News - April 13, 2017 - by Ray Hagar

By Ray Hagar

Nevada Newsmakers

The Washoe County School District shocked the Reno-Sparks community earlier this year when it announced it had a $40 million budget deficit. It may get whittled down to $25 million by the end of the year, school officials said.

Yet the district is facing cuts in teacher positions for the next school year and possibly the loss of busing for field trips and interscholastic athletics, according to the RGJ's Siobhan McAndrew.

Part of the problem comes from unfunded mandates from the Nevada Legislature, a top Washoe school official said recently.

"This is happening now with bills coming through," said Kristen McNeill, WCSD deputy superintendent, in a recent interview. "We have a fabulous government affairs director who looks at this and staff helps out but there are currently pieces of legislation on the dockets (at the Legislature) as far as unfunded mandates."

Some of the state-mandated programs already in place where the expenses are not fully covered by state funding includes one of Gov. Brian Sandoval's favorites -- "Read by 3," McNeill said.

Costs for state-mandated incentives for highly-effective teachers and principals are also not fully covered, she said.

"We have to have a certain percentage set aside from our operating budget for incentives for highly-effective teachers and principals," McNeill said. "It is a great thing. But once again, if we had additional revenues to pay for that, that would have helped us out a lot.

"And 'Read by Grade 3,' even though that is a grant, and a law, they wanted a learning strategist (as part of the program), which is a classroom teacher who has additional responsibilities placed on that teacher at every single elementary school," McNeill said. "If I am already a third, or second-grade teacher and I already have my day job and now you are asking me to take on additional responsibilities, it is in the best interest to pay that person for the additional time.

"Well, the state does not provide funding for that," McNeill said. "So we provided a stipend for those teachers because it is the right thing to do."