Washoe school district allocation changes could mean loss of 4 Incline teachers
Special to the Bonanza
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RELATED: In his opinion column this week, Jim Clark discusses the Washoe County School District's budget struggles.
INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — “I want you to be on alert, but not in panic mode,” said Incline Elementary School Principal Dan Zimmerman, the bearer of potentially bad news at the school’s PTA meeting on Tuesday.
Zimmerman was relaying the message that the Washoe County School District is in preliminary discussions to create new student-to-teacher allocations that may greatly impact Incline’s schools, among others across the district.
To an audience of about 60 parents and concerned Incline Village residents, Zimmerman said the new formula would increase the number of students per classroom, which could cause overcrowding and a need to restructure classrooms to accommodate students.
“Since 2005, there has been a property tax cap, so the revenue has stayed flat, resulting in a $12 million deficit,” he said.
As expenses go up with no boost in revenue, classrooms are doubling in size, he said, and potential allocations could put four teachers in the first, third, fourth and fifth grades at IES at risk of losing their jobs to help make up the deficit.
“Right now, the preliminary means that IES is losing four teachers, but I’m hoping that they rolled out the formula too soon and that there is an appeal,” said Zimmerman. “More information is to come next week when the WCSD releases its decision.”
‘THE CRITICAL MASS IS HERE IN INCLINE’
Currently, the formulas work for the schools in that there is a certain number of students per classroom. As Zimmerman explained, once the number of students goes over the cap, another teacher is brought in.
Hypothetically, say the cap is 30 students per teacher, that 31st student would require another teacher.
WCSD Communications Manager Megan Downs said that the ratio of teachers to students across the district is, on average, 1:27 in all classrooms from K-12.
“Due to the budget cuts, they’re going to add more students to the classroom. Some allocation discussion has to happen before the board votes on it,” said Downs.
However, she emphasized that the board must vote on any budgetary items, and the allocations issue isn’t an item of discussion on next Tuesday’s WCSD board agenda.
“Can we come up with a mathematical message, like ‘you guys are the educators, please educate me on how this makes sense?’” a parent asked at Tuesday’s PTA meeting.
“I like the idea of getting a fire marshal in here to size up the classrooms,” another parent said.
Incline Village General Improvement District Trustee Tim Callicrate was among those in attendance Tuesday.
“The critical mass is here in Incline; we have great minds and we need to give these kids the support that they need. It’s not fair — we go through this every 3-4 years and it’s not right,” he says.
Callicrate encouraged parents to attend the Wednesday, March 8, IVGID Board of Trustees meeting to bring this issue to light in public comment.
Local business owner and parent Matt Thralls said, “In running my business, employees are the most important part of it. In school, the teachers are the most important part. You spend more time with my kids than I do; I couldn’t care less about getting another computer, but we need to keep the teachers.”
‘THIS IS NOT NEW’
There was also discussion about whether non-Title 1 schools are getting hit the hardest, as Title 1 schools (kids on a free or reduced lunch program) get additional federal funding.
However, not enough families are applying for the program in Incline Village to make it a Title 1 school, according to the district.
Of note, in November 2016, Washoe County residents voted — 56.4 percent in favor — to adopt a $781 million ballot measure, WC-1, to implement a sales tax increase to help fund district projects.
However, the monies just go toward capital improvements and not operating costs. On the November sample ballot, none of the Incline schools were mentioned to receive funding.
According to the district, WCSD administrators are holding an “internal meeting” on Monday to discuss the allocations issue.
“No official decisions will be made in this meeting. Teacher allocations decisions are not final, but due to hiring and transfer timelines that are contractual, we had to start with a base for allocating schools,” according to a district statement provided to the Bonanza by Downs.
The statement continues, in part: “… The School District has provided information in past years and over the last several months that our school district is facing significant budget shortfalls that are currently estimated to be in excess of $30 million in our operating funding. This is not new to Washoe County School District as we have been addressing structural deficits (expenditures that exceed revenues) back to 2008 as a part of the Great Recession and the recovery since then.
“Since 2008, our District has worked hard to minimize impacts to our schools and was assisted by the Legislature with temporary tools such as increasing the small class sizes in Grades 1-3 by two students and deferring textbooks that helped save nearly $8 million a year to put towards our deficit. In addition, the school district utilized premium holidays (another temporary tool) that helped generate initially $6 million a year and decreased as our insurance funds started to decrease.
“As well, we have had to deplete our savings or reserves to help offset our expenses over revenues. While there are signs of an economic recovery, the State’s overall budget has been impaired in the slow recovery of our economy, which has impacted the per-pupil funding school districts have needed to sustain their operations. This resulted in our employees and our associations sacrificing by taking furloughs, salary step freezes, and contract concessions that saved hundreds of jobs for our organization. All these tools have either been reduced or eliminated, leaving us very few options to balance the operating funds of the school district.”
The WCSD is hosting its regular board meeting on Tuesday, March 14, starting at 2 p.m., and then will meet again Wednesday, March 15, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for its budget work session.
Downs added that a public hearing is slated for some time in April to discuss the budget. All meetings are held at the Central Administration Board Room on 425 E. Ninth St. in Reno.
Meanwhile, parents are also encouraged to attend the Thursday, March 16, Board of Trustees Budget Workshop, held from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. and then 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Damonte Ranch High School in Reno.
According to the district, while discussions will occur and feedback is sought, no official decisions will be made at this workshop.
At the April 11 Board of Trustees Meeting, trustees will vote on the tentative budget that will be submitted to the Department of Taxation, according to WCSD.
April 15 is the district’s deadline to submit the proposed tentative budget. The Department of Taxation then reviews the District’s budget to ensure it is balanced.
Meanwhile, June 8 is the district’s deadline to submit its final budget for fiscal year 2018 to the Department of Taxation.
Kayla Anderson is an Incline Village-based freelance writer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.