“There are challenges facing us as a community, challenges facing us a district and challenges facing us as a state,” Morrison said.
The town hall was the second of two district meetings with the public to discuss the budget and strategic plan, both of which will soon be finalized by the Board of Trustees.
Morrison told parents about the district’s recent negotiations with local unions, in which employees gave up salary increases and will take furlough days for the 2010-2011 fiscal year. This will save $11 million — a third of the shortfall. Morrison also announced the largest reduction to the district’s central services in its history, with $2.5 million in cuts that will leave positions vacant through attrition as some employees retire or leave or as other positions are combined. The district’s top and mid-level managers, including the superintendent, are also taking unpaid furlough days and foregoing salary increases.
Other strategies to address the shortfall include tapping into the district’s contingency fund, which would draw out $5 million; utilities savings by installing energy-savings measures in the schools to the tune of of $2 million; and increasing the class size for first through third grade classes for $6 million. Other miscellaneous cuts could be made through drawing down on fund balances and cutting back athletic and music programs, nutrition services, administrative positions and transportation.
“The fat has been cut,” Morrison said. “Now we’re cutting into the bone.”
He said the current shortfall affects the district’s ability to build next year’s contingency funds, which are usually used to offset financial need for “rainy days.”
The town hall also informed parents about the district’s process in creating a strategic plan, which is following a national trend of creating reform in the schools. Trustees and district staff have spent the last few months formulating 11 committees and meeting with WCSD employees and community members to identify what changes are needed in areas of building human and community capital, marketing and branding, hiring effective teachers and others.
Such ideas, said Deputy Superintendent Pedro Martinez, would involve some restructuring to begin starting in July. For example, the district would create four performance zones, or academies that would act as autonomous schools specializing in science and technology or language arts. Each zone would have its own area superintendent. Martinez said he also wants to look at having Washoe County schools conform to the National Core Standards for purposes of alignment and to establish a process of achieving targets in curriculum.
“What I like about (the standards) is it’s more rigorous and we can start benchmarking (student and school) progress,” he said.
He also discussed targeting high school freshmen to provide them extra help long before they graduate to make them college- or career-ready.
Two Reno High School students who asked not to be named, disagreed with some of the ideas presented and said the district should focus its efforts on middle school students who may start to show signs they’re struggling.
“They water down the curriculum,” one student said. “How can they expect us to be motivated?”
“I think fourth grade testing can’t accurately measure their (academic) abilities,” the other said. “It’s not the parents’ fault. They can’t motivate the kids and the teachers are too busy. There are so many kids to take care of. … I think the ideas are good but it doesn’t sound like they’ll be carried out well.”