Nevada

Trustees monitor state budget decisions regarding class sizes and future enrollment

 

Most of the elementary schools in Washoe County said the class size ratio is too high, school trustees said yesterday. On Tuesday, Washoe County school district trustees discussed class sizes, as well as the 2024 budget and alumni count, at a regular board meeting.

According to the trustees, Washoe’s class sizes are larger than prescribed by the state because the state does not fund those ratios. To bring all of the district’s elementary schools into line with class size requirements, the district will need to hire 101 additional teachers at a cost of just over $8 million.

State law establishes a student-teacher ratio for each grade of K-3 for each quarter of the year. For kindergarten, first and second grades the ratio is 16:1, and for third grade it is 18:1.

The current ratios for each grade are 21:1 for kindergarten, 18.1 for first and second grades, and 21.1 for third grade.

WCSD must ask the state to remove these compliance requirements because it does not have the funding to reduce class sizes. Each school must submit a variance once a quarter, explaining why it is needed.

Of the 65 elementary schools in the district, 60 kindergarten rejections were received this quarter.

The district staff report notes that “this large amount of discrepancy is based on historical changes in class size requirements and the level of funding provided to school districts and our district in particular.”

WCSD Trustee Beth Smith

The student-teacher ratio varies across the district’s elementary schools; some kindergarten classes had up to 25 students, while one school, Elmcrest Elementary in old northwest Reno, had only 14 students per teacher.

The full list of classes can be found here.

“While our state council sets certain ratios, the state doesn’t actually fund it,” trustee Beth Smith said. “Thus, our district and all districts are placed in the strange position of having to submit to differences.

“Sometimes I see on the news or in the community that our classes are out of proportion … and I want to make this very clear because we are not funded by these proportions,” she added.

The trustees voted unanimously to approve the report.

Graduation rates are being discussed

The trustees heard a presentation on the number of alumni in the district.

Overall, graduation rates are still high compared to the past decade. In 2010, only 62% of students graduated; in 2022, that number is 84%. The highest year was 2019 with 86% of students graduating, a percentage that dropped slightly during the pandemic.

By race, the highest graduation rates in 2019-2022 are among Asian students (94% to 97%), and the lowest among American Indians (64% to 81%) and African Americans (68% to 75% ). .

Graduation rates are also lower among children in transition (CIT)—or homeless students—and students with an IEP (individualized education program).

English Learners (EL) and students eligible for Free or Reduced Lunch (FRL) are in the highest category of special populations. EL students over the past four years reported a graduation rate of 74%, while FRL reported 79%.

Students who do not graduate are categorized by the district into four categories: Diploma Adjustment, Bad Credits, Dropouts, or Disappearances.

It is reported that 18% of non-graduating American Indian students “disappeared”, significantly higher than all other racial categories. The disappearance indicates that the students are no longer enrolled in the school and are not confirmed to have dropped out.

Similarly, 22% of CIT students who did not complete their studies disappeared.

Unlike other neighborhoods in Nevada, Washoe is centrally located. The areas with the highest graduation rates of over 95% were districts with fewer than 65 students.

Of the larger districts (over 1,000 students), the state’s charter schools had the highest graduation rate at 86%, while Clark County had the lowest at 81%. Overall, the lowest rate in Nevada was Mineral County with 66% of graduates.

Full presentation and statistics here.

Fewer births, higher rents lead to loss of income

The Trustees heard a presentation on the budget process, including what factors could affect the proposed 2024 budget and budgets for future years.

CFO Mark Mathers and Budget Director Jeff Bozzo said during their presentation that there are a number of “major” factors affecting the 2024 budget.

The first factor, according to Mathers, is the declining birth rate across the country, which has been going on for several decades. In Washoe County, the birth rate has dropped 41% since 1990. Larger school districts will be affected “at best” by a lack of enrollment in later years.

Secondly, rising house prices, which, combined with lower birth rates, is preventing an increase in the number of school-age students in the district.

The district is also losing students in charter and private schools. While both are seeing growth, the district’s enrollment is down 4.3% from the 2018-19 school year.

The charter schools built in the last 5 years have absorbed all of the student enrollment growth from new construction and, along with homeschooling, are causing the county’s student enrollment to decline.

The average enrollment per day in the first quarter of 2023 was 60,777, 1,146 students less than the budgeted average daily enrollment, resulting in a funding gap per student of $8.38 million.

There is also a “group” of classes with higher than average enrollment rates, currently in grades 9-12, covering between 5,000 and 5,400 students. However, kindergarten enrollment is projected to be only 4,400, leaving 600 students for the next four years. The cumulative effect is the loss of nearly 3,000 students and $21.8 million in lost revenue.

The data means that if the county doesn’t see the cancellation of enrollment, it is, as Mathers and Bozzo said, “all operations will need to be reviewed for possible cuts.”

If funding per student increases by $250 per student, or 3.4%, the gap will be closed.

The Governor’s recommended budget will be released later this week. It tells the district how the state has decided to use the supplemental revenue, answers questions about baseline funding per student versus weighted funding, and whether the state has followed its intentions with regards to total fund commitment and increased funding per student. .

Trustees will receive monthly updates on the state’s budget process as it continues into the legislative session, which begins in February.

School improvements approved

The trustees voted to approve proposals for construction contracts to improve three high schools.

Projects:

  • Roof replacement at Galena High School. The contract was awarded to Commercial Roofers for $2.13 million.
  • Roof replacement at Robert McQueen High School. The contract was awarded to Western Single Ply for $903,725.
  • Improvement of the track and stadium irrigation at Sparks High School. The contract was awarded to Spanish Springs Construction for $1.32 million.

The trustees also approved the purchase of Promethean Brand Classroom “Activpanels” and related equipment for $6.8 million. This includes over 1500 individual replacements for the oldest panels in the first place, some of which are over 15 years old. According to Tami Zimmerman, Director of Facilities Management, the panels have a recommended lifespan of approximately 8 years.

Funding comes from the Nevada Coronavirus Response Fund and a local financial recovery fund.

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