Jim Clark: More reasons to vote ‘no’ on WC-1 (opinion)
Pete Etchart is the Washoe County School District’s chief operating officer. I chatted with him over coffee and found him to be a pleasant, mild-mannered guy.
Imagine my surprise to read his opinion column in last week’s Bonanza, headlined: “The facts about WCSD’s capital program, amid WC-1” in which he states: “Mr. Jim Clark’s recent opinion articles do not provide factual information on this issue.”
WC-1 is the county ballot proposition where Washoe County voters will be asked to approve a sales tax increase of 0.54% to a highest-in-Nevada 8.265% to provide $781 million for school capital projects and repairs. Let’s examine Pete’s contentions.
In response to arguments that funds might be used for salaries Pete counters: “By state law the district’s capital funds can only be used to build schools.”
Really? The WCSD website shows that the “capital projects” department includes sub-sections “maintenance,” “housekeeping” and “regulated systems and assessment.” At present, at least two “capital projects” staffers’ salary and benefits exceed $100,000 and there are six more staff.
Pete, are you saying that if WCSD gets an additional $781 million, they wouldn’t add additional “capital projects” staff?
Some contend that WCSD should direct its resources to hiring top notch principals and teachers if they want to improve on Nevada’s dismal national standing in student achievement.
Pete counters: “Numerous studies show the correlation between overcrowded and dilapidated schools and student achievement.”
Neither Pete nor any other advocate of WC-1 has been able to identify even one such study. Why? Because there is none. You cannot isolate those two characteristics to measure their effect. But WCSD’s own data show the positive effect of outstanding principals and teachers as evidenced by Anderson Elementary and Vaughn Middle School.
Pete defended WCSD’s cost estimates ($1.096 billion, of which the 2015 legislature already gave them $315 million — Senate Bill 207); 15 new schools — $702 million; renovation — $54 million; repairs — $230 million; “other” — $110 million including a $100 million allowance for “inflation.” Skeptics believe these cost estimates are bloated and the “inflation” figure (13.66% of estimated new school costs) is at best a wild guess.
WCSD wants taxpayers to fund all this plus bond interest costs which they haven’t even estimated. And this tax increase would never end. No one really knows what future construction costs will be so there’s no point in debating. However, there are a questions whether it is wise to fund such an enormous project before there’s a proven need to do more than make repairs and renovations. They already have $315 million for that.
Finally, Pete writes that everything is OK because it came from an “independent committee” mandated by the legislature. If that committee was “independent” then America should have remained a British colony.
Lawmakers provided for membership to reflect a cross section of industry and government but selection of committee members was by the WCSD. Moreover the committee had neither the expertise nor the resources to validate the district’s cost estimates; they were accepted without questioning.
In fact the committee’s only discretion was to choose between the various taxation methods. After each member spoke against taxing his/her own industry all that was left was the sales tax … the most regressive.
Is there an answer? Maybe. In 1994, Arizona had similar problems and enacted laws providing for open enrollment (more efficient use of existing facilities), support for home schooling and one of the nation’s most effective charter school laws.
How did that help? Charter schools have to pay for their facilities out of their per student state funding. Arizona charter schools are housed in privately financed structures thereby costing taxpayers zero for school debt payments.
Happily their scholarship performance often exceeds traditional public schools. In greater Phoenix, 9 of the top 10 rated schools are charters.
We should scrap WC-1 and find solutions that really help our kids.
Jim Clark is president of Republican Advocates. He has served on the Washoe County and Nevada GOP Central Committees. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.