Washoe Schools Forsee $300 Million Shortfall By 2012

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Washoe County school district officials struggling to keep pace with growing enrollment say they could face as much as a $300 million shortfall for planned construction by 2012.

Current plans call for construction of eight new elementary schools, five middle schools and four high schools to deal with more than 16,000 new students expected to move into the district over the next eight years.

A new report estimates the district will need $777 million to pay for all those new buildings. But the money available from property taxes and bond sales is projected to total only $468 million.

"We just do not have the capital funding to keep up," trustee Lezlie Porter told the Reno Gazette-Journal. "We are trying to be proactive on school construction but with our funding, it is almost laughable."

The shortfall has the district considering a lobbying campaign in the 2005 Legislature for new revenue sources, including impact fees on new home sales and transfer taxes on many real estate sales.

One major Reno developer said he would support the district's push for impact fees on new homes even though it would be added to the price of homes.

"With the financial mechanism the school district has now, they simply can't keep up," said Perry DiLoreto, president of DiLoreto Construction and Development Inc. in southeast Reno.

"Under the right scenario, yes I would support them (impact fees). You've got to have schools. We have a good school system and we would want to keep it that way."

If the school district doesn't get relief from the legislature, some trustees said they would consider asking voters to support another bond sale.

"We would have to explore every other possibility before we do that," trustee Anne Loring said. "The community has already stepped to the plate in 1998 and 2002 for their schools. Times are not easy. I would be reluctant to go back to the voters unless we were absolutely in dire circumstances."

Requests for new funding would receive a cool reception in the Legislature, some Washoe County lawmakers said.

"There are a couple members of the Washoe County delegation that would not support anything in this area. They have made that clear," said Assemblyman Bernie Anderson, D-Sparks, a teacher at Reed High School and a member of the Assembly Tax Committee.

Lawmakers will be in no mood to approve new fees after the contentious 2003 session that produced a record $833.5 million in new or increased taxes to support the 2003-05 budget, Anderson said. It took lawmakers a 120-day regular session and two special sessions to reach an agreement.

"It will be a very difficult topic for the tax committees," Anderson said. "I wish I could be more positive because the need is genuine. But there is a huge anti-tax sentiment remaining from the last session. None of us are anxious to jump through that tax hoop again."

If no new sources of revenue can be found, zoning plans would have to be redrawn, forcing many students to be bused to schools farther from their neighborhoods, trustees said. Those schools would also need more modular units to deal with crowding, forcing more students into smaller classrooms built outside the school.

"We are either going to have to get more funding for construction or there will be more busing," Porter said.