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Student population is decreasing, along with funding at Washoe schools 

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Charter schools seeing massive enrollment increases

Fewer children are being born, and those who live in Washoe County are leaving the schools in the Washoe County School District. Enrollment in charter schools, however, is increasing.

That’s what WCSD’s Board of Trustees heard on Tuesday as staff provided updates on projected enrollment, preliminary staffing allocations and new district processes. Each year, projected enrollments determine staffing needs in the school district, and allocations are shared with schools to begin the spring hiring process. During “count day,” which occurs in September, adjustments are made to the number of educators and support staff needed for each school, except 1- and 2-star schools. 

Under a new process, those schools will keep level staffing regardless of an enrollment decline because they’ve failed to meet state performance standards. Enrollment reviews continue throughout the rest of the school year, with adjustments made where enrollment has increased. 

Staffing is based on per-pupil funding, which means the more students the district has, the more educators and other employees they can support. Per-pupil funding makes up 88% of the district’s general-fund revenues, and school-based positions make up 81% of general-fund dollars spent on staffing. 

WCSD Budget Director Jeff Bozzo said the first cause of decreasing student enrollment is simply that fewer children are being born. There has been a 45% decline in the county’s annual birth rate since 1990.

Bozzo said students are also leaving the district. Enrollment in WCSD schools has decreased by 6.3% since the 2019-2020 school year, while charter and private schools have experienced significant enrollment increases. State-sponsored charter schools have seen the largest jump in enrollment, with an 83.5% increase since the 2019-2020 school year. 

Enrollment is expected to drop by another 1,150 students for the 2024-2025 school year—bringing the total drop in enrollment to 8.1%. 

“Your budget is determined on student enrollment and so as class sizes are very large.”

WCSD Interim Superintendent Kristen McNeill

A loss of ten students district-wide results in a revenue loss equal to the cost of one teaching position. 

“When you hear a school has lost an allocation, that’s because of decreased enrollment,” Bozzo said. He added that the district can get more per-pupil funding to support additional educators if enrollment increases mid-year.

Bozzo said the new process of keeping staffing at 1- and 2-star schools, regardless of lower enrollment, will be funded by the general fund contingency account, as well as mid-year allocations based on count-day reviews. 

Trustee Diane Nicolet said class sizes are already far too large, which needs to be rectified. By state law, class size ratios for kindergarten through second grade are prescribed as 16:1, with third grade at 18:1. Alternative plans are allowed for counties with populations less than 100,000, ranging from 22:1 to 25:1 in first through sixth grades. 

However, the state has never funded those class ratios, meaning the state does not give districts enough money to hire enough teachers to keep class sizes within the required ratios. Class sizes in Washoe County elementary schools range from 13-38 students per teacher, depending on school and grade level. 

WCSD Trustee Diane Nicolet

“Our class sizes are too large,” Nicolet said. “So when we put this three or more allocation [of additional students] on a class size that’s already too large, it gets to be a little overwhelming.” 

Superintendent Kristen McNeill encouraged the trustees to advocate for smaller class sizes at the next legislative session. 

“Your budget is determined on student enrollment and so as class sizes are very large, and I agree with you — I think that would be a perfect opportunity to add that to your legislative platform,” McNeill said. 

Associate Chief Tiffany McMaster said she hopes the 2025 opening of the Debbie Smith Career and Technical Education Academy will show families seeking education options outside the district that there are alternatives to the traditional K-12 model within WCSD.

“Our hope is to provide choice and option for good quality options within our district,“ McMaster said. “We hope to bring people who have looked for other options and show them we have some great alternatives here.” 

Superintendent search update 

The board also heard an update regarding the superintendent search process. A total of 32 candidates from 13 different states netted in five finalists: WCSD employees Joe Ernst, Paul LaMarca and Troy Parks, Elizabeth Fagen of Humble, Texas and Charles McNulty of Little Rock, Arkansas. 

The district will have a community forum on Thursday, April 25, from 5 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. at Wooster High School, 1331 E. Plumb Ln., where the candidates will meet residents and answer questions. 

On Friday, April 26, candidates will be publicly interviewed during a special board meeting beginning at 9:15 a.m. and ending at 4 p.m., with each candidate allotted approximately 75 minutes per interview. 

Bailey Charter Elementary School audit 

WCSD’s internal audit team in June 2023 determined that the Bailey Charter Elementary School had several management issues, and on Tuesday, the board heard an update regarding the department’s follow-up with the school. 

Concerns from the 2023 audit found the school didn’t create a finance committee as part of its board, failed to document certain credit card charges, no controls to prevent or disclose conflicts of interest with contracts and payments, and improperly reviewed expense reports. 

According to WCSD auditors, the school has taken “significant steps” to improve its fiscal management. According to their findings, the school installed a new principal, hired a finance manager, created a finance committee, and recruited new board members.  

“Although not all of these findings can be considered fully remediated at this time, in our opinion, the school has taken significant steps to correct the reported internal control deficiencies,” the report reads.

The full update, including what steps the school has taken to remediate issues, can be viewed here

Other items

Trustees approved the five-year Capital Improvement Plan for the district, which includes the district’s facility modernization plan to replace and repurpose schools, as well as new buildings and critical infrastructure and repairs. Projects include overhauling the old Hug High School to become Debbie Smith CTE, updates to central transportation and a study for a new central administration building. The list of projects and funding can be found here. 

Trustees approved the renaming of the Damonte Ranch High School baseball fields in honor of the school’s two-decades-long baseball coach, Jon Polson. Polson was named the school’s first head baseball coach in 2003 and served as the head coach for the next 20 years before retiring in 2023. 

Trustees approved the purchase of English Language Arts instructional materials from Houghton Mifflin Hardcourt for the high school curriculum for $2.9 million. The existing ELA instructional materials approved for grades 9-12 in the district are over 15 years old. In August 2023, the board directed staff to begin the process of adopting newer materials. The district was able to select materials from five companies, including Houghton Mifflin Hardcourt, which were set by the state. The cost of the materials is for a 7-year license of the curriculum. 

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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