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Trustees tackle budget, keep funding for more than 240 newer jobs

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Washoe County School District’s Board of Trustees on Tuesday held their annual budget discussions, which included an update on the strategic plan, school police and transportation services. The district must submit its draft budget to the state by April 15.

WCSD Budget Director Jeff Bozzo said that cost reductions in some areas and savings from some unfilled positions will help the district submit a balanced budget for the sixth year in a row.   

The district’s budget includes retaining and stabilizing funding for 242 positions previously approved by trustees, costing just over $25 million. The majority, 126 positions, align with the district’s academic growth and achievement goal. 

Of the 242 positions, 135 are new, 28.5 were previously funded by now-expired grants, and 79 were shifted from other funding sources. Most positions, 186, are instructional and include teachers, teacher assistants, instructional coaches and long-term substitutes. 

WCSD Chief Financial Officer Mark Mathers said adding and retaining that many new staff was “incredible.” 

“That sum is a huge factor over which we’ve ever been able to do before,” he said. 

“What you hear is ‘people over programs,’” board President Beth Smith said. “Adding and stabilizing funding for over 240 positions in service to our children is a very serious and significant note. This is walking the talk of valuing the people that are in service to our children and families. If I’m not mistaken, this is totally unprecedented not only in our district but in the state as a whole.” 

Transportation coming for Innovations High School students

Students at Innovations High School will now receive transportation services, which Mathers said will help with absentee issues. 

Three new bus drivers will provide transportation, costing about $150,000 per school year. Mathers said he worked with interim Superintendent Kristen McNeill to find the money to provide the transportation. The full amount will be reallocated from the superintendent’s budget, including $100,000 from the Strategic Plan Implementation Budget and $50,000 from the Department Assessments Budget. 

Mathers said it was a cost-neutral solution. Students will be transported from their zoned school to Innovations if they live outside the three-mile walk zone. The district transportation chief said about 80 students will benefit from the transportation.

School board memeber at a meeting in front of a microphone.
Washoe County School District trustee Colleen Westlake. Eric Marks / THIS IS RENO.

According to Smith, Trustee Colleen Westlake was integral in the process. 

“I want to personally and publicly thank Trustee Westlake for taking up the advocacy for this item, visiting the school and taking this school into her heart and championing this request for these students,” Smith said. 

“I just want to say thank you, and thank you to Dr. McNeill,” Westlake said, wiping away tears. “Not everyone has a generous heart. I really appreciate your generosity to see the need and that their need was more. I know the kids there are going to appreciate it.” 

Westlake added that with transportation available, there was potential for enrollment at the school to grow. 

School police to phase in e-bikes

The district added several high school police officer positions to the budget last year, and this year, the department submitted a budget request to provide transportation for those officers. According to the budget analysis, purchasing brand-new police cruisers and factoring in the associated maintenance costs and depreciation would be a significant expense for the district. 

Chief Tracy Moore offered three alternatives, including supplementing the fleet with e-bikes or repurposing used district vehicles. Each option included the installation of gun safes at high schools. He said his preference would be to provide e-bikes and use gun safes within schools to contain police rifles, which would be lost if cruisers were phased out. 

Trustee Jeff Church said he did not want to micromanage the police department and would instead just provide them with a budget and allow them to make the choice themselves. He also said he was concerned about potential injuries from using e-bikes. 

“Whether it’s a bicycle, e-bike or motorcycle that requires extra training…from my experience the first time you have an accident, and it’s gonna happen…it’s not worth the cost,” Church said. “I am just not a proponent because bicycles get hit. You don’t see them. You run into a curb. There’s a million reasons. But bikes cause accidents.”

However, Moore said he favored eventually equipping officers with e-bikes, saying there are some campuses where patrol cars are “just not effective.” He added that officers have bikes now, but e-bikes would help them to reduce the exertion required to ride a traditional bike and they allow officers to be more efficient. 

WCSD Police Chief Tracy Moore
WCSD Police Chief Tracy Moore. Photo: Courtesy WCSD

“We’re trying to use technology to our advantage,” he said. “We’re trying to work smarter, not harder.” 

Moore said Washoe County School Police are the instructors in bike training to all other local police departments and he was not concerned with injury potential.

“Any line in this work is going to have injuries, either on the bike or controlling a situation,” he said. “There is no flag that I have seen from bike injuries that have caused me to be alarmed.” 

In addition, Moore suggested position changes, downgrading a lieutenant position to a sergeant for a cost savings of around $12,000 a year. 

Trustees approved the “C” option of a hybrid program where schools receive vehicles from vacant middle school officer positions. As middle school positions are filled and cars returned to those schools, e-bikes will be provided to high school officers. The bikes will cost $45,500, with bikes phased in as positions are filled. 

Gun safes for police rifles costing $12,188 will be installed in high schools. Trustees voted unanimously to approve the tentative budget. The final budget hearing is on May 28.

Superintendent search continues 

More than 30 candidates applied for the vacant superintendent position, according to Walt Cooper of the search firm McPherson and Jacobson. The application deadline for prospective candidates was March 19. 

“We more than doubled the number of candidates [since the last search] which was outstanding,” Cooper said. “We really thought it was a remarkable response for a district of this size.” 

He added that two-thirds of the candidates were “not the usual suspects,” and were new contacts for his team. The “vast majority” of candidates had also only applied for the WCSD position and none of the other superintendent vacancies McPherson and Jacobson were working to fill, he said. 

Selected candidates submitted videos responding to trustee interview questions, and each will have one-on-one interview preparation meetings with trustees. The finalists will be announced on April 15.

The public will be able to review each finalist’s information, including their resumes, “application narrative,” which is a response to trustees’ criteria, and the 8-minute interview video. A selection of the district’s next superintendent is slated for May 14.

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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