Washoe County School District Superintendent Susan Enfield in August told This Is Reno she would spend her first six months in the school district “listening, learning and building relationships” in the community. She’s holding true to that plan and on Wednesday held a community town hall meeting to talk to concerned parents about issues in the district.
During the town hall, which was held at Marce Herz Middle School, Enfield introduced herself as the parents gathered then opened the floor to questions.
Families that attended the session expressed concerns ranging from school safety and funding to teaching tolerance to students.
One topic that came up various times from multiple parents was the rise of antisemitism and hate speech in Washoe County schools. Parents asked how these incidents would be addressed and what kind of consequences would take place.
Enfield said schools are microcosms of society as a whole, and antisemitism is on the rise everywhere. She added that while there are district wide guidelines, the discipline of each individual case would be up to the principal of the affected school.
While parents seemed to be on board with Enfield’s answer, some said that discipline itself would not be enough to change people’s beliefs. They mentioned there should be some form of education on the Holocaust as well as teaching students about hate speech and its associated dangers.
Another parent also brought up the increase in threats of school shootings that have been called in. Enfield said the security of all students is paramount but that many of these threats were anonymous and very difficult to chase down.
Outside of the security issues for schools and students, school funding came up frequently. Enfield said that as well intentioned she is, without state funding for schools many issues would continue to be a problem. Funding is the key to be able to raise teacher salaries as well as keep school staffing at working levels, she said.
Signature programs – also of interest to parents – are also limited due to budget constraints.
Last year was the first year using the state’s new pupil-centered funding formula, which put Washoe County dead last for state funding per pupil at just $7,318 per student. The district spends about $9,600 per student each school year, nearly $4,000 below the national average.
During a board of trustees meeting in April, district Chief Financial Officer Mark Mathers said, “It would make just a transformational kind of change for the school district if the state actually funded schools just at the national average. It’s a big number, but it would do a lot of good, to put it mildly.”