Jim Clark: Washoe Co. sales tax hike — extortion, or just politics? (opinion)
A modern variation of the crime of extortion is when a hacker introduces a virus into your computer and threatens to destroy all your data if you do not pay him or her money.
Recently, a large California hospital under such a threat opted to pay out the extortion money rather than have their entire data system disappear.
Here’s another example: Washoe County School District trustees and staff have not budgeted for maintenance and repair of properties entrusted to them.
In 2015, the district went to the Nevada Legislature and “persuaded” a majority to circumvent voters and make available about $300 million by extending the present school debt portion of our property tax for an additional 10 years.
School trustees now propose to ask voters to approve a 7% increase in county sales taxes to raise an additional $781 million for school construction, repairs and maintenance.
If voters disapprove, the district says, schools will go on double sessions 12 to 14 hours a day. But this is not called “extortion” — it’s called “politics.”
Is there another answer? Yes, but officials don’t talk about it. It’s called year-round, multi-track education. Since the agrarian era, schools have scheduled long summer breaks so the kids could help bring in the harvest.
Currently, school schedules call for a Thanksgiving break, a winter break, a spring break and a long summer break. 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 percent while maintaining the 180 days of instruction required by Nevada law.
That would be a huge help for crowded classrooms but how about the quality of instruction? Educational Leadership, a publication of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, cites several independent year round school studies which conclude that on traditional schedules summer learning loss contributes to a widening of achievement gaps between low-income students and their peers.
Two later studies found: (a) students in year round schools do as well or better academically than those in traditional schools, (b) year round schools may be particularly beneficial to low income students and (c) students and parents who participate in year round schools tend to have positive attitudes about the experience.
In December 2015, Education Week published an article on the more than 3,700 K-12 campuses nationwide that are on year round schedules to alleviate overcrowding and improve academics.
The piece reports that advocates claim such schedules stem summer learning loss and reduce burnout (both teachers and students). Opponents counter that year round education complicates maintenance and repair of schools and takes a toll on tourist economies.
The Education Week article reported results of studies tha show that summer learning loss adversely affects low income students more than their higher income peers.
A 1999 University of Minnesota study showed no academic improvement in 42 cases and a significant positive impact is 27 cases. The study’s authors admitted they did not control for student socioeconomic status. A 2003 study found a positive impact from year round learning and a 2015 study found advanced students were more likely to benefit.
What can we learn from this? Considering that the present school board has a long history of violating the voters’ trustm it’s hard to believe their threat of dawn to dusk school sessions if we don’t vote approve a huge tax increase.
I also wonder if we should finance a bunch of new school properties when they don’t take care of those with which they are already entrusted. Lastly multi-track, year-round schedules definitely make more efficient use of existing facilities and don’t seem to have any academic negatives. Where overcrowding exists or is anticipated, school trustees should give it a try.
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.
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