School board members lobbied hard against Tahoe county; defend Lake school policies
Two weeks after the State Legislature had adjourned, members of the Douglas County school board are still fired up about their accomplishments and the impression they left on Nevada’s law makers.
“It absolutely saved us,” said board member and president of the Nevada Association of School Boards Don Forrester of the board’s lobbying efforts. “We would have got a new school district or community schools for sure had we not been there.”
Forrester, board president Cheri Johnson and the rest of the school board lobbied tirelessly for much of the session and kept an around the clock vigil at the legislative building as Assemblyman Pete Ernaut and Tahoe Citizen’s Committee lobbyist Harvey Whittemore tried to get Incline Village and Lake portions of Douglas County their own school districts during the final hours.
Ernaut’s AB596, which would have created an Incline Village school district, was vetoed by Gov. Bob Miller July 16. Although Ernaut tried to include portions of Douglas County in the bill, Forrester, Johnson and the rest of the school board lobbied successfully to keep Douglas County out of the bill.
Even with Douglas County safe for the moment after AB596 passed the legislature without Douglas County provisions, Forrester said he and the rest of the board members wrote a letter to Miller requesting he veto the bill.
Forrester said the school board told Miller that the bill should be vetoed as it was introduced under emergency pretenses and the law-makers did not have adequate time to analyze the economic impacts.
“We were worried that if it went though, it would send a precedent,” said Forrester. “There were no hearings, no analysis. The only emergency was the Legislature wanted to help Pete Ernaut out.”
Forrester said that while no veto from Miller would have set a precedent toward splitting up schools, Miller’s veto has set some degree of a precedent the other way.
Forrester said that should the bill not have been vetoed by the governor, Douglas County may have been next, followed by any more financially fortunate area of any county.
“I have a big house and a ranch and I’m not whining my kid should go to a rich kid’s school,” said Forrester.
Forrester said that in addition to tireless lobbying by the school board, the fact that they were able to tell legislators that the needs identified by Tahoe parents for Douglas County’s Lake schools are currently being addressed this summer. Evidence of this was apparent at the July 8 school board meeting held in what was, until the end of this year, the Kingsbury Middle School library. Currently it’s a maze of ripped up floor and stacks of miscellaneous items.
Rick Kester, director of business services for the school district, said workers have already completed redoing the concrete and asphalt at KMS. He said the school’s carpeting is being entirely redone, the lockers have been painted and a new school computer network and computer lab for 5th and 6th grade students is being installed.
At Zephyr Cove Elementary School, Kester said the outside of the building is being repainted, including the trim. Other improvements to ZCES include carpeting the interior and installing new sinks and cabinets including hot water.
Kester said improvements to Whittell High School include interior painting and recarpeting for the whole school. He said they are looking at proposals from architects for the addition of a library resources center including a computer lab.
Kester said this should be done by the summer of 1998. He said the existing library would then be turned into a modern science lab.
At the July 8 school board meeting, two days after the Legislature broke session, Superintendent Pendery Clark was very complimentary of the board and the job they’d done throughout the session.
“I want to formally recognize the board’s participation at the Legislature over the last six months,” said Clark. “It was a very frightening experience, but the board was visible.
“They testified at scheduled hearings and unscheduled hearings. The Legislators know the Douglas County board members by their first names.
“To spend the 4th of July weekend from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., or later at the Legislature is commendable and we owe you all a thank-you.”
After a group of Lake parents said they found disparity in the way the school board addresses the needs of Tahoe schools versus Valley schools, members of the school district administration said they had always planned to make improvements to Lake schools when the two new Valley elementary schools were finished.
Now those promised improvements are coming to fruition.
“We’re about to accomplish most of what the Lake Facilities Task Force came up with,” said Kester. “We’ve done a substantial amount of work at Lake Tahoe this summer and we feel good about it.”
“When people come back in, they’ll all be looking great,” said Forrester of the Lake schools.
Kester estimated the costs for improvements at the Lake this summer at $450,000, while he said the new Whittell library center will cost well over $1 million.
Forrester said the newly-passed bill AB198, which raises the cap on Residential Construction Tax from $1,000 to $1,600, will also help with needed improvements to the school district. He said all the planned pods for the new elementary schools will be able to be completed without the passing of another bond.
“We can build out those schools and not do another bond,” said Forrester. “If you can get impact fees, it really helps.”
Clark said she hopes the RCT will be instituted at the new maximum allowable cap by October.