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Tahoe County would spread its wealth

Jenifer Ragland

A Tahoe County School District could be $5.3 million wealthier than any other district in Nevada, according to a new draft report.

That’s why the Tahoe Citizens Committee is pushing for a change in legislation allowing the state to “recapture” that excess revenue and distribute it equally among other districts.

“It’s not a money issue,” said Kelly Krolicki, TCC executive coordinator. “We are a rural school district up in Tahoe, so we have rural issues to deal with. We want to be able to make our own decisions on our own schools.”

Part of the TCC’s goal to create Tahoe County includes the creation of a separate school district, which members feel will be more responsive to the needs of unique Lake Tahoe residents.

Jim Clark, chair of Independent Incline, said residents on the North Shore are willing to give up some of their local revenue, if that’s what it will take to get an autonomous district.

“Incline pays 12 percent (on school bonds in Washoe County), but Incline schools have gotten damn little of nothing,” Clark said. “With our own district, our taxpayers will know that the money they pay for bonds will go into improvements in the Lake Tahoe Basin.”

Candace Evart, an independent expert hired by the TCC, prepared the preliminary report, which is the first to look at the financial implications of a lakewide school district.

However, Krolicki stressed that Evart’s numbers are unofficial until TCC leaders can scrutinize the study and a final report is prepared. That report is expected to be released in the next couple of weeks.

The difficulty the TCC will have in creating a lake district lies in the Nevada Plan – a complex formula intended to ensure educational equity throughout the Silver State.

Under this system of school financing, the guaranteed amount per student differs only slightly by county, regardless of its wealth.

This works in those areas where higher property values contribute more taxes and therefore receive less money from the state. The converse is true for poorer districts.

According to the proposed Tahoe County budget, the assessed valuation of the area between Stateline and Crystal Bay is about $1.2 billion.

A 25-cent property tax and a $2.25 sales tax is levied on every $100 of that assessed valuation to help pay for the district’s total guaranteed amount, and the rest is supplied by the state’s general fund.

But in the case of Tahoe County, the tax base is so large for such a small number of students that even if the new district received no money from the state, it would experience a surplus compared with other districts – the estimated $5.3 million.

In order to make up the difference, the state would either have to provide additional funding or reduce the amount allocated to other districts, according to Douglas Thunder, Nevada Department of Education deputy superintendent of administrative and fiscal services.

But in the TCC’s ultimate quest to be revenue-neutral, members are proposing to change the current law rather than present a cost to the state.

Frank Daykin, a legal expert hired by the TCC, is in the process of working with Evart to draft that amendment to the Nevada Plan.

“It could be a general provision in the law whereby any district that is too rich can give back to the state,” Daykin said. “It can be drawn in such a way as to not mess up the Nevada Plan. We can work around it.”

Rick Kester, Douglas County School District finance director of business services, said any tinkering with the Nevada Plan will undoubtedly result in some impact on the 17 other school districts in the state.

However, he said there are most likely statutory ways to change the formula in order to make a lakewide district work.

“It’s a very difficult issue, but sometimes there are ways around difficult issues,” Kester said. “There are not any real easy answers to this problem, but I’m not sure it’s impossible.”

Assemblyman Pete Ernaut, R-Reno, said he believes Nevada legislators are open to the idea of playing with the formula in order to make a lakewide district feasible.

“We want to create a fair and equitable school district … and whatever we have to do to make it work, we will,” he said. “In the relative way of speaking, it’s a pretty easy fix.”

Some have suggested funneling Tahoe’s extra revenue back down to the remaining district in the Carson Valley, which is expected to be seriously impacted by a split.


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