The capital needs of our schools in Incline Village and the rest of Washoe County are the topic of tremendous discussion throughout our community, just as they should be. These are important conversations about the investment we make in our public schools, and we appreciate the dialogue about this issue.
The Washoe County School District’s school capital needs initiative, or Assembly Bill 46 (AB 46) as it is commonly known, is about finding a stable source of funding to continue to take care of the schools in our community. It’s about finding a long-term solution that allows us to continue to protect the investment that taxpayers have made in these neighborhood buildings.
Right now, our schools are in good condition because of the nature of the projects completed during the last 10 years. Through school revitalizations and proactive repair and maintenance work, we’ve been able to take care of our aging schools and keep them in working condition. We want to make sure this remains the case. That’s why AB 46 is important; it will provide a stable funding source for this work to continue. The longer we wait for a solution, the more expensive these projects become.
These are the types of conversations we are having with the Washoe County Commission. I appreciate all of the tough questions the commissioners have asked, digging deep into this issue on behalf of their constituents.
At a recent public workshop, the commissioners questioned the school district’s previous capital spending. We explained where every dollar of the $551 million generated from the 2002 rollover bond was spent, including $13.9 million in capital improvements in Incline schools (this includes the expansion of Incline Elementary School as promised to voters).
We also explained that we have not ignored maintenance of our schools. In fact, approximately 46 percent of the rollover bond money went to maintaining and improving our existing schools. We showed how the funds not only met the commitments made to voters, but how we exceeded those commitments.
The commission also has examined our general fund and asked about the cuts the school district has made during the recession, explaining that during tough times we’ve all had to make reductions. We agree with those statements. Over the last six fiscal years, WCSD has dealt with budget shortfalls of approximately $163 million.
While still maintaining high academic standards, we’ve cut and saved to operate within the new parameters. Our employees have made salary concessions. We’ve cut central services. We’ve increased class sizes and delayed the purchase of textbooks. We’ve dipped substantially into the district’s savings as well.
We also received questions about funding from the latest legislative session. WCSD did receive additional revenue from the state legislature this year. However, 40 percent of the new revenue is earmarked for specific academic purposes (English Language Learner programs, full-day kindergarten, and kindergarten class size reduction) as provided in the law, and these funds cannot be spent on capital.
The other 60 percent, the increase in per pupil spending that was provided to districts across the state, is intended for needs of schools and students, including teachers, books, and classroom materials.
During all of these discussions, the district has made a commitment to high levels of accountability and transparency. We have committed this funding to the most critical capital projects at our schools and shown exactly where the money will go. It is meant to continue to ensure our community’s schools are operational.
The WCSD Board of Trustees has proposed regular public reporting of the funds, developing a website that provides real-time accounting of capital expenditures, and creating an external advisory panel to review the proposed projects and to make recommendations to the Board of Trustees on how, and on which projects, to spend the funds.
In the next 10 years, our schools are facing $308 million in critical capital needs, and this is just for the systems that keep our schools operational. Our three Incline schools are facing more than $12 million in needed work in the next 10 years.
We need to continue to invest in these community buildings. We need a solution today. A stable funding source is essential to maintaining the investment we’ve made in our schools.
Pedro Martinez is superintendent of the Washoe County School District.