CAS and the district have agreed on one of two options to mitigate its concerns. This option requires depositing funds into an escrow account in the amount of $906,750 to mitigate potential future liabilities. 

The balance of the escrow will be released after the second year of operations if actual enrollment is at least 90% of CAS’s  projections for two consecutive years or two consecutive years in which CAS meets its debt service coverage ratio. 

Trustees voted unanimously in favor of CAS. 

Student computers purchased for $3.7 million 

Trustees approved the purchase of student devices in the amount of $3.7 million as part of the information technology device refresh program, which was approved at the June 21 meeting. 

The purchase includes 10,467 student laptop computers to sustain an “annual refresh cycle” for student technology, according to Chris Turner, chief information officer. 

Under the plan, the district will continue to replace 20% of student computers based on 80% of each school’s enrollment annually. 

Last year, the district initiated a centrally-funded computer refresh initiative, which allows the district to maintain usable and reliable devices, and allow an increased level of security around the devices and students using them. 

The vote was approved unanimously. 

Bonds sold to fund Capital Renewal Program 

Trustees voted unanimously to adopt a WCSD Board Resolution designated as the “2022C School Improvement Bond Resolution” authorizing the district to issue its general obligation (limited tax) school improvement bonds for up to $40 million. 

The proceeds of the bonds will be used to finance the 2023 Capital Renewal Program, which includes projects at existing district schools, including rehabilitation or repairs of flooring, signage, painting and sealing of exteriors, replacement of fire alarm systems, roof replacement, plumbing system repairs and repaving. 

The  combined maximum annual  debt authorized by the trustees is estimated to be $65.8 million, which is well below projected tax revenues and interest earnings of $81.3 million, according to staff. 

“We also have $250 million in debt authorization in case there was an emergency and we needed to issue bonds right away,” said Mark Mathers, the district’s chief financial officer.

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