Douglas County officials concerned about new school district legislation
Douglas County school officials say a portion of their district should not be included in a bill that would allow for a separate Nevada school district at Lake Tahoe.
Douglas administrators and school board trustees say – unlike Washoe County – they have responded to complaints that student needs at the lake aren’t being adequately met.
The bill, AB596, was introduced Thursday by Assemblyman Pete Ernaut, R-Reno. Designed to create a separate Incline Village school district, Ernaut was quoted as saying he plans to amend the bill to encompass the lake portion of Douglas County as well.
“If Ernaut is smart he’ll take us out of the equation,” said Douglas trustee Don Forrester. “Every problem that has come up at the lake we’ve addressed – that hasn’t happened in Washoe.”
Douglas County School District Director of Business Services Rick Kester contends that the $1.7 million earmarked for lake school improvements – 72 percent of the 1997-98 capital budget – is evidence that the district is serious about its commitment to improve facilities at Tahoe. Barring the secession, Kester said the lake schools will remain a budget priority in the next several years.
“I wish the Douglas school board was as enlightened as the Washoe school board, who says, ‘If that’s what the people want, they should have it,” said Tahoe Citizens Committee spokesman Mike Jabara. “Board members in Douglas seem more concerned with preserving their empire.”
Officials in Washoe County have maintained a neutral position throughout the debate.
Kester estimates that losing one-seventh of the Douglas student body to a new school district would result in a $643,000 loss in revenue.
“It could be devastating – 87 percent of our budget goes toward salaries and benefits,” said Kester. “We would definitely have to reduce our workforce and make other cuts. Many district employees split their time between the lake and the valley.”
Even more daunting, said Forrester, is the threat of losing 45 percent of their tax base for future bonding. “If we can’t pass bonds now, try asking a homeowner to pay double what they’re paying now,” he said. “The casinos aren’t there just for Tahoe schools – many of their employees work in the valley.”
Jabara said the Douglas lake schools did not benefit from 1991 bond money because it was designated for new school construction.
“I think residents would be more enthusiastic about paying for schools if they knew the money was staying at the lake,” he said. “In all fairness, the board is now trying to address the mistakes of the past. But if you compare what they’re spending this year at the lake to what they’ve spent the past few years in the valley, it’s not very much. Most (lake) parents support local control.”
Jabara said the proposed Tahoe school district would enroll roughly 2,500 students at six schools, presumably with headquarters at Incline and a satellite office on the South Shore.
“Incline has more students, so they would have control over the board – they would be deciding South Shore issues,” said Forrester. “Does the South Shore have enough in common with Incline?”
Jabara says yes – that the lake’s smaller schools with limited growth rates share concerns specific to the area.
In hopes that Ernaut’s bill will not include Douglas, Forrester said he thinks Incline could survive as its own school district. Several districts similar in size already exist in Nevada, he said.
“All over the state wealthier areas want to pull out and form their own school districts,” said Forrester. “They may do better, but the remaining districts will suffer.”
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