Despite legislation, Douglas lake schools debate continues
Douglas County School Board members say their response to lake schools’ needs and a constant presence at the Nevada Legislature were reasons why they were not included in a bill to create a separate school district at Tahoe.
“We were there throughout the (legislative) session – that’s what did it,” said board member Don Forrester. “Unlike Washoe, the Legislature saw that our district was responsive. We fought this thing tooth and nail.”
AB596, sponsored by Assemblyman Pete Ernaut, R-Reno, and approved Sunday by the Assembly, allows for the creation of a separate school district at Incline Village. Previous bills calling for separate lake community school boards in both Washoe and Douglas counties have died.
Incline schools represent 3 percent of Wahoe County’s students and 12 percent of its assessed valuation. Had Douglas County been included in the bill, it could have lost 13 percent of its enrollment and 45 percent of its assessed valuation.
“Washoe took a neutral stance and didn’t show up at the Legislature – that’s what killed them,” said Forrester. “Not being there made a strong statement.”
But Forrester also claims lake residents in the two counties have different gripes, with Washoe being “more of a money argument than a student argument.”
“I don’t think this will become an issue again at the lake for Douglas in 1999,” Forrester said. “We’re upgrading schools, there will be a new lab and library at Whittell and a new administrator – I think this will die, I really do.”
But Tahoe Citizens Committee spokesman Mike Jabara disagrees.
“The Legislature was sent an extremely strong signal – if school districts don’t pay attention to their constituents they will take action,” he said. “If the governor vetoes this bill, we’re looking at the potential to expand it to include Douglas in 1999. The expectation now is that both counties will have to bend over backward for the lake.”
Although on opposite sides of the fence, both Forrester and Jabara said they believe AB596 will be vetoed by the governor.
“If it is signed, it would set a precedent,” said Forrester, who foresees similar objections surfacing around the state in 1999. “It would open the door for other areas, where the rich appear to not want to pay for the poor. I’d like to see some sort of statewide school grievance committee where complaints are independently evaluated.”
Despite AB596’s possible veto, Jabara said he sees progress, with this being “the first time change has been proposed in the Nevada school system in 40 years.”
“We’re pleased with Ernaut for standing up for Tahoe residents – a lakewide school district makes sense in all ways, except politically,” Jabara said, referring to Douglas County’s fight against a secession. “Now is the time to make sure commitments made by the Douglas County School District are fulfilled to improve (lake) facilities and programs.”
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