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Trustees approve measures to address teacher shortages, increased workloads

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Washoe County School District’s Board of Trustees on Tuesday held the first meeting of 2023 during which they approved increased compensation for union educators, discussed the district’s commitment to school safety and zoning changes to tackle overcrowding. 

The board started the meeting by electing trustees to fill the positions of board president, vice president, and clerk to serve through the new year. Trustee Beth Smith was elected as board president, Diane Nicolet as vice president, and Joe Rodriguez as clerk. 

Some retired employees to be rehired 

In an effort to alleviate employment shortages, trustees approved the hiring of retired district employees for positions deemed critical, including: special education, career and technical and English language teachers; secondary math and science teachers; school counselors and interim licensed administrators; and guest, special education and early childhood teachers. 

Katie Louise Weir, the district’s interim head of human resources, said that efforts to recruit and retain new teachers are continuous. The rate of turnover for the critical shortage positions ranges from 10% for secondary science to more than 31% for early childhood educators.

Nearly half of the 43 open positions are within special education. However, this number is down significantly from the 2020-21 school year, when there were 314 vacant positions within the above categories. 

Weir cited some issues in filling positions such as a shortage of qualified candidates on a national scale; difficulty for candidates to become licensed in Nevada after transferring from other states; and early childhood education programs requiring dual licensure with special education. 

Retirees will only be considered after the position has been posted for internal and external candidates to apply.

Vaughn Middle School initial design contract approved for $2.6 million

Trustees approved an agreement for architectural design services with TSK Architects for the replacement of E. Otis Vaughn Middle School.

Tami Zimmerman, the district’s chief facilities management officer, said the full replacement of Vaughn Middle School was determined to be the first major project stemming from a Comprehensive Modernization Plan assessment. During the assessment, the major capital investment project needs throughout the district were identified, and Vaughn was slated as a priority project. 

Trustees approved the rebuild of Vaughn at their Dec. 14 meeting.

The bond-funded agreement for the design services was approved for $2.6 million. However, this is only for the initial design services; the total design services, which will be finalized at a later date, are expected to be closer to $10 million. 

The new Vaughn building is expected to open fall 2025. 

Compensation increases approved for union staff, substitute teachers

Trustees agreed to payments amounting to $6.3 million to educators covered under the Washoe Education Association contract. The payments are a bid to retain educators during an ongoing labor shortage, which is causing current educators to take on extra workloads. 

Approved additional compensation includes:

  • $500 one-time payment for each WEA member.
  • $1,000 one-time payment for each general education pre-K teacher.
  • $1,500 per counselor, per quarter at schools with counseling vacancies, along with counselors assigned from other sites to cover vacancies.
  • Secondary prep time coverage payment increases from $40 to $70.
  • $1,000 one-time payment for WEA special education members in recognition of the additional workload associated with the transition to new IEP software.
  • Varying per student compensation for teachers with class sizes over threshold, and special education teachers over designated caseloads, ranging from $40 to $90 for non-special ed students, and between $500-$1,000 for special ed students.

Trustee Colleen Westlake asked whether or not all educators would receive the proposed compensation, or those who were only active WEA members. 

“We are in a crisis right now, and that crisis needs to be addressed,” Westlake said. “But if this is only for WEA, I want to advocate for all the other educators also.” 

Chief Financial Officer Mark Mathers clarified that the payments would be for all classified educators covered by the WEA agreement.

“We know that there are other areas of the district that have workload issues and vacancies for sure, but this took four or five months to negotiate when all was said and done,” Mathers said. “We knew our priority was our biggest association which had the most severe set of vacancies.” 

Trustees said they did appreciate the WEA educators, but that the stipends were not gifts; they are earned compensation after taking on extra workloads. 

wcsd-trustees_beth-smith_1-25-22_ty-oneil-36-400x267-8325743-5140148
WCSD Trustee Beth Smith

“These are not payments because we appreciate them,” Smith said. “This is for work that they are doing day in, day out. This is a demonstration of our commitment to our staff.” 

Compensation for daily substitute teachers, or daily guest teachers as they’re now called, was approved to increase from $100 per day to $125 per day, and an increase from $130 to $150 per day for long-term guest teachers. 

The total annual cost to the district for that increase would be $1.16 million annually. 

Guest teacher compensation rates have remained unchanged since the 2015-2016 school year. 

Trustees approved the increases unanimously.  

Lena Juniper Elementary School shines in School Spotlight

Juniper Elementary School was highlighted as the newest School Spotlight, which celebrates the educators, students and staff from schools around the district. 

Juniper Elementary was built in 1965 and serves the northwest Sparks community. The Juniper Student Superstars who accompanied Principal Kim Polson and music teacher Elizabeth Eggleston were Sierra Kays, Madyson Blomberg, Maggie Olofson, Violet Shore and James Moser. 

Students accompanied Eggleston in a ukulele rendition of the Juniper Elementary school song.  

Students from Lena Juniper Elementary School were part of the “School Spotlight” feature now included in Board of Trustees meetings.

Lemmon Valley Elementary School zoning changes to address overcrowding 

The Zoning Advisory Committee recommended enrollment boundary zoning updates for Alice Smith, Desert Heights, Lemmon Valley and Stead elementary schools. 

A main purpose of the committee is to balance enrollment between schools to prevent or relieve overcrowding, which was found to be an issue in the Lemmon/Golden Valley and Stead areas of the district. 

There is moderate overcrowding reported at Lemmon Valley Elementary School with a 97% capacity, which is projected to possibly worsen in the coming school years. Middle and high school zoning adjustments have been made in recent years, but elementary school zoning for the area has remained unchanged. 

Stead Elementary School is the second most crowded at a 90% capacity, while Alice Smith (68%) and Desert Heights (55%) remain generally uncrowded. 

While evaluating zoning districts, the committee takes into consideration the need to avoid placing transportation burdens on any certain group; the intent to keep subdivisions and small neighborhood units in the same attendance zone; assigning students to the closest school; and creating compact attendance zones with few or no “island” areas. 

Rezoning was proposed to alleviate overcrowding at Lemmon Valley Elementary by rezoning students living in the northwest and southern portions of the zoning district to alternate elementary schools. 

Trustees approved the rezoning proposal unanimously. 

Washoe County School District Police stand outside of a Board of Trustees meeting that saw three hours of fiery comment, largely against sex-ed and social justice curriculum, on May 25, 2021.
Washoe County School District Police outside of a board of trustees meeting. School safety officers are one aspect of safety and security within the district. Image: Eric Marks / This Is Reno

School safety and security discussed 

Trustee Adam Mayberry said he became focused on school safety shortly after the school shooting incident in Uvalde, Texas that left 19 elementary aged school children and two teachers dead. 

“I have two children of my own in the district, and there is not a day that goes by where I don’t drop them off, tell them I love them, and hope and pray that today isn’t a day that there is going to be an act of violence. To me, [safety and security is] a priority just as high as academics – in some cases higher.” 

Mayberry said that, right now, someone out there is planning another act of violence in this country against a school, and until the nation addresses the causes of gun violence, schools need to become safe and protected. 

According to Superintendent Susan Enfield, topics of safety can range from physical safety, such as adapting schools to a single point of entry, to bullying, behavior issues and more. 

“Keeping our schools safe means a lot of different things to a lot of different people,” Enfield said. 

Ongoing school safety projects include capital projects initiatives such as CCTV networks, emergency communications infrastructure, emergency door numbering, boiler room emergency shut-offs and other continuing projects. 

Future initiatives include the district’s Facilities Modernization Program, federal funding from the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act and continuing the adaption of single point of entry at school campuses. 

Washoe County School Police will provide firearm detection K9s, an update to the Regional Active Assailant Response Plan, joint training with external first responders, expanded emergency management training, and other initiatives aimed at law enforcement safety. 

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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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