Why are capacity and overcrowding measured two different ways, and what do they mean?
Answer: The two different ways to measure capacity and overcrowding are by student enrollment and by classroom capacity.
WCSD uses these two different measures because neither one alone gives a full picture of what is going on at a school.
Student Enrollment Capacity
is the number of individual students at a school, based on the number of students the main school
building is designed to hold. This “base” number does not take into account additional capacity that portable classrooms provide,
because the portable classrooms do not add space to lunchrooms, hallways, playgrounds, parking lots, music rooms, and more. In
fact, many portable classrooms take up parking or playground space.
is the number of classes at a school versus the number of rooms available to hold these classes in,
including portable classrooms. Education standards and best practices have moved toward smaller classes for regular instruction
as well as additional, more specialized programs such as Gifted and Talented, English Language Learner, Autism, Strategies,
computer and technical classes, and more. The legislature also mandates certain class size requirements and special programs
be in place to receive funding. This creates a need for more classroom spaces.
How does the District come up with the growth projections?
Answer: Projections of future school enrollment numbers are based on population growth
forecasts provided by regional planning agencies. WCSD does not forecast growth. The current
growth forecasts come from the Economic Planning Indicator Committee (EPIC), made up of local
governments and planning agencies, which breaks down projected growth by region inside the county.
What is currently being done to relieve overcrowding?
Answer: WCSD is currently looking at all options. These include rezoning, placing additional portable classrooms,
converting office/library/music room/storage space to regular classroom space, renting nearby space in churches/private
schools/daycare centers, and changing to a multi-track year-round calendar at overcrowded elementary schools and flex
schedule or double sessions at overcrowded middle and high school levels.
WCSD has also worked for years with our community and our legislators to try to find the needed additional funding to build schools.
A bill was passed the 2015 legislative session (SB411) that created a citizen committee, the Public Schools Overcrowding and Repair
Needs Committee, to consider placing a binding tax proposal on the November, 2016 ballot to fund WCSD’s construction needs. WCSD
appreciates this community effort (the District does not have a voting member on the committee), and looks forward to seeing the
final product of the committee’s work.
What is a flex schedule, double session, or multi-track?
Answer: A flex schedule is having some students or grade levels start earlier, like 7am, and some start later,
like 9 or 9:30am. This frees up some classroom space, but there are still significant overcrowding issues
during the middle of the day. Double sessions means running two almost totally separate schools out of the
same building – one “school” goes from approximately 6am until noon, then a totally separate group of students
goes from approximately noon until 6pm. A multi-track year-round calendar divides a school into four groups,
and then runs classes year round, with one group always on break and three groups in school, on a rotating schedule.
Can you convert big box stores, or lease space from churches or office buildings?
Answer: This is something we are looking into, but it has many challenges. Those include: high cost to convert
retail or traditional commercial space into classroom space, sites that are often not where a school is needed,
cost to buy or lease the space, location of spaces (usually on main streets which make it harder to provide proper
safety and security for students), and a lack of playground space. We are looking into all those options, however,
and would appreciate leads if you know of empty spaces near schools that we might be able to use.
What are the most crowded areas?
Answer: South Reno, Spanish Springs, Northwest Reno, and Old Sparks have some of the worst overcrowding problems.
We expect high growth in many of these areas as well, particularly Spanish Springs and South Reno.
Why didn’t the district propose any legislation during the 2015 legislative session to raise money
for school construction and repair funding? What has the District done to try to address this problem before now?
Answer: The District has proposed several different bills and funding solutions in the recent past
(SB154 in 2007, WCSD 1 in 2008, AB46 in 2013). Those proposals have not succeeded. These efforts have reminded us that tax
policy and economic policy are really not our areas of expertise. We know how to make the best use of the money we are given
to educate children. We know what we would do with additional money, and how much additional money we need for things
like repairs and new construction to ease overcrowding. At that point, however, it is up to the community and the experts
to decide the best way to provide us with the needed funding and what tax or taxes would be most beneficial and least burdensome.
Schools are community assets, and the lack of funding is a community problem which needs a community solution.
In the 2015 legislative session, the District did support a bill (SB411) to allow for the creation of a citizen committee to come
up with a binding tax proposal for the November, 2016 ballot to fund our construction needs. The bill was brought forward by our
legislators and community and was signed into law. The committee, called the Public Schools Overcrowding and Repair Needs Committee,
has been formed and is getting to work. The District appreciates the community coming together to form this committee and its work to
come up with a solution to our funding needs.
Why is WCSD constantly facing a lack of funding for school construction and repairs?
Answer: WCSD is the only school district in the state that has only two sources of funding for school construction and repairs.
We receive a portion of the Government Services Tax (GST), and a portion of property taxes in the county. All other Districts
have at least one more source of revenue, like a portion of the county’s room tax, or a real property transfer tax. WCSD and the
community have tried multiple times through the legislature and at the ballot to secure an additional source of funding, but
have been unsuccessful so far.
Why can’t the District just build new schools with the funds from the rollover bonds that were extended during this last legislative session?
Answer: The rollover bond does not provide enough money to build new schools. It will provide the District with approximately $20 million
per year on average over the next nine years. That is less than our bare minimum need for repairs and renovations to take care of our existing
schools and make them adequate for teaching and learning, which is $25M per year. The District operates over 7 million square feet of building
space, which is roughly equivalent to 3,500 single-family homes that are each approximately 2,000 square feet. The District must take good
care of these community assets, make them adequate for teaching and learning, and provide equity across the District. With 63,000 children
and 8,000 staff members constantly using these facilities, it takes a considerable sum of money to keep them in good working order.
If the current overcrowding issues and future growth were only in one area and could be solved by building one or two schools, the District
would more seriously consider squeezing our repair budget for a few years to do that (an elementary school costs approximately $22 million
to build, a middle school approximately $50 million, and a high school above $80 million). However, to relieve our current overcrowding we
would need to build at least four new schools in different areas of the county. To accommodate projected, future growth, we need to build
around 15 new schools within the next 10 years. To accommodate current overcrowding, future growth, and fill the remaining unfunded
renovations budget, the District needs approximately $50 million per year in additional funding.
Why doesn’t rezoning solve the overcrowding problems?
Answer: We are looking at every option for relieving overcrowding, and trying to be as creative as we can with our current resources.
Rezoning is certainly something we’re considering, but it is not an easy option, either. Our goal is to keep children in the same school
for the duration of their time at that educational level because it is better for the student, their families, and their educational
outcomes. In a time of tremendous growth, rezoning is a moving target because growth is happening rapidly and in multiple locations,
and we don’t always know exactly where this future growth will occur. For example, if we rezone children to Pleasant Valley ES this
year, there is a distinct possibility that growth would make that school overcrowded within a few years. Then we’d be faced with moving
children to a different school for a second time. That is very hard on them, and negatively impacts their education.
The other issue is overall capacity. On average, we are at 95% capacity at our elementary and middle schools, and 101% capacity at our high
schools (classroom capacity). This means that there aren’t a lot of under-capacity schools to move children to from overcrowded schools.
Our most under-capacity facilities are generally in places like Incline Village and Wadsworth, which are not options for rezoning. Still,
rezoning is an option we are carefully considering.
Governor Sandoval and the legislature passed hundreds of millions of dollars in additional taxes for education spending.
Will that help solve the problem?
Answer: The additional funding is almost entirely categorical funding, meaning it can only be spent on specific programs, like Gifted
and Talented, English Language Learner, or other such specialized programs. By and large, this funding provides for more teachers.
This is a good thing, and will help us deliver better instruction with more teachers per student, and more specialized classes.
However, it does also create a need for more space to make the best use of additional teachers, and this additional money cannot,
by law, be used for school construction.
How can I help find solutions? How can I make my voice heard?
Answer: At this time, the best way you can help is to assist us in building awareness of the problem. If you are a member of any group –
Rotary Club, service organization, HOA, book club, anything – we would appreciate your help in getting us in front of that group. We
have a short presentation that explains the needs and situation, and then we’re happy to take questions. Also, you can sign up with us
to receive updates on this issue, and as we and our community partners move forward with any other actions to support the District,
we will let you know. You are welcome to address your specific concerns with your elected officials, as well.
Can WCSD raise private donations to cover the cost of schools?
Answer: Yes, but it is not an easy undertaking. An elementary school costs around
$22M to build, middle school around $50M, and a high school around $80M. We are
looking at different education models, like smaller and more specialized schools,
to cut down on costs. Regardless, that is a lot of money to raise!
Will the lowering of prevailing wage cut down significantly on your costs?
Answer: It may, but we don’t yet know by how much. School construction must now pay 90% of prevailing wage,
down from 100%. The most optimistic predictions by opponents of prevailing wage say that completely removing
it would cut costs by 20%. At the current 90% of prevailing wage level, that prediction suggests a 2% savings.
While that would still represent lower costs, it would still take about $21 million to build an elementary school,
for example. It’s also possible that there will be no savings: with all the economic growth, the price of
construction is going up quickly – we’re already seeing it in the bids that we’re receiving for recent projects.
Why won’t the additional tax revenue coming from the growing economy and new housing pay for building
Answer: It will help, but there are several issues. First, that money will come years after it is needed. Schools are major
construction projects that take years to plan and build. Planning and building, and therefore spending significant amounts of
money, must start well before new tax revenue arrives. Also, we are overcrowded already, and we need money to build schools
now just for the students we have today.
The second issue is that WCSD generally does not receive enough revenue in property taxes from new homes to cover the costs
to build the needed schools for those new residents. For example, a new home that sells for $300,000 (roughly the current
median home price in Washoe County) will pay approximately $400 per year in the portion of property taxes that go to school
construction and repairs. That revenue may be bonded for a one-time sum of approximately $5,000. That means that it takes 4,400
new homes, valued at an average of $300,000, to create enough money to build an elementary school (cost: approximately $22 million).
The numbers will vary depending on location, type of housing, and more, but 4,400 new homes typically brings more children than
that one elementary alone can hold.
Can WCSD budget its resources better so that we’d have enough money to build the needed schools?
Answer: We have been building schools for decades, as well as buying portables to place at the most overcrowded
schools. Nevada has been among the fastest-growing states in the country for three decades, so we have constantly
been playing catch-up. We have used our funds wisely: we have paid for audits and peer reviews from national groups
to ensure that we are making good use of our funding. While these have identified ways we can do better, which we
have implemented, they have consistently shown that we are spending our money quite efficiently and effectively.
We are also the only school district in the state with only two sources of funding for construction and repairs –
all other districts have at least one additional source of funding.
WCSD receives a portion of the Government Services Tax (GST), and a portion of property taxes in the county.
All other Districts have at least one more source of revenue, like a portion of the county’s room tax, or a real
property transfer tax. WCSD and the community have tried multiple times through the legislature and at the ballot
to secure an additional source of funding, but have been unsuccessful so far.
How much notice will we get that our school is moving to multi-track year
round/double sessions? What if my two kids are on different tracks?
Answer: The decision to move to multi-track or any different schedule would be made in the fall for the following
school year. After we see exactly how many students register, we will update our projections for the next school year.
No school will be changing schedules for this next school year, 2015/2016. We will make the decision for 2016/2017 this
fall. We are still finalizing our criteria for exactly when – at what enrollment number or percent – a school would be
required to go multi-track. We will also do our best to place siblings on the same track if a school moves to a multi-track
calendar, and to accommodate other issues like older siblings’ schedules at secondary schools.