Citing the critical need for funding to pay for necessary repairs and maintenance at more than 100 buildings—including 93 schools— the Washoe County School District has submitted Assembly Bill 46 (AB 46) to the Nevada State Legislature for consideration during the upcoming session.
If passed by legislators, AB 46 would authorize a ¼ percent increase in the sales tax in Washoe County and a property tax increase in Washoe County of $0.05 per $100 of assessed value. It would also allow the revenue WCSD currently receives from the Government Services Tax (GST) to be bonded. The GST provides only a small percentage of annual capital funding.
AB 46 is expected to generate approximately $20 million annually to fund the repair, replacement, and maintenance of aged and failing systems and equipment at all schools and District sites across the county. According to UNR's Center for Regional Studies, the combined tax increases are expected to cost the average family less than $8 per month.
"Members of our community have invested their taxpayer dollars in public schools, and we want to protect their investment," said Superintendent Pedro Martinez. "AB 46 would generate the money we need to maintain and repair the facilities that are used not just by students, but as gathering places by numerous groups in the community. These properties are shared by everyone, and we need this revenue to keep them safe and operational places. Schools must be places where children are comfortable, safe, and able to focus their attention on learning."
Funds generated by AB 46 would enable the District to pay for the maintenance, repair, and replacement of equipment including heating and ventilation systems, plumbing systems, roofing, and pavement. Performance of these crucial maintenance operations would help prevent further deterioration at schools and District buildings. District officials say every school is currently in need of repairs and maintenance. For a list of specific school needs, click here.
Support for AB 46 is coming from all corners of the community. Members of business groups including the The Chamber, Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada (EDAWN), and Associated General Contractors of Northern Nevada agree the funding is badly needed, and are supporting the District's bill.
"The Chamber and our members know how important it is to have an educated, highly-skilled workforce," said Len Stevens, executive director of The Chamber. "Education and economic development are intrinsically linked and this effort will ensure that our future employees have adequate facilities in which to learn. It is our duty and responsibility to ensure that our students have a warm, safe, and dry environment to come to every day. It is vital that our community takes care of the basic maintenance needs of our school buildings. Proper maintenance now ensures that more tax dollars aren't spent on bigger problems in the future."
"The need to adequately invest in the education of our future workforce is the reason the EDAWN's board of trustees voted to endorse AB 46," said EDAWN President and CEO Mike Kazmierski. "As EDAWN works with new or existing companies, the top concern for them is the availability of quality employees. These employees are the product of our education system. WCSD has immediate infrastructure needs that must be met now to ensure a safe and effective learning environment for their students, our kids, and our employees of the future."
For the past decade, the Washoe County School District has funded capital projects with revenue from a rollover bond approved by voters in 2002. Unlike every other school district in Nevada that have access to other funding sources for capital projects, the rollover bond was the Washoe County School District's only major source of capital projects revenue. When the 10-year rollover bond expired in November 2012, the District was left with no other way to generate capital funding for maintenance and repairs at its schools.
Currently, the District has identified approximately $511 million in capital needs at its schools and buildings over the next 10 years. These projects are currently unfunded, and there is no funding source in place to pay for these crucial capital needs. The majority of those needs (approximately $300 million) are for necessary maintenance and repairs.
Parent Leaders for Education, a grassroots group of parents who advocate for children in WCSD, is also formally supporting the bill. The group released a statement, saying in part: "As parents, we want our children to learn in an environment where they won't be worried about staying warm in their classrooms every day or falling down on broken pavement. We are encouraged to see the Washoe County School District having honest and open conversations with the public about the maintenance and repair needs at our schools, and we support their efforts to generate funding sources to meet those needs."
District officials say they are asking state lawmakers to approve AB 46 because school properties are relatively old and consequently are in need of repair. Sixty percent of District schools are more than 30 years old, and 25 percent of schools are more than 50 years old. The District maintains more than 7 million square feet of building space for which there is a constant need for maintenance, upkeep, and repairs.
"It's hard to imagine that in the next ten years the schools in the newer neighborhoods of our community will be 20-30 years old and will consequently require major repairs," said Chief Capital Projects Officer Mark Stanton. "These schools include Damonte Ranch High School, Spanish Springs High School, Billinghurst Middle School, and Melton Elementary School. This will further add to the backlog if additional capital renewal revenues are not secured."
"We need to remember that ventilation, acoustics, temperature, limited technology, and overcrowding impact our students as they sit in the classroom day after day," said Barbara Clark, president of the Washoe County School District Board of Trustees. "Older schools and classrooms need to be updated to accommodate changing learning patterns and methods. The only way that we can address these ongoing needs is to have a stable, ongoing revenue source for revitalization and capital projects, and AB 46 will
help address this. Meeting our facility needs is critical in reaching the academic achievement goals we have for all our students."
Although AB 46 would not generate enough funding to meet all of WCSD's current needs, District officials say the funding would help protect the community's investment in its schools by generating revenue for repairs, replacement, and maintenance until other funding sources could be identified and pursued. As economic conditions allow, the District might consider asking voters to approve other sources of revenue that may include a rollover bond to finance the construction of new schools and major revitalization projects. District officials say they are pledging to continue those conversations with the community appropriately and consistently in coming years.
"We are grateful for the support we have received from our business and community partners, and we look forward to working with our lawmakers on this bill," said Superintendent Pedro Martinez. "This is a crucial issue for our District, and the need is great. But as we move forward with the legislative process, we are confident that we will be able to make a compelling case to our representatives at the state level."
The 77th session of the Nevada State Legislature will convene on Monday, Feb. 4. The Washoe County School District will support the bill as the session begins. WCSD will continue to seek input from parents, staff, business leaders, lawmakers, and the community about the capital funding issue.
The Washoe County School District will continue its strong communication efforts with the community through its website, Facebook, and Twitter.
From Washoe County School District