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Campus safety, teacher pay focus of school district’s legislative request

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The Washoe County School District Board of Trustees approved a final draft version of the Bill Draft Request (BDR) submitted to be heard during the 2023 Nevada Legislative Session. Trustees in August approved a plan to ask legislators to reduce burdensome reporting requirements, modernize education statutes and improve school safety – changes that would impact school districts across the state. 

Pinyon Public Affairs was hired by the district to compile a BDR that aligned with the district’s needs during the upcoming session. 

The district focused on three key principles in the BDR: meaningful data to drive results and support innovation; reclaiming wasted resources and lost instructional time; and prioritizing local decision making and communities first.

A major component in the most recent draft of the BDR focuses on improving teaching quality through an increase in pay for staff and reducing lost instructional time due to unnecessary mandates. 

“This starts with ensuring staff have the resources they need, including pay commensurate with their expertise, so this and other school districts can provide students with an excellent education,” the BDR reads. 

WCSD is calling for a minimum 15% increase in base per-pupil funding in the first year of the biennium for increased salaries for all staff while working toward a 20% increase. 

Another addition to the bill request focuses on increasing teacher pay through per-pupil funding. 

“The state’s approach to education budgeting must allow for successful student outcomes by providing competitive compensation and optimal learning environments,” the BDR reads. 

The district is requesting that all districts throughout the state be funded sufficiently to achieve legally mandated class size goals, rather than require waivers to deviate from “something that the state does not support.” 

The BDR also discusses eliminating the “flawed” caps in per-pupil funding to better serve students who fall into multiple categories such as English language learners, gifted and talented, or at risk. 

Additional language was added to “preserve instructor professionalism.”  The district is proposing to remove “unnecessary” barriers to instruction, which will include allowing “experts and administrative leaders” to enter the teaching profession.

Protesters rallied against budget cuts to education outside the Nevada Legislature on the first day of the 31st Special Session in Carson City, Nev., on Wednesday, July 8, 2020. Pool photo by David Calvert/The Nevada Independent

Officials also want to create or enhance policies for school safety to protect staff members and prioritize the mental and physical wellbeing of district personnel and provide staff with tools that maintain safe and respectful learning environments.

Language regarding safety infrastructure was also included to protect students both on and off campus. This includes protection against firearm threats, traffic and pedestrian safety near schools, and prevention of human trafficking and all forms of violence. 

One suggested way to provide funding for these goals is with “targeted property tax reform” which would provide sustainable funding. 

“The inclusion of property tax reform in this platform or not will not make a difference on the legislature’s appetite for property tax reform,” Dylan Shaver of Pinyon Public Affairs said. “We remember now it’s been two sessions ago where they wouldn’t even advance a proposal to let the voters vote on property tax reform. It is not a very popular topic in Carson City.” 

However, Shaver reiterated that including property tax reform in the proposal would not make a difference in the rest of the “asks” from the district. 

The BDR also highlights the need to move away from “burdensome” mandates that have created both an economic and educational issue within schools statewide. 

“Each session, dozens of bills are passed that place burdensome new requirements on teachers and schools, such as data collecting and reporting, costly new processes and student testing,” the BDR reads. “WCSD will lead the charge in highlighting the lost time and misplaced resources any new mandates create.” 

The BDR also calls for eliminating all unfunded or underfunded mandates, as well as a unilateral opposition to any new unfunded or underfunded proposals which may come forward in the future. 

The development of scholarships and grants to provide funding for educators on mandated educational and licensing requirements is included, which will help reduce financial burdens on teachers. 

“The urgency… aggressiveness…and unity that we need to act with cannot be overstated.”

The newest version of the BDR can be found here. 

Trustee Diane Nicolet said that she recently attended a Nevada Association of School Boards meeting which represented schools across the state, from one-room schoolhouses to sprawling urban districts. Despite the variety between schools and districts, a common theme throughout was the need to increase funding for each student, she said. 

“The one thing we all agreed on […] was moving forward together,” Nicolet said. “A collective voice has much more strength and much more passion, and we wanted to make sure that our voices are unique to our needs. This document fulfills that need.” 

Calen Evans, president of the Washoe Education Association, gave public comment in support of the BDR. 

“As we all know, our employees are struggling from a financial standpoint,” Evans said. “If we look at ‘what is’ and ‘what could be,’ the importance is that we’re really pushing for ‘what should be.’” 

Evans said the most important priorities for teachers include compensation, class sizes, staff safety and student behavior. 

While Evans thanked the board for making those issues a priority on the BDR, he also said that the district is stuck in a self-perpetuating cycle. 

“We grossly under-fund education in Nevada, that leads to less and less people wanting to come into the profession. More and more of our colleagues are finding jobs in other fields, which then increases the burden on the employees that are left… which then leads to higher burnout rates and around and around we go in this,” Evans said. 

“Nothing is going to change unless we disrupt that cycle. It’s going to come from a collective effort. It’s not just our labor force, it can’t just be from our educational leaders, it really has to be from our community as a whole that we come together and say we are not going to allow the continued underfunding and lack of support for public education in Nevada,” he added

Calen Evans, Washoe County teacher, calls for more education funding from the Nevada Legislature in Carson City on Feb. 15, 2021. Image: Bob Conrad / This Is Reno.
Calen Evans, Washoe County teacher, calls for more education funding from the Nevada Legislature in Carson City on Feb. 15, 2021. Image: Bob Conrad / This Is Reno.

Evans said that Nevada is 50th in funding in school finance in the nation, 48th in per pupil funding, and stated WCSD is the lowest funded per pupil district in the state along with Clark County and Carson City. While some counties like Eureka receive over $33,000 per student in funding, WCSD only receives $7,318 per student. 

“We are in the bottom 5% of districts funded nationally,” Evans said. “So the urgency… aggressiveness…and unity that we need to act with cannot be overstated.”

Trustees approved of the BDR unanimously. Now that is approved, the BDR will continue to the legislature to become a senate bill to queue for the upcoming 2023 session.  

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Kelsey Penrose
Kelsey Penrose
Kelsey Penrose is a proud Native Nevadan whose work in journalism and publishing can be found throughout the Sierra region. She received degrees in English Literature and Anthropology from Arizona State University and is currently pursuing a Masters in Creative Writing with the University of Nevada, Reno at Lake Tahoe. She is an avid supporter of high desert agriculture and rescue dogs.

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