With all the hullabaloo being raised over the school district’s effort to increase sales and property taxes in Washoe County some advocates in the controversy are asking: “what kind of bang for our buck are taxpayers getting from the local education establishment?”
The effort began as a proposal (Assembly Bill 46) introduced last February in the legislature to raise about $20 million per year for school property maintenance.
There were not enough votes to approve the bill (raising taxes right before the 2014 midterm elections) but there were more than enough votes to approve delegating the measure to the Washoe County Commission.
This action is unprecedented in the history of Nevada and county commissioners are less than thrilled to have this “tar baby” dropped in their laps.
Several are contemplating a run for reelection or for higher office and none wants to have either a vote against schools or a vote to raise taxes in his/her resume.
In a series of public meetings Washoe School Superintendent Pedro Martinez and other school officials are pleading for approval citing increases in graduation rates as the major justification.
Is the Washoe School District really performing that wonderfully? Even if so would that justify permanently raising real estate and sales taxes?
The history of Washoe County “graduation rates” involves a lot of subjective analysis and tends to be based on arbitrary factors even when data are available.
If a child enrolls in a local school and subsequently moves out of state does that count as a non-graduate?
If an eleventh or twelfth grader moves in state, having been educated for 10 years in another jurisdiction, does that statistic count in Washoe County’s graduation rate?
Are there other, better measures as to the efficacy of our county education establishment? There are and they are considerably more objective and less subject to manipulation than the “graduation rate.”
Last week the American College Testing (ACT) results were released. The ACT is a college entrance examination which measures English, math, reading and science as predictors of future college course performance.
In the Silver State, 7,602 students took the ACT and among Washoe County high schools only Hug, North Valleys and Sparks failed to score better than the state averages.
Locals will be pleased to know that 34 Incline High students took the ACT scoring a composite of 25.4, up from 24.5 last year which was the second highest composite ACT score in Washoe County; it was exceeded by a miniscule 0.01 by students from TMCC High, a senior high school affiliated with Truckee Meadows Community College. Go Highlanders!
At about the same time the Nevada Department of Education released its ranking of 604 Silver State schools. Based on a number of objective factors the grading goes from 1 star (lowest) to 5 stars (highest).
Thirteen percent of schools statewide earned a 5 star rating while within Washoe County 19 percent earned the coveted 5 stars (regrettably, none in Incline; IMS earned 4 stars, IHS 3 stars and IES 2 stars).
So, should the County Commission’s decision on raising school taxes be based on Washoe County’s improving graduation rates, composite ACT scores, state ranking of schools’ performance, a combination of all three or some other measurement?
I respectfully submit that the sole basis for the decision should be need. For starters school tax advocates need to explain why they want to raise $20 million per year when the legislature has already approved a 2013-14 Washoe county school allocation $37 million higher than last year’s.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.