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Letting the people decide on new school district

Cory Fisher

As the end of this year’s legislative session approaches, questions still remain as to whether Douglas County residents on the South Shore will be included in a newly introduced bill allowing for a separate school district at Lake Tahoe.

The bill’s sponsor, Assemblyman Pete Ernaut, R-Reno, says it depends on response from residents.

The Nevada Assembly’s Government Affairs Committee is scheduled to consider “skeleton bill” AB596 on Friday – which proposes the formation of a new school district in Incline Village. But whether the bill will be amended to include the lake portion of Douglas County hinges upon public support in that area, Ernaut said.

“If I get a sense that the majority of Douglas County lake residents want the bill amended, I will do it,” said Ernaut, who says feedback thus far is split down the middle. “We have unanimous support at Incline, but Douglas County is a different scenario.”

But Tahoe Citizens Committee spokesman Mike Jabara insists the people have spoken – that support for a separate school district is “overwhelming” among Douglas lake residents.

“Ernaut has gotten a lot of political pressure, but it’s our expectation that he will end up amending the bill to include Douglas,” Jabara said.

“Our schools are both rural and smaller, and Incline believes a larger district is a better option. Where did he get the idea there is less support on the South Shore?”

Claiming he is still undecided, Ernaut added that feedback in the next several days from Assemblyman Lynn Hettrick and Sen. Lawrence Jacobsen – who both represent Douglas County – is “paramount.”

Neither were available for comment at press time.

“The TCC doesn’t represent everyone at Tahoe – they’re well organized, but I can’t assume they speak for everyone. From calls and mail I’ve received, it’s about 50-50,” Ernaut said. “We will need to see a groundswell of support in Douglas.”

TCC members are quickly organizing for Friday’s hearing, said coordinator Kelly Krolicki, who hopes to “pack the floor” with amendment supporters – some of whom may testify.

“I don’t know of any parents who are waffling on the subject,” said George Whittell High School Booster Club President Dennis Harmon. “I haven’t heard of anyone who’s even remotely against forming a new school district.”

But some residents, like Whittell and Kingsbury parent Richard Glasson, remain undecided.

“I think Douglas County has been very responsive in doing everything we’ve asked them to do,” Glasson said. “I think they’re making a genuine effort to improve things at the lake.”

Douglas school officials say they will continue to fight against the amendment until the issue is resolved.

“Based on discussions I’ve had with Zephyr Cove teachers, they’re scared witless of a new district,” said Douglas trustee Don Forrester. “The bill isn’t detailed when it comes to what will happen to personnel.”

But Kingsbury fifth-grade teacher Cathy Ricioli disagrees. “I think most teachers are excited about the possibility,” she said. “We would probably keep everyone on board, only get new leaders. We’ve always had different needs than the valley.”


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