Opinion: The facts about Washoe school’s capital program, amid WC-1
The role of the Washoe County School District (WCSD) is not to advocate for or against the passage of WC-1 (the Sales Tax initiative to build, repair, and renovate schools). The District’s role is to provide factual information to the citizens of Washoe County so that they can make an intelligent decision on the future of schools in Washoe County.
Mr. Jim Clark’s recent opinion articles do not provide factual information on this issue.
The majority of Mr. Clark’s misinformation was provided by Mr. Jeff Church. WCSD has been at the receiving end of Mr. Church’s so called “Smoking Gun” conspiracy theory for many months. The District as well as many individuals in the community have attempted to correct Mr. Church on his misinformation, but to no avail. It is very important to note that none of Mr. Church’s assertions are factual.
By State law, the District’s capital funds can only be used to build schools and to repair and renovate existing schools. WCSD has no ability to supplant funds and divert current or future capital funding to non-capital needs. Since no general fund revenues are used in the capital funding program, supplantation is not possible.
The capital funding program is audited yearly and has always received a clean audit report, which is reflected in the very high credit rating that the District enjoys and saves the taxpayers money. WCSD has also worked very hard to become what I believe is one of the most transparent and accountable school districts in the nation in regards to our capital funding program. But don’t take my word for it, go to the WCSD website and go to our Data Gallery and judge for yourself.
Numerous studies show the correlation between overcrowded and dilapidated schools and student achievement. Studies also show the correlating teacher retention rates as well as a students’ sense of safety and wellness to school facility conditions. But we don’t need studies to define what we know is common sense: Students are impacted by overcrowded and dilapidated schools.
Mr. Clark and Mr. Church also question the cost of the schools that need to be built in Washoe County. WCSD had two independent consultants analyze the cost of schools. The District also analyzed the cost of schools currently being planned as part of the Clark County School District’s $4.1 billion capital improvement program.
The projected construction cost is less than all three comparisons. It should be noted that the cost of schools varies greatly depending on what is included in the cost estimate. The estimated cost that WCSD utilizes is an all-inclusive cost including land, water rights, athletic fields, the building itself, furnishings, and the internal WCSD staff that is working on the project.
It is the total cost from concept to students sitting in seats on the first day of class. You can always find less expensive schools in lower cost of living states. Just as easily you can also find schools with much higher construction costs. A currently proposed high school in Dublin, Calif. is estimated to cost over two and a half times the cost of WCSD’s proposed high schools.
Lastly, it should be noted that Mr. Clark states that it was WCSD who decided that $781 million in additional bonding capacity was necessary to meet the District’s needs. Mr. Clark further states that it was WCSD who chose sales tax as the funding source to meet this need. Both statements are incorrect.
It was a completely independent community group comprised of 15 community members from throughout Washoe County with diverse backgrounds who voted unanimously that the situation WCSD and the community was facing was real and action needed to take place. This independent community group also voted unanimously on the needed funding and the proposed revenue source to fund this need.
It is our hope that voters will look at the real facts of this issue. Either the District will build new schools and repair and renovate older schools or the District will have to utilize Multi-Track, Year-Round calendars and Double Sessions to accommodate students and repair needs will continue to grow.
Voters will need to analyze the impact of this decision, not only on students and families but also on the community in such areas as social services, property values, businesses, and economic development. The only thing for sure is that WCSD and Washoe County is at a crossroads and will not stay the same.
Pete Etchart is Chief Operating Officer for the Washoe County School District. Email him at PEtchart@WashoeSchools.net.