Community members discuss ways to close WCSD budget

RENO, Nev. (KOLO) The second of five public meetings to address the Washoe County School District's multi-million dollar budget shortfall was held Tuesday night at Double Diamond Elementary School, giving parents, teachers and students a chance to weigh in on what's important to them when it comes to funding education.

"I'm glad the district is making steps to solve the problem that is the recurring deficit," teacher Pilar Biller said.

Officials hope a new priority-based budget will help make cuts less painful. Rather than across-the-board cuts, they are evaluating programs and gauging their effectiveness by community input.

"We expect slightly different, kind of you know, feedback from each community which is why we're going out into five separate areas to get that feedback," Chief Financial Officer Mark Mathers said.

What matters the most may vary across the district, but at Double Diamond Elementary School, the consensus at the meeting was to keep as many educational opportunities as possible.

Eighth grader Nyala Champion was among the youngest to participate in the meeting. She says she went to the first meeting at Traner Middle School so she could better learn about what is happening to her education.

"The magnet program and the arts are most important for me," she said. "Then the [English Language Learners] programs have really helped me with friends and other people, you know they have to learn something and they have to be included."

When it comes to cuts, the decisions weren't easy to make, but still the group came to a consensus.

"The majority of teachers and parents really would like to see a reduction in standardized testing," Biller said. "The issue really becomes what is mandated testing from the federal government and what isn't."

Many in the meeting pointed to the Measures of Academic Progress, or MAP, testing done by the district. The test, done three times a year, assesses reading and math abilities. The group suggested reducing or eliminating the tests altogether.

Mathers says reducing non-mandated testing will only save about $360,000 a year. That's not an insignificant amount of money, but certainly not enough to make a dent in a possible $28 million deficit.

Others said they'd like to see cuts made to the administration.

"[I'm} wondering why our children should be asked to walk farther with a bigger walk zone when there are administrative school district vehicles that possibly get to be gasolined [sic] up at the administration building, and they get to take them home at night," Nikki Hertzler, a teacher and parent in the WCSD, said.

One change the district is considering is expanding the walking zones for students in elementary and middle schools. Transportation manager Rick Martin told the group expanding the zones a quarter of a mile would save the district around $750,000 a year. If they are expanded a half mile, the district could save around $1 million a year.

Other suggestions to save money were floated, such as going to a four-day school week. All would possibly chip away at the deficit, but Pilar says she ultimately wants to see the state step in to help.

"We do need more state funding, per-pupil funding, and so if the state doesn't have the money maybe we need to look at new revenue," she said.

According to Mathers, inflation between 2009 and 2018 has gone up 11%, but funding per pupil has only increased 4% during the same time period. But more funding from the state won't be coming this year, so the cuts will need to be made soon. The district has to submit a budget by June 2018.

There are three more opportunities for the community to weigh in on the budget's priorities.

Wednesday, January 24, 5:30 p.m.
Caughlin Ranch Elementary School
4885 Village Green Pkwy.

Wednesday, January 31, 5:30 p.m.
Incline Middle School
931 Southwood Blvd.
Incline Village

Thursday, February 8, 5:30 p.m.
Sun Valley Elementary School
5490 Leon Dr.
Sun Valley