The League of Women Voters and other organizations have a long history of checking facts in elections. In that spirit, IVCBRW will be hosting fact-checking of claims made on WC-1 on this page. Check back shortly as we start to add facts, questions, and answers to this page,
QUESTIONS TO ASK ABOUT WC-1
Motherhood, apple pie, and . . . Save Our Schools. How could anyone oppose that? A closer look at the data reveals some surprising information. As a parent, science teacher, private school administrator, taxpayer, and member of IVCBRW, here are some facts I discovered about WC-1 which might be of interest to you. For example:
- WCSD enrollment has been flat for a decade. Per the annual WCSD accountability reports available at nevadareportcard.com, WCSD enrollment has declined 2 percent in the last decade. Not growing, not flat. Declining. Here are enrollment data from the annual accountability reports.
- We’ve greatly expanded school buildings in the last decade. Are we losing buildings, or what is causing overcrowding while enrollment is declining? According to the WCSD Superintendent’s 2006-2007 Accountability Report, that year WCSD “successfully completed the second largest construction phase in WCSD history. Over $85 million went toward the completion of new construction projects which added over 363,000 square feet of new building space.” The 363,000 sq. ft. did not include Incline Elementary Build-Out (48,000 sq. ft.), the DePaoli Middle School (187,343 sq. ft.), the Career Tech Education Build-Out, or nearly $10 million in building funds spent on older school renewal projects. Those schools alone account for 600,000 new square feet – two-thirds of a new Meadowood Mall – of school and classroom space that has been added in the last decade, and $95 spent million in one year alone. Now SOS wants to raise $781 MORE million for 15 more schools?
- Save Our Schools is NOT run or funded by “volunteers.” Who is SOS? Under the “Join Us” tab, the SOS website states, “We are a group of volunteer citizens working to save our schools.” Far from it. According to filings with the NV Secretary of State’s Office, the Coalition to Save Our Schools (Tray Abney, Lobbyist for the Reno Chamber of Commerce, representative) has raised $936,000 — nearly a million dollars — as of early September to get out the vote for WC-1. Per the state site and the Reno Gazette Journal, the largest contributors to date are:
|National Education Association||300,000||The largest teacher’s union in the country.|
|NV Association of Realtors & Affiliates||200,000|
|Reno Sparks Chamber||10,000|
These funds have been used to hire The Abbi Agency, a PR firm which developed the slick SOS website with the intent of “compelling” us to vote for WC-1. Check it out on the PR firm’s website (http://theabbiagency.com/case-studies/sos-washoe/). They are quite proud of it. And the “volunteers”? They are nowhere to be seen. There isn’t a single person’s name on the website, “volunteer” or otherwise.
If any of that raises some concerns for you, here are some additional facts you might want to ask about.
- What are we voting on, exactly? The complete wording of the WC-1 ballot question is:
“Shall the Board of County Commissioners of Washoe County be authorized to impose a sales and use tax of 0.54 percent in the County to fund only capital projects of Washoe County School District for the acquisition, construction, repair and renovation of school facilities?”
If you don’t see it written here, it simply does not exist. Per the Reno Gazette-Journal, the request is to:
“Increase Washoe County’s sales tax to a rate never before seen in any Nevada county – 8.265 percent. And make it permanent. Outside of Nevada, only ten states charge more in combined sales taxes, according to the nonpartisan research group Tax Foundation. Washoe’s rate now is 7.725.”
- Is this a temporary tax and, if so, when does it end? As the RGJ states, this is permanent. There is NO end date or maximum amount specified. It’s an open checkbook with no limit, period. Proponent Tray Abney said it best at the debate in Incline on Sept. 13; when asked if this is permanent, his answer: “You bet it is!”
- How can we have widespread overcrowding if we have built several new schools in the past decade, while enrollment was declining? No one has been able to answer this yet. Per the SOS website, 20 percent of WCSD schools are “overcrowded.” That means 80 percent are not. That’s a space planning and efficiency problem, not a building shortage.
- What is meant by “overcrowded”? According to WCSD Capital Projects, there are currently 7.3 million square feet of building space within the school district. That works out to 114 gross square feet (gsf) per student assuming 64,000 students (more than in 2015). How does that compare to recommended figures nationally? The Council of Educational Facility Planners International has calculated the recommended number of gsf per student. Average national averages of square footage space per student: 1 to 111.5 gsf for elementary schools buildings; 81.2 to 154.4 gsf for middle schools buildings; and 101.9 to 160.7 gsf for high schools buildings. Bottom line: WCSD is not overcrowded, and better use should be made of the available space.
- Who makes enrollment projections? According to WCSD Capital Projects, WCSD Capital Projects staff make enrollment forecasting “for new facility needs” (and not, apparently, for making more efficient use of existing facilities). That would be the same people who said we needed a new elementary school in Incline Village for grades 3-5 while the old school would be retained for growth in grades K-2. Instead, seven years after it opened, we have the entire K-5 elementary school, without overcrowding, in the new school while the old school sits a vacant eyesore on Southwood Blvd. As realtors know, you don’t ask the sellers of houses to appraise the house. Why do we rely on the people who are charged with building new WCSD schools to provide WCSD enrollment projections — with no outside review?
- Don’t we need new schools for Tesla and other businesses? Perhaps, but the enrollment projections have not been externally reviewed, so we don’t know. Do enrollment projections consider Tesla perhaps building its own on-site K-12 school for children of company employees? Or the large increases in homeschooling (which is up 44 percent in the last two years in Clark County according to the Las Vegas Review Journal)? Or the 6,000 Nevada students who have enrolled in the Education Savings Accounts – all of which will reduce current overcrowding and reduce the need for future growth? There is a reason for flat enrollment in WCSD, and it’s because more and more families are not content to be academically #51 in the nation. Plus, families are seeking alternatives outside traditional government schooling. All area growth will NOT go to traditional public schools.
- What enforcement means exist to ensure these millions of dollars are only spent on capital funds? In a new twist on “Trust us, we’re from the government and we’re here to help you,” the SOS website states: “A volunteer Community Oversight Committee will ensure the money is spent properly and transparently.” Apparently these are the same “volunteers” funding and running SOS.
- SOS uses the scare tactics of “double sessions,” year-round schools and modular classrooms (trailers) as examples of what will happen if WC-1 is not passed. What’s wrong with providing those alternatives? For example, many students drop out of high school and don’t graduate because they have to work. Wouldn’t double sessions allow more students to attend school at least part-time before or after work?
Other important questions to ask:
- Is there a study published anywhere to indicate increased square footage of classroom space is tied to improved academic performance?
- Who performed the study to justify $781 million is needed for the next nine years? Where is the report? Have the assumptions in that study been thoroughly reviewed externally?
- The schools are only occupied 180 days, just less than half the year. What studies have been done to make more efficient use of existing space during the other 185 days when the buildings are empty before adding double sessions to 180 days – half the year?
- We just passed a huge new tax in the last legislative season (SB 207). What do we have to show for that huge tax increase, which was also supported by the Chamber of Commerce?
- Given that the best way to improve education is to hire great teachers, is building more buildings really the best way to improve Nevada academic standing?
- Is there research published anywhere to tie modular classrooms to decreased educational outcomes?
- Paying prevailing market rates to construction labor unions seems to be a large part of the construction costs. What taxpayer savings are possible if the schools are privately built?
- Which candidates running for school board are for and against WC-1?
- Why do EDAWN and the Reno Chamber of Commerce support a tax which is clearly to the detriment of the bulk of its constituents and against policies of the US Chamber of Commerce against unnecessary taxes?
- On SOS’s list of needed remediation is asbestos removal. Why does any asbestos still remain in schools decades after this was identified as a problem?
Statements in Support of WC-1
The Past President of the NV Realtors penned an op-ed piece in favor of WC-1 saying it is the “right thing to do” to “foster a strong and growing economy that attracts and requires top talent.” His five key points:
- “The Washoe County School District has shown that this additional funding is necessary.” “Shown” where? Where are the documents presenting the data and/or evidence that these significant expenditures are justified or even reviewed? (And no, “meetings” where data was presented do not count as a thorough external review.)
- “By law, the additional sales tax dollars generated by WC-1 can only be used for school district capital projects. They can’t be used to fund teacher salaries or other general fund expenses.” That’s not quite true. Salaries to plan, design, and build [unneeded] schools can all be funded as part of school capital projects. If the Superintendent allocates 20% of her job to capital projects, then 20% of her salary comes out of capital projects. There is ample precedent for government programs that “borrow” from other supposedly protected programs, like Social Security. Let’s not forget it’s SOS “volunteers” who will be the ones ensuring our millions of dollars will be spent appropriately. Does anyone still believe this?
- “As realtors, we understand the connection between good schools, good homes and strong property values. One of the first things families ask when looking for a home is “how are the schools in this neighborhood?” Come on. No one moves to a community asking about school buildings. Parents want to know what’s coming OUT of the buildings, and Nevada ranks dead last in the nation in this regard. Throwing millions of dollars into school construction will help local construction firms but do NOTHING to improve the education of Nevada students.
- “If we don’t address the need to build more schools and to improve the ones we have, school district officials may be forced to resort to unpopular solutions. For example, students may have to attend school in double sessions. This would not only be unpopular and inconvenient, but also a hardship for many local families.” Says who? Double sessions may also allow many students to attend school who might otherwise drop out. With school buildings occupied only 180 days of the year, it seems much more could be done to make efficient use of the buildings we have before doubling up on schools which are empty the other half of the year. Again, according to SOS, only 20 percent of WCSD schools are overcrowded. 80 percent aren’t. That’s a space planning problem.
- “If this ballot question fails, state lawmakers could start looking for other ways to meet these needs and may pass other and potentially more burdensome tax increases.” It’s hard to imagine more burdensome tax increases than the ones already passed, with WC-1 surpassing all others by far.
Statements Against WC-1
Who is leading the effort against WC-1? According to the RGJ, retired Reno Police Sargent Jeff Church is the “closest thing to organized opposition.” Some background on Church from his website: He is a retired Lt. Colonel from the USAF Reserve who graduated as Valedictorian from the Reno Police Academy. He also served in the Air Force in Intelligence, in Desert Storm, and Just Cause (Panama). He was activated after 9-11 and served in support of interrogation efforts in Guantanamo, Cuba. Jeff also taught various law enforcement classes at the local community college. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice, a minor in Aerospace Studies and an Associate Degree with Honors in Law Enforcement. “As a retired Reno sergeant receiving free, unfunded, uncapped lifetime medical care and a generous pension it seems a contradiction that he would want to change these benefits but he sees the handwriting on the wall. Jeff believes in the Air Force value of Service Beyond Self.” Jeff does not have a million dollars and a PR agency. I suggest you check out his website to understand his points against WC-1.
To Sum It Up
It takes effort to be #51 in the nation academically. It does not come by accident. You have to work at it. You have to spend millions and millions of dollars on activities that have nothing to do with improving education in Nevada, where fully half of the students who graduate from high school need remedial math or English or both. And that’s just the students that go on to college, and just math and English. (Science, anyone?)
Nevada has lost sight of what it means to educate students. It boggles the mind to think of the achievements this state could attain by instead spending a billion dollars on attracting the best teachers in the nation (or anywhere) and giving them the tools they need to use their talents effectively.
Nowhere on the SOS website does SOS claim to improve education by having an open check to build buildings indefinitely. It can’t. The data does not exist to show a building (or even an iPad) will improve education in any way. Great education can happen in a mud hut or a tent city with the proper instructor to guide the way. It’s all about great teachers. Yet in Incline Village we pay the middle school counselor — who has no teaching role — more than our nationally-recognized social studies teacher who regularly leads our We the People classes to state and national championships. How wrong is that? What message does that send to teachers other than “you are not valued in Nevada”?
Do you want to keep Nevada dead last in education nationally? Vote for WC-1 and continue to divert millions of dollars into perpetual adult employment that has NO relevance to educating our kids. Or we can decide to adopt a laser-like focus on increasing student achievement through supporting proven great teachers with a goal of zero remediation upon graduation. Let’s give some exceptional teachers the millions of dollars of support we seem willing to throw away on window-dressing (literally and figuratively) and see what academic magic can happen.
We also need to hold our Superintendent (and the Board) accountable for results. The WCSD Superintendent does earn almost twice what the Governor earns, after all – with zero accountability. If Nevada superintendents were football coaches, they would all have been fired a long time ago. Accountability for results and providing the means to achieve them…now that’s the “right thing to do.”
We don’t need to Save Our Schools. We need to save our kids FROM our schools.
Kathryn E Kelly, DrPH MEd, is Executive Director of year-round, WASC-accredited I·School in Incline Village, which has maintained a 0 percent remediation rate for English and math for its students attending college despite receiving no government funding – including “special needs” students — in a state with the lowest graduation rate for special needs students in the country. The exceptional education she received, which she credits to her parents and gifted teachers, included attending school on Saturdays and classes in trailers for years, which certainly posed no obstacle to her graduating with degrees from Stanford and Columbia. Visitors are welcome to visit their 1,400 square feet of space to see what makes education great. The views expressed her are her own and not that of I·School.