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School district approves hundreds of new positions in new budget

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The Washoe County School District’s annual budget sets the priorities and annual spending plan for all of WCSD’s funds, according to Chief Financial Officer Mark Mathers. While the budget’s focus is typically on the general fund, this year, thanks to legislative changes, the budget also included “significant planning of English Learner and At-Risk weighted funding.” 

According to Mathers, the district had a $1.7 million budget deficit that needed to be resolved, and in April, the board approved changes to the tentative budget to address this issue. 

In the finalized budget, $10 million was dedicated to new positions. About 243 positions are being funded, including 135 new positions and nearly 30 positions that would have been eliminated due to expiring funding. Of these, 186 are instructional positions, and 48 are student and family support positions.

District personnel will also receive a 2% cost-of-living salary increase, piggybacking the state-funded 4% salary matching for eligible bargaining units. “Significant” capital investment projects are also receiving funding, including $88.4 million toward the rebuilding and relocation of Stead Elementary School, the redesign of Loder Elementary and the continued construction of Debbie Smith CTA High School and Vaughn Middle School. 

General fund revenues total around $638 million, with 99% of funding coming from the state, according to WCSD Board Trustee Adam Mayberry: “It’s a reminder to our community how pivotal our great state is to funding our district. This is why it’s so important to have the right legislators down in Carson City.”

One major topic that parents were concerned about is the end of nutritional services funding at the state level, which began during the pandemic. With that funding, all school meals were free to students regardless of their family’s income. That funding will end at the start of the school year. 

Traditionally, families must apply for free and reduced lunch (FRL) meals during the previous school year. However, to help ease the transition to paid meals for non-FRL families, the district is providing one month of universal free meals at the beginning of the school year, allowing families to apply for the program. 

Additional budget highlights 

Additional funding is being allocated for high-needs schools, including adding transportation to Innovations High School, adding 29 new English Learner (EL) instructors, reducing the student-to-teacher ratios and summer school interventions at high schools. 

To support academic achievements, the district covers all AP, IB, and dual enrollment course fees. An internship coordinator is being funded, and a fixed teacher allocation has been added to support the current dual-language program. 

Fifteen new pre-K programs are being added, with expanded hours and benefits for pre-K teacher aids. 

For students, the expansion of clubs and activities and sixth-grade sports are being funded, along with a new student activities program coordinator and after-school coordinator. The Parent-Teacher Home Visit Program is being expanded, and two campus supervisors are being added at each high school with an enrollment greater than 1,000 students; otherwise, the school receives one campus supervisor. 

A total of five new translation/interpretation positions have also been added. The budget was passed unanimously.

National Association of School Board update 

Trustees heard an update regarding the Nevada Association of School Boards (NASB) and its future. Two NASB representatives, Rick Harris and Wade Paulson, appeared before trustees to discuss NASB initiatives and answer questions from the board. 

One issue is that more education bills come through the legislature than any other type of industry. Paulson said some of NASB’s focuses include advocating against appointed school boards and keeping boards in the tradition of being elected by the community, increasing school funding, gaining additional funding for rural districts and increasing school safety. 

“Safety is paramount in our schools, and as parents, as teachers, as professionals, we want our kids to be able to go to school and come home,” Paulson said. “There is a safety aspect that we are bringing forth to the legislature to make sure our kids are safe at school. Not just brick and mortar safety, but other aspects of safety as well.” 

Paulson added that he believes the universal school lunch should also be a nationwide movement, and NASB hopes to work with the federal government to advocate for the initiative. 

“I would like our per-pupil funding to be at the national average,” Trustee Beth Smith said. “If we’re going to be compared to the rest of the country, then our per-pupil funding [should increase].” 

Two school board trustees smile at each other in a meeting.
Washoe County School District trustees Jeff Church, left, and Alex Woodley in January, 2024. Eric Marks / THIS IS RENO.

When Trustee Jeff Church asked Paulson about NASB’s lobbying and money-giving activities, Paulson said that while the national organization has specific agendas, NASB doesn’t need to follow them. 

“You have to be part of the conversation to effect change,” Paulson said. 

Church said he believes NASB needs to move in a better direction: “To me, the biggest issue is the quality of education.” 

Harris said that NASB is about training, advocacy and mentoring. 

“Those three things are what we focus in on. Student achievement is at the heart of that,” he said. “On one hand, you can find statistics that say how terrible we are, and you can find statistics that say how great we are … I’ll say this: I am so proud of the work of the teachers and administrators and paraprofessionals in the state of Nevada. It’s amazing what we do for our kids.” 

However, Harris said that they “always need to be better.” 

“I think whatever study you look at, we’re not doing well as a state,” Church added. He also noted that NASB is a 501c3, not a 501c6 nonprofit, and said they should focus less on lobbying. 

Trustee Colleen Westlake said that, even if they all disagree, there is power in numbers, and so long as everyone is “pulling for the kids,” everything else can be figured out afterward: “I have high hopes for what we’re going to see in the next couple of years.” 

Washoe County School District is one of 17 districts within the state that are a part of NASB. 

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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