At Wednesday’s meeting at Wooster High School, the district sought ideas from community members about possible cuts and programs that shouldn’t get squeezed out as the belt gets tighter.
The school district is scrambling to deal with the repercussions from the failure of ballot question WCSD-1 and a third round of cuts while looking the possibility of a fourth round in the next biennium, according to Dugan. In a 30-minute presentationin front of more than 200 audience members Wednesday, Dugan offered an explanation detailing the events leading up to the current reductions being considered by school administrators.
“Back in December almost a year ago, we were notified by the government that due to the shortfall by the government, K-12 would have to take part of the budget cuts,” Dugan explained to the crowd. “… I’m sensitive to all those issues.”
The district just doesn’t have enough money to cover capital construction, an important part of fixing up leaking roofs, broken windows or installing proper heating systems for the students during the winter
“The way this whole issue started was Washoe County School District is the only county of all 17 with no revenue source for capital construction,” Dugan said. “We thought it would be real simple to fix … but we were unable to get that passed and when people ask me why that is, I tell them I believe the economy was too much of an obstacle to deal with. … We didn’t pick the time for how the economy went sour. We can’t give up.”
As Dugan explained, the district has already experienced three rounds of cuts, the third of which is happening now. During the first
round, a 4.5-percent cut, the district did everything it could to prevent cuts to the funding for textbooks, but the Legislature delayed that decision, Dugan said.
Bu the second round of cuts, called for by the special session of the Nevada Legislature in June, required K-12 and all other state agencies to cut an additional 3.3 percent from their budgets.
WCSD saved about $4.2 million by not adopting new textbooks and some funds were cut from post-employment benefits. In all, WCSD had to reduce an additional $10.4 million.
Now in their third round, district administrators have to propose budget cuts at the 4 percent, 7 percent and 11 percent ranges. Dugan said it’s hard to project the impact without knowing the definite percentage of reductions.
The situation has forced the district to assess what’s truly necessary to do what’s best for kids. Dugan said the district will not cut anything that directly affects the classroom and students’ ability to learn, but it does mean prioritizing those programs that may not be as essential to teachers or students.
During public comment, parents and district staff members put in their ideas to help save the district money and questioned some of its current spending practices.
Pamela Green, a teacher, expressed frustration about the district’s willingness to build a new school when the older schools are in need of attention.
“I’m in one of the older schools,” Green said. “I was sure (WCSD-1) would have passed. I’m floored that it didn’t. I know (my school) is decrepit. We have to have bake sales to fix the rain gutters. There’s ice when it’s snowy and cold. There’s such an inequity in our district. You have brand new schools that have smart boards in their classrooms. …We barely have enough (money) for copy machines. We’re going to have to raze these schools and build new ones and we don’t have the money for that.”
One woman who introduced herself as Susan, a speech pathologist, said she was curious about the district’s priority of the speech pathology program and positions in the near future.
“There are certain positions that I consider are of direct support to schools and those include counselors, speech pathologists and psychologists,” Dugan responded. “You serve students directly. Those are the positions that we have to do everything we can to maintain.”
Bus transportation, school administrative positions and the possibility of a four-day school week were sore subjects for some community members who thought the district could do more to cut down in both areas for cost-saving measures. Dugan noted that the reduction of the school week from five to four days would create a burden on working parents who would have to pay more for child care or be forced to leave their children at home unsupervised.
“We are not going to get any salary savings (from the change),” Dugan said. “The savings probably would come from transportation, but we get reimbursed money for that, so that’s not going to be significant.”
Theo Meek, a Wooster student, said he was concerned by the failure of WCSD-1 and its implications on students.
“Being one of the students coming from Wooster, one of the older schools, it’s terrible we have to make the decision about getting new roof and replacing broken windows,” Meek said. “We’re the future
educated of America and you’re affecting our decisions and what happens with us? Are you doing a good job? We’re facing larger class sizes and already battling 35 kids in a room with kids sitting on counters. Now there will be 40 or 50. What, are they going to be sitting on top of each other?”
After the meeting, Dugan said he was encouraged by the turnout of the community.
“Clearly, people are interested, they’re concerned, they’re worried, but they’re also willing to give suggestions, so we need to listen and we need to be thoughtful about how we deal with this,” Dugan said.
“What I heard was, ‘Do all you can to protect the students.’ “
Trustee Estela Gutierrez said regardless of the input, the Board of Trustees will have some tough decisions to make.
“We have a challenge in front of us for the next couple of years, definitely, first with the non-passing of WCSD-1. We’re going to prioritize that (2002 bond) rollover fund. We don’t really know what the true picture is and what the impact will be, but hopefully, as Paul (Dugan) stated, we’ll stay away from the classes.”