I received an email last week from a Bonanza reader which read: “ … you rail against any and every tax in, what seems to me, almost every column … why not offer a well thought-out, practical solution to the schools’ financial issues?”
Sir, I accept the challenge. And a timely one it is because our chicken-livered legislature, unable to garner the necessary votes to pass AB 46 and raise Washoe county property and sales taxes in response to our school district’s impassioned plea for money earmarked for building maintenance, delegated their taxing authority to deal with this issue to the Washoe County Commission.
The commission, which is totally independent of the school district, welcomed this “tax tar baby” as it would the black plague. Nonetheless it is now our county commission which must decide whether this tax bill, in which it took no part, should pass.
And it turns out there have been some interesting recent developments. Hidden in plain view on the school district’s website is an April 2013 “Review of Facilities Management and Capital Projects … of the Washoe County School District by the Council of the Great City Schools”. Here’s the link: http://www.washoecountyschools.org/misc/pdf/Washoe percent20County percent20Composite percent20Report--Final.pdf
The first few pages explain that the Council is composed of administrators from all over the US and that their job is to perform management audits. On pages 12 through 17 are listed 65 serious defects in the district’s facilities management operation; on pages 17 through 21 are 47 recommendations to fix the problems which will take a great deal of time and personnel changes to implement.
It is unclear why the school district would post this crushing condemnation on its website at a time it is rattling its tin cup, first in the legislature, now at the county commission, begging for more money. To unravel that mystery I contacted a highly knowledgeable and experienced person associated with the district (my “source”). Here is what I was told:
The report didn’t draw a lot of attention because the school board knew of the problems in facilities management. For example one lady hired her husband who sucked $200,000 out of the account. In short, criticism by the Great Schools Council was no surprise. My source believes that the district’s facilities management department is fraught with waste, fraud and abuse and not in any way ready to administer taxpayer funds.
Of funds received from the state, according to my source, the budget for repairs and maintenance is zero … nothing! Long ago they set up “deferred maintenance” accounts for each school. As time passed, the board would drain the accounts to pay for other things and never replace the funds.
The absence of maintenance money was the primary impetus for the 2002 bond rollover account, more than half a billion dollars paid by Washoe County property owners, which has been used for the past 10 years to take care of any building needs as well as building a few new schools. That account is now empty.
The legislature has increased K-12 funding by $500 million. Washoe’s share of that increase is about $75 million. AB 46 would only raise $20 million so it looks a little piggy to ask for that extra money; plus it will irritate the GOP county commissioners who don’t like tax increases.
Why not use part of the increased state funding to establish a maintenance and repair fund in the school operating budget?
This “well thought-out solution to the schools’ financial issues” is brought to you by the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza at the behest of an interested reader.
Jim Clark is president of Republican Advocates, and has served on the Washoe County and Nevada state GOP Central Committees. He can be reached at email@example.com.