School Board faces unknowns, tough choices

Washoe County school classroom
Washoe County school classroom(Washoe County School District)
Published: Feb. 23, 2021 at 6:29 PM PST
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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - Each time the Washoe County School Board begins the budget process they are facing a list of unknowns. This time there are many more than usual.

The pandemic has changed the landscape both in the classroom and in the halls of government. Many students have spent most of the year learning from a distance, joining their teacher and classmates only on line. There are unanswered questions of the impact on their education and what it will take to help them catch up.

In a legislative year there are always questions at this point. the governor has submitted a budget proposal, but what will emerge from the lawmakers?

Add to that the uncertainty in Washington. The President’s COVID relief package may not emerge for weeks yet. it could mean an estimated $75 to 85 million for Washoe County, but those numbers like most at this point are still uncertain.

And the school district’s financial advisors told the school board budget workshop Tuesday, the most volatile and uncertain revenue source at the moment is local sales taxes slated for schools. It’s taken a big dip recently due to our own spending habits and no one can say when or if it’s coming back

“People can’t go to restaurants to spend as much as they used to and brick and mortar store sales have declined,” said Mark Mathers, the district’s Chief Financial Officer. “People have shifted their spending habits. they are going on line and buying goods on line and many of those on line vendors are out of state.”

Sales taxes for those sales come back to the state, but not to the county.

Some answers will become more certain in the weeks ahead and then the tough decisions will come. Should the district cut funding aimed at reducing class size? Programs to help students catch up? We don’t know enough yet to decide.

Initial estimates of budget shortfall range from a conservative more than $21 million to a very optimistic $1.5 million.

Either way there will be cuts. “It’s where the cuts come from and the levels of comfort we have around one time monies and long term monies from a funding standpoint,” said Board President Dr. Angela Taylor. “This is a really critical time.”

The eventual budget will be in the neighborhood of $550 million dollars.

The next budget workshop is scheduled for march 30th.

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