Jim Clark: Before we raise taxes, elect a new Washoe school board (opinion)
June 2, 2016
The 2016 Primary Election will soon be history. Let's look ahead to this fall's General Election.
In November, the Washoe County School Board will ask voters to approve ballot proposition WC1, which would authorize a 7 percent increase in Washoe County's sales tax rate to finance issuance of $781 million in County School Bonds.
The money would be used to conduct repairs, maintenance and expansion of existing county school facilities and construction of new schools to meet the board's projected future enrollment increases. If approved, the Washoe County sales tax rate will be 8.26 percent, the highest in Nevada.
This is the same school board that: without warning, illegally fired Superintendent Martinez, costing the school district megabucks for a breach of contract settlement; was fined by the Nevada Attorney General for violation of the Nevada Open Meeting law; promoted a new superintendent from within with a sweetheart salary and expense package; and spent all its reserves during the 2008-12 recession instead of reducing staff as other state and county agencies did.
The school district has a history of sleight of hand when it comes to property tax to pay school debt. Some years ago they introduced the "rollover bond"; once a prior bond issue was paid off instead of reducing property taxes, they issued new bonds with the Legislature's permission "as long as the property tax rate didn't increase."
Sort of like paying off a credit card with another credit card using property owners' money. In the 2015 legislative session, they did it once again. Senate Bill 207 provided the Washoe School District with a reported $315 million in capital funds by extending the school debt portion of our tax bills for a decade or so. Now they want to borrow an additional $781 million by jacking up our sales tax.
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This school board has historically been prodigal with tax dollars. Now they want three-quarters of a billion dollars to finance what they perceive as present deferred maintenance and future classroom space demand. Their press release dated April 2016 (posted on their website: http://www.washoeschools.net) punctuated this demand with a threat of double sessions — starting at 5:55 a.m. ending at 6 p.m.
Here are a few facts voters should know. First, although the requested tax increase is to pay borrowings that will be liquidated within a finite period of time, the proposal has no "sunset" … the increase would be permanent even after the debt is paid off. The school board's justification is: "we're going to need that money for future maintenance and construction." Sounds like a slush fund.
Second, our Republican Governor and GOP legislature have just enacted the most forward looking educational choice plan in the nation including expanded charter school authority, tax incentive scholarships and education savings accounts. This was to give parents and their kids multiple choices in their K-12 education options and to lessen overcrowding in county run schools. Throwing mega-dollars at county schools seems to run contrary to that plan.
Third, the school board's threat of draconian double sessions rings a little hollow since year round multitrack scheduling is an option (see http://www.nayre.org). If you extend seasonal breaks, shorten the summer break, divide students into four different "tracks" and stagger term starting dates, you can increase each school's capacity by 33% while maintaining the 180 days of instruction required by Nevada law.
Before we consider raising taxes for school construction, we should replace the school board. Incline/Crystal Bay voters get to elect two trustees. One each for the smaller district A and for the at-large district G. Voters should have a clear understanding on how candidates for those two districts stand on Proposition WC 1. It's time to elect trustees who will restore confidence in the school board.
Jim Clark is president of Republican Advocates. He has served on the Washoe County and Nevada GOP Central Committees. He can be reached at email@example.com.