Incline community rallies to keep schools from consolidating

In April, CannonDesigns presented to a tense audience in a room filled with signs advocating for keeping Incline Middle School open.
Miranda Jacobson/Tahoe Daily Tribune

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — Incline Village students, staff, and parents gathered Wednesday, April 5, to discuss possible changes that the district could see in the future, including the potential closure of Incline Middle School. 

Washoe County School District contracted with CannonDesign to assist in long-range planning for the next phase of WC-1 (which passed in 2016) funding use.

Incline Village schools have been one of the main focuses of CannonDesign. Since 2000, school enrollment has nearly been cut in half for Incline Schools. Currently, 245 elementary students, 144 middle school students and 324 high school students are enrolled in those schools. 

With housing costs continuing to change in the Lake Tahoe Basin, CannonDesign representatives say projections show enrollment will continue to decline. 

In addition to lowering enrollment, the three Incline Village schools are aging and will need repairs. 

CannonDesigns’ Paul Mills attempted to present three different options to a crowded room of local residents. The three options included doing nothing and keep the schools the way they are, close Incline Middle School, which would see the elementary school house PK-sixth and the high school would house seventh-12th grade students. 

The room was packed with people set to make their voices heard, with many standing in the back and in the hallway.
Miranda Jacobson

The general atmosphere of the meeting was tense, with the crowd united as one in the general agreement that they did not want the middle school to be closed. 

Incline Middle School teacher Nicole Harssema seemed to echo the general concerns of the community members that were expressed during the meeting. After hearing everything presented, many felt that Washoe County School District did not do their research correctly, and needed to re-evaluate their projections to be more specific to Incline Village demographics. 

“I haven’t been provided with any evidence of how this will benefit our kids,” said Harssema. “At the middle school we have a culinary club, we have a home-economics room, we have inquiry lab. We have a wellness zone with a counselor in there because Lord knows with COVID, mental health is a huge focus for us. We have robotics where we just got a $50,000 grant. I don’t see how if we split up … we will lose a lot of those places where the kids can be.” 

Other worries that community members had that were echoed by Harssema included worry about having seventh graders integrated with 12th graders on campus, where the money saved by consolidating the schools would actually go, and how it would truly benefit the students.

“Obviously our numbers are low in enrollment,” said Harssema. “But what we are able to provide, I mean, my class sizes are 17 … That’s a dream number. We’re providing these private school experiences, but free. So I guess if they could provide me with evidence of how this would benefit the kids, I would never stand in the way of that. My fear is that it’s not being provided, and I don’t want to sit back, wait for things to happen, and then hope that the promises come through.” 

Many questioned how Incline Village students and residents are being represented overall in the Washoe County School District, considering how much money a year Incline Village residents pay in taxes to Washoe County. 

Signs were hung up around the room that made it clear Incline Village residents want Incline Middle School to stay open.
Miranda Jacobson

Incline High School senior and student representative for the Washoe County Board of Trustees Ivy Batmal explained that she serves as the voice for Incline community members and students, and tried to mitigate some of the stress among the crowd. 

“I can ensure you that there was full on processes that had to be completed before they’ve proposed these different solutions,” said Batmal. “Although it’s a proposition that could happen, it doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily going to happen … This is a district that I promise you, on my life, listens to community feedback more than anything.” 

Mills conceded that the district and his team may need to go back and do more work to decide what the next course of action was following the feedback from the community. 

The plan moving forward is to continue engaging with other schools in the district that have potential to see schools close, before a survey will come out in the fall for community members to engage in. 

Community members were not pleased to hear they would not be hearing from the district again for so long, but were assured that no decisions would be made without more input from the community. 

The middle school was the school chosen for possible closure because the amount of capital improvement that school would require were it to stay open, as well as, the size and capabilities of the elementary school would make it an easier transition to that school. One option for the middle school could be employee housing for the school district or a possible other public amenity. 

If this option were pursued, the district would have to spend less on overhead costs of running three schools which would increase the community’s budget. The school district said teachers would not lose jobs as a result of this consolidation. 

CannonDesign has reiterated that nothing is yet set in stone. They will spend the year information gathering, including sending a community survey out in the fall before making a recommendation towards the end of 2023. If any changes are made, the earliest they would happen is in Fall 2024.

Tahoe Daily Tribune’s Laney Griffo contributed to this article.

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