On Politics: Washoe school super paints rosy picture (opinion)
March 27, 2018
Earlier this month I inked an opinion piece on the upcoming renewal of Washoe County School Superintendent Traci Davis' employment contract.
It is up for renewal June 30 and the school trustees must take action by April 1. I was concerned over reports in the Reno Gazette Journal that the school board had little other than graduation rate trends by which to judge her performance.
I invited reader attention to the fact that the school district's own website posts a "2016 Data Profile" disclosing that 53 percent of WCSD graduates who enter UNR or TMCC require remedial classes. If they're not college ready when they complete high school it doesn't make sense to evaluate the superintendent based on graduation rates.
Subsequently Superintendent Davis convened a "state of the district" meeting, an address in which she highlighted graduation rates, the budget and the rehabilitation/erection of new facilities. She noted that in 2017 the graduation rate hit a new high of 84 percent. She said the new goal is 90 percent.
Both Davis and Nevada Superintendent of Schools Steve Canavero pointed out that the Legislature waived the high school graduation proficiency test for classes graduating in 2017 and 2018 which, the Reno Gazette Journal reported, "likely accounted for 2 or 3 percentage points of this year's (2017) 7 percentage point jump."
Again the question: If they are not college-ready what difference does the graduation rate make?
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Davis doubled down on her "state of the district" remarks in an opinion piece she wrote for the March 11 Reno Gazette Journal. She again cited "great progress" in graduation rates but made no mention of the college remediation issue.
She spoke glowingly of school repairs and planned new schools as a result of a voter approved sales tax increase. However, those funds cannot be commingled with the WCSD operating budget.
She owned up to a pending $19 million "structural deficit" in operating funds, which she believes she can reduce to a $5-million deficit through cuts, but only if school trustees will approve her plans. She is dreaming.
As Incline/Crystal Bay voters well know a group of local taxpayers formed the Village League and sued to recover excess property taxes collected by Washoe County by use of unconstitutional assessment methods on Tahoe properties. The first suit covered tax year 2006 -07.
As reported at the time in the Tahoe Daily Tribune, the Nevada Supreme Court ordered payment to Incline/Crystal Bay property owners of $13 million in unlawful taxes plus $30 million in interest, a total of $43 million. Further, 33.03 percent of our property tax rate is for schools so about 1/3 of that refund came from the WCSD.
Still pending is The Village League suit for tax years 2002 through 2005 which is currently before the Nevada Supreme Court. The facts are the same so the outcome is likely to be the same, but damages will be higher because three years of unlawful taxes are at stake and interest will be assessed for a longer period.
The president of the Village League estimates the pending litigation will result in a judgment of $39 million plus interest accruing at $5,000 per day going back about 14 years. WCSD will owe about a third of that.
Washoe County agencies have been setting aside cash reserves in expectation of the Supreme Court's likely order in the current case. The 2017-18 school district budget showed $7.5 million reserved for "outstanding unresolved law suits." However, according to the Reno Gazette Journal, WCSD reallocated that money to its general fund to reduce its deficit.
Just around the corner is Nevada's "Read by Third Grade" law. Beginning next year approximately 36 percent of WCSD's third graders not reading at grade level will be held back.
As reported in the Reno Gazette Journal, the lead up to implementation has been characterized by WCSD's claims that the program is an "unfunded mandate" countered by Gov. Brian Sandoval and State Superintendent Canavero explaining that $74 million was earmarked for the program.
You can see how this is going to end up!
Jim Clark is president of Republican Advocates. He has served on the Washoe County and Nevada GOP Central Committees. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.