Jim Clark: Recap of AB 46 meeting before Washoe commission
July 29, 2013
It was standing room only at the Washoe County Commission chambers last Tuesday evening. It was the first of three scheduled meetings convened to explore what the commissioners will do with their AB 46 "delegated" authority from the legislature to raise our property and sales taxes to provide additional funds for the Washoe County School District.
The 7 p.m. "time certain" agenda item didn't get started until 8 p.m. due to zoning appeals carried over from the day session.
The procedure involved a presentation by the school district followed by questions from commissioners after which would be public comments. More than 60 citizens had signed requests to comment.
Commission Chair David Humke introduced WCSD Superintendent Pedro Martinez, who in turn introduced School Trustee President Barbara Clark.
Ms. Clark then introduced each of the other six school trustees and began her presentation. She stated studies have shown that there is a correlation between student achievement and conditions of school buildings. She did not identify the "studies."
She said that the district is very different from five years ago, having decided then to go from being a "good" school district to a "great" school district, adding that the graduation rate has risen from 56 percent to 70 percent in four years.
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She added that they have implemented a capital projects component replacement analysis. She concluded saying that they want to keep children "warm, safe and dry." She then reintroduced Supt. Martinez.
Martinez thanked commissioners for not objecting when AB 46 was going through various amendments in the legislature which ended up delegating the tax increase decision to them. He then invited questions from commissioners.
Commissioner Marsha Berkbigler, citing painful personnel decisions commissioners had to make during the recent economic downturn, asked Martinez how many staff the school district furloughed or terminated when his budget was reduced.
He responded that the district used its financial reserves to retain staff. She then asked how many administrative staff the district has per student. Martinez responded that of 8,000 employees, 4,000 are teachers.
Berkbigler continued, stating that Washoe County has cut its staff to stay within budget and now has the lowest employee per-population ratio of all major counties; she asked whether the school district was consolidating positions.
Martinez' response was somewhat unclear, but focused on efforts to reduce the percentage of administrative expenses in his capital project and maintenance budget.
Commissioner Bonnie Weber declined to ask questions and asked if the board could proceed to public comment.
Audience comments in opposition included the following:
"Why does the tax increase authority expire on January 1, 2014; why wasn't this included in the November 2014 election so people could vote on it?"
"Since the school district refuses to budget for maintenance, why don't they engage in sale/leasebacks where the landlord maintains the buildings?"
Read into the record was a communication from former Commissioner Jim Galloway: "I must sadly conclude that the 2002 rollover bond oversight committee was neither effective nor sufficient for preventing financial mismanagement."
"The district exercises no control over money — no accountability."
"Still another request to fund our feckless school system."
"How much money is enough?"
And I really enjoyed the following metaphor: "Again our 'alcoholic' schools want one more beer."
As the night wore on, supporters of the tax increases spoke, but generally repeated Trustee President Barbara Clark's plea to keep children "warm, safe and dry." The meeting concluded about midnight with no action taken.
Commissioners considering reelection or other offices are on the horns of a dilemma as to whether to offend voters by failing to support schools or by raising taxes. It's hard to say where this will end up but it's not a slam dunk.
Jim Clark is president of Republican Advocates; he has served on the Washoe County and Nevada State GOP Central Committees. He can be reached at email@example.com.