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School trustees approve mental health support for students 


Washoe County School District’s Board of Trustees on Tuesday approved an agreement to increase access to mental health treatment providers for students. 

The agreement is with Care Solace of Addiction Treatment Technologies and will be paid for with Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) II school-based mental health professional program funds. The cost is  $152,500.

Superintendent Susan Enfield spoke on behalf of Care Solace. She said she’s been aware of the company for the last two years, but only recently learned that the Clark County and Churchill school districts have been using Care Solace in their schools. 

“For me whenever I’m looking at a potential provider or partner for the district it’s important for me to look into whether it meets a need, and I think we’re all in agreement that mental health needs and support needs within our system and broader community are significant, and any investment we can make to address that is worthwhile,” Enfield said. “It’s also helpful to know that a provider is already working in our state because, as we all know, states have certain uniquenesses to them and Clark County has had wonderful success with them so far, as has Churchill.” 

Trustee Colleen Westlake said she supports mental health services for students, but had questions about some of the provisions. 

“Our children are our most valuable treasure and we have to be doing everything we possibly can to protect them and direct them to get the most beneficial help in the fastest [way] possible,” Westlake said. 

She said she had an issue, however, with a portion of the contract that stated the school would be able to act as the parent’s representative to approve the collection of student information. 

“Sometimes the collection of data is not used in the patient’s best interest,” Westlake said. “But more so I’m concerned the school district is basically taking over for the advocacy of the children even though they say they’re going to inform the parents.” 

Chief Strategy Officer Paul LaMarca said the kind of information that would be collected is “directory” information such as name, age, race and preferences of support.  

“They collect information simply to best match students’ needs or staff member needs with available providers,” LaMarca said. “If you have very specific requests on who you want to see they try to match that up. That’s the reason for it, to my knowledge it’s not used in any other way or shared with anyone else.” 

LaMarca also said the district will always seek active parent consent before they seek support through the system for a child. 

“We will not use the system unless we have consent from the parent,” LaMarca said. 

The district will move forward with an 8-month pilot program during which they will determine if the program meets the mental health needs of the district’s students. The board also directed the superintendent to provide monthly updates on the program. 

The motion passed 5-2 with Westlake and Trustee Jeff Church voting against. 

Sierra Nevada Academy only ‘minimally’ compliant  

Trustees reviewed findings from the Annual Charter School Performance Monitoring for seven charter schools within the district. The monitoring is in place to ensure the schools are in compliance with their charter agreements. 

The schools reviewed were:

  • Academy for Career Education Charter High School (ACE)
  • Bailey Charter School
  • Coral Academy of Science Charter School
  • Encompass Academy Charter High School
  • High Desert Montessori Charter School
  • Mariposa Language and Learning Academy Charter School
  • Sierra Nevada Academy Charter School

Much of the discussion surrounded Sierra Nevada Academy Charter School (SNACS), which was found to only be “minimally compliant” in their 9-12 grade levels. 

Each school is required to comply with a list of 38 standards including student accounting, curriculum, human resources, counseling, internal audits and student health. SNACS was found to be out of compliance in five of those areas.  

The review found that high school students are not enrolled in enough courses, not only for daily instruction but also to move up in grade and toward graduation. Information was also missing on course content for all high school level classes except for ninth grade English.

Charter Liaison Stacey Cooper answered questions on behalf of SNACS. 

She said there are about 15 students enrolled in SNACS across the ninth, 10th and 11th grades, eight of whom were previous SNACS students and 7 who transferred from other high schools. 

Those students have one teacher to teach in-class English Language Arts for ninth grade, but, Cooper said, all other content is offered online by an outside vendor, Brigham Young University. 

According to Cooper, the curriculum from BYU is not aligning with the Infinite Campus transcript recognition, which caused difficulties in the external curriculum reviews. 

Cooper also said the review found students were significantly credit deficient by not finishing classes by the fall semester’s end, but that BYU’s semester is different from the district’s which led to the issue. 

Trustees voted to approve the charter school as “minimally compliant.” 

Governor proposes increase of state education budget by $1 billion

Trustees heard a presentation on the governor’s executive budget for the next biennium, which when approved or revised by the Nevada Legislature will set funding for fiscal years 2023-2024 and 2024-2025. 

Gov. Joe Lombardo released his budget in late January and included a $1 billion increase in K-12 education funding. It will not be known if this funding is approved until May. 

Highlights from the recommended budget include an increase in overall funding, additional dollars for English Learners and at-risk students and more special education funding. 

The $1 billion increase, if approved, will take overall school funding from approximately $4.5 billion to $5.5 billion for statewide K-12 education – increasing by 16.1% in 2024 and 5% in 2025. 

The proposed funding for English Learners and at-risk students would nearly triple current spending. However, according to WCSD Chief Financial Officer Mark Mathers, the state’s measure of “at risk” has issues, and the new calculation methodology caps the total number of at-risk students to 20% of total student population. 

State special education funding remains flat, and does not address the funding shortfall that school districts currently have to cover with the General Fund, according to Mathers. 

Additionally, students in more than one category still only receive funding from one weight, whichever is highest. 

Evaluations also found that the budget does not implement the Commission on School Funding’s unanimous recommendation to eliminate an equity adjustment, and that the state’s assumptions of inflation were well below the actual 6.2% inflation in 2022. 

According to Mathers, the commission found that the equity adjustment was too “volatile” of an index and not something the state could consistently budget around. 

Overall, the review found that the proposed budget includes “historic increases” to K-12 funding, and the increases are possible because of the outsized growth of State Education Fund revenues in the current biennium.  

For Washoe County specifically, per pupil funding could increase from $7,318 to $8,879 in 2024 if approved – an additional $93.66 million in revenue. 

The final budget is due by law on June 8, 2023 during this legislative session. 

February is Career and Technical Education (CTE) Month

Trustees approved a resolution recognizing February 2023 as Career and Technical Education (CTE) month.

The district offers more than 30 CTE programs throughout  its high schools, according to Josh Hartzog, director of Signature Academies and Career Technical Education.

A new fire science program is on the horizon at AACT High School, said Hartzog, in the district’s continued efforts to push CTE programming. 

“We just received over $100,000 in equipment from Mineral County High School to help start up that program,” Hartzog said. 

According to the resolution, “career and technical education provides students with career exploration opportunities earlier in their educational experience, which enables them to make informed decisions about their academic coursework and pursue established programs of student and career pathways.”

Additionally, the resolution acknowledges that industries nationwide have reported increasing challenges in finding employees in “critical” CTE related fields such as aerospace, agriculture, construction, education, healthcare, IT and logistics. 

By providing CTE in the district, Hartzog said, students can be prepared to fill those important industry roles after graduation, providing stable employment for students while also addressing community needs. 

Trustees approved the resolution unanimously. 

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.