Washoe School Superintendent Pedro Martinez took to the pages of the Bonanza last week to plead for support of the tax increases called for in Assembly Bill 46 (“AB 46 is needed for our schools” 10/17).
The proposal would raise Washoe County real estate taxes a nickel per $100 of assessed valuation and bump the county sales tax rate by a quarter of a cent.
The measure failed of passage in the legislature but was delegated by lawmakers to the Washoe County Commission which must decide its fate by January 1, 2014.
By way of a prologue, I want to say that AB 46 is the culmination of years of bad judgments by school boards and officials. The ill-fated decision to use school bond money to fund building maintenance was spawned over a decade ago.
Prior to that time, according to former school board president Kenny Grien, when trustees voted to build a building they established maintenance and repair reserves. Later they found other places to spend that money and buildings began to languish.
Supt. Martinez landed squarely in the middle of this mess when he took this job. I wish him continued success in improving academics and graduation rates.
Although I admire his spunk in trying to persuade the county commission to vote for this dog of a tax bill, it’s hard to spin the proposal with a straight face.
In his Bonanza column Martinez pleads for a “stable source of funding to take care of schools in our community.” The district has always had a stable source of funding; it’s called the Nevada Distributive School Account.
Funding was again approved by the legislature with an increase of $37.5 million each for 2014 and 2015. The problem is that they spent it all on salaries and benefits and didn’t budget for building maintenance and repair.
Martinez says that: “Right now our schools are in good condition …” They should be. The district spent over half a billion dollars of borrowed bond money in the last 10 years and now that well has run dry.
He goes on to say: “We explained where every dollar of the $551 million … was spent.” Well, not exactly. According to the district website, some $30 million was spent for “administration” and “contingency.”
But the worst thing (also on the district website) is a scathing independent report dated April 2013 by the Council of Great City Schools citing 68 serious defects in the district’s Facilities Management and Capital Projects Departments along with 19 recommendations for remediation.
When are they going to get around to fixing these problems before throwing more taxpayer money at capital projects?
Martinez states: “The (County C)ommission has also examined our general fund and asked about cuts the school district has made during the recession, explaining that during tough times we’ve all had to make reductions.”
Well, not exactly. In response to a question from Commissioner Marsha Berkbigler at a public hearing last August, Martinez admitted that the district has 8,000 employees, of which only 4,000 are teachers.
When asked what personnel cuts the district made during the recent recession, Martinez responded that they exhausted their financial reserves to avoid any layoffs.
These tax increases would be permanent. The real estate tax bump would override existing taxpayer protections which limit real estate tax rates and increases.
According to the Nevada Department of Taxation the sales tax increase would boost Washoe sales taxes a half point higher than Carson City’s. That’s $200 on a $40,000 car.
AB 46 would hurt nearly every Washoe County property owner and business in order to raise money that the school district doesn’t need.
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.