Jim Clark: Washoe school district still has a spending problem
April 24, 2013
CORRECTION: The first sentence of Jim Clark's April 18 column "Breaking down Washoe County assembly bills" included an incorrect dollar figure in relation to Assembly Bill 46. The bill would raise Washoe County property taxes $0.05 per $100 assessed valuation. The Bonanza regrets the error.
There was an interesting mix of opinion pieces in the April 17 Reno Gazette Journal. First, a One View column by Thomas Gargus ("Where has WCSD money gone?") in which the author opposes Assembly Bill 46 which would raise property and sales taxes to pay for school building maintenance and repair.
Mr. Gargus points out the Washoe County School District has "nearly 400 administrators and teachers who are paid between $100,000 and $165,000 per year at a time when unemployment exceeded 10 percent and people lost their homes. Now is not the time for WCSD to be asking for more money."
There was also a seemingly unrelated column by the newspaper's education editor, Siobhan McAndrew, discussing the Washington Post's annual ratings of the most challenging schools in the nation.
The ranking system adds the number of advanced placement, International Baccalaureate and International Certificate of Education tests given at each U.S. high school and divides the total by the number of students who graduate.
The top school was the American Indian Public Charter School in Oakland, Calif. In Nevada the winner was the Coral Academy of Science Charter School in Reno.
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Next in order were Wooster High School of Reno (the only school in Northern Nevada with an International Baccalaureate program); fourth statewide … let's hear it for the locals … Incline High School.
Still another seemingly unrelated column was posted by Washoe County School Trustee Barbara McLaury headlined: "Class-size reduction still vital." Trustee McLaury wrote: "Washoe County School District believes that all primary children beginning school deserve to have personalized education experiences formulated by a highly effective teacher based upon a diagnosis of each child's readiness to learn."
She went on to express her beliefs as a former first grade teacher that without class size reduction the goal of all children reading by third grade will not be attained. She cites no factual basis for her beliefs; she just believes what she believes.
You would think an elected school trustee would seek out objective studies that show a relationship between class size reduction and student achievement and inform the public of it in her column, but it was not to be.
Of course objective studies are scarce. Class size reduction requires a doubling of teacher hires and the teacher union loves the added membership and dues. Since the union is a major contributor to Democratic legislators class size reduction seems to get approved no matter what.
Class size reduction legislation In Nevada dates back to 1991. So far taxpayers have shelled out $2.21 billion to pay for it. So in 2001 the State Senate commissioned a study by the Legislative Counsel Bureau.
The result? Test data showed that student achievement in larger class sizes was superior to that of smaller classes.
But that anomaly was explained by the fact there are independently variable factors such as special education status, proficiency in English, ethnicity, free lunch eligibility (a measure of poverty) and class configuration — each of which account for more variance in test scores than class size.
There was no attempt to isolate these factors in order to produce a result that would reflect only the effect of class size reduction, so the study was inconclusive.
Tying these columns together I conclude that Mr. Gargus is correct. WCSD spends a lot of money on salaries, class size reduction and other baubles that, redirected, could solve their dearth of building maintenance money.
He is correct also because Ms. McAndrew's column shows charter schools can outperform district schools and yet charters get not one dime from taxpayers to pay for buildings and maintenance.
It appears the Washoe County School District doesn't have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem.
Jim Clark is President of Republican Advocates and has served on the Washoe County & Nevada State GOP Central Committees; he can be reached at email@example.com.
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