New bill proposed for school district |

New bill proposed for school district

Michael Schneider

The Tahoe Citizens Committee is supporting a bill that would create a community school district within an existing district, dropping a plan to create a new school district at Lake Tahoe.

Assemblyman Pete Ernaut, R-Reno, told the Legislature’s Government Affairs Committee on Friday, “We now have one of the best concepts – community school districts.”

Tahoe Citizens Committee lobbyist Harvey Whittemore, who first addressed the committee with Ernaut by his side, introduced the bill .

“What we’re proposing are community-based school districts within existing school districts,” said Whittemore, explaining the requirements for the community school districts as areas having at least one high school, middle school and elementary school.

Whittemore said not every area of every county in the state should be able to create its own school district simply because it has the right number of schools to do so.

“Make them significant enough so that they will address major issues,” said Whittemore.

He said in order to create a community school district, parents, not the entire area’s residents, would vote on the new district with a two-thirds majority needed to proceed.

“Parents and not voters will be the decision of the board here,” said Ernaut. “It’s not set in stone with the parents.”

The proceeding would have to be certified by the secretary of state. After this, the community would elect three trustees to oversee their community school district. The trustees, said Whittemore, would be responsible for making decisions.

The “master districts” as Whittemore called them, would handle salaries and transportation districts.

“Can the new school districts require uniforms? Yes,” said Whittemore. “Can they make personnel decisions? Yes. Can they hire people? Yes. Can they say ‘no football?’ Yes.

“Do they have control of what’s most important, their children’s future? Yes.

“We’re not asking for more money,” said Whittemore, explaining that the school districts would get money from the percentage of students in each community.

“Are we taking power away from the existing school districts? Yes,” said Whittemore, using the Lake portion of Douglas County with Zephyr Cove Elementary, Kingsbury Middle and Whittell High Schools as an example of a community that could form its own school district. “We want to make sure Douglas County is included from a TCC standpoint.

“This is a very workable solution. It addresses the needs of parents and voters,” he said.

Ernaut explained that many people might think this proposal sounds like charter schools, but, the two are different.

“The difference is these schools are public,” said Ernaut. “We tried to get a school district in place without bringing in constitutional questions.”

Assemblywoman Joan Lambert, R-Reno, asked how the community boards and master boards would work together and if the smaller boards would advise master boards or larger issues.

“It will be through interlocal agreements,” said Whittemore.

“The main school board would make zoning decisions,” said Ernaut.

“If the community school board is doing better, then other areas can join in,” said Whittemore. “We’re giving parents choices.”

“This is really interesting,” said Assemblywoman Sandra Tiffany, R-Henderson. “Do they have the authority to accept gifts and grants or is it against the constitution?”

“Yes they can and no it’s not,” said Whittemore. “It’s as the name suggests, a community school board.”

Ernaut said his main thrust behind the proposal is the seeming indifference between Washoe County and his constituency in Incline Village and the Tahoe County issue.

“Washoe County has become very punitive to Incline,” said Ernaut. “They won’t do that with this bill.

“Incline parents are 45 minutes from the school board over a snowy pass,” said Ernaut. “Often they can’t get there.

“I think it’s outrageous that the Washoe County School District hasn’t shown up at any of these hearings. It’s indicative of the problems we’re trying to fix,” Ernaut said.

“We think we’re providing a very significant solution to a very real problem,” said Whittemore.

“I’m very pleased to see you’re here,” said chairman Doug Bache, D-Las Vegas to the Douglas County School Board who, along with Superintendent Pendery Clark, made up the entire front row. “I’m extremely disappointed with Washoe.

“They don’t seem to take the issue seriously. There seems to be a disrespect for Incline Village residents. We expect them here in the future.”

“I will give them the message,” said Mike Schroeder, CPA and business and financial services administrator for the Washoe County School District. Schroeder was the lone representative from Washoe at the hearing.

Kelly Krolicki, coordinator of the TCC, addressed the board showing support for the proposed bill despite only hearing of it minutes before the meeting.

“We (the TCC) are in support of this concept,” said Krolicki. “I haven’t pooled our membership, but I’m sure they support it.”

Katie Graham, president of the KMS parents advisory committee also told the committee she was in support of the proposed bill.

“I would gladly welcome the responsibility of our three schools,” said Graham.

Douglas County School Board representatives Cheri Johnson, Mary Bennington and Don Forrester addressed the board together.

“We do take this very seriously,” said Johnson. “That’s why all seven of our members are here.

“We find this very creative, but we can’t discuss it,” said Johnson in response to a proponent who spoke shortly before the Douglas board and asked them to discuss the proposal in the hall before addressing the committee in opposition of it. “That would be a violation.

“Washoe and Clark are very huge. We only have 7,000 students. You’re asking that three of our schools have autonomy. That’s 12 percent of our school district.”

Ernaut was quick to point out he has only respect for the Douglas County School Board.

“The Douglas County School Board has been nothing but responsive,” said Ernaut. “My experience has been extremely positive with them. I have nothing but good things to say about them.

“Right now the Douglas County School Board gives more money to their Lake students than to Valley students,” said Ernaut. “This is a very different situation than Incline Village.”

Ernaut said that if the Lake portion of Douglas County were to form its own community school district, then Lake students in Douglas County may wind up getting less money from the district.

“Douglas is a very different duck than a lot of counties,” said Ernaut.

Bennington, who resides in Lake Tahoe and has children at Zephyr Cove, told the committee she has never heard how the TCC plans to improve the outstanding education Lake students receive.

“This is a whole new can of worms for us,” said Forrester, who told the committee he was worried that there would be confusion with who’s the boss under the proposal with various boards and one superintendent.

“This would set a whole new president,” said Forrester, who is also the president of the state association of school boards.

“The issue comes down to local control,” said Forrester, who said he’d love to completely control his own life and ranch. “It doesn’t work that way.

“But I can’t say that I’m opposed to this,” said Forrester, who said his initial reaction was fear. “We like the authority and don’t want it taken away.”

“I like people from Douglas County,” said Ernaut. “They always tell you what’s on their minds and hold nothing back.

“You said this would make a whole new way of administering school districts,” said Ernaut to Forrester. “That’s the entire point.

“Some people will not be able to accept change, no matter how good it is.”

“The Douglas County School District is not afraid of change, as long as it’s in the best interest of the students” said Clark, addressing the committee. “If so, we are willing to change.”

Ernaut said he and Whittemore would attempt to complete a draft of the proposed bill as soon as possible and circulate it to all those affected as the legislature session is drawing to a close.