School board remains firm on Lake split
Deep into Tuesday’s six-hour hearing before the Legislative Select Committee on the formation of a Tahoe County, long after many of the 400-plus gung-ho, green-clad, pro-Tahoe County supporters had gone home, members of the Douglas County School Board addressed the committee.
The district’s message was that the school board has and continues to do all it can to make both Tahoe and the Valley the best place in Nevada for education.
In March, the Douglas County School Board adopted this position regarding the Lake-Valley split:
“We, as a board, cannot support a division of our school district unless it can be proven to be advantageous, academically and fiscally, for all students within our county and not detrimental to other districts in our state. Given current information, we believe any division would adversely affect our students.”
District Superintendent Pendery Clark said of the legislative meeting that, “we stayed till the bitter end.”
She said she thought the committee was impressed by all seven board members as well as administrators attending the entire hearing.
“Our actions in the past and in the present show that we have been responsive to Lake needs and will continue to be responsive to Lake needs,” school board member Don Forrester testified before the committee.
“I’m frustrated because the TCC didn’t acknowledge the good work done by the school district,” Forrester said Thursday.
“Douglas County has an outstanding reputation and we are proud of the accomplishments of our district,” board vice president Mary Bennington told the committee.
Bennington told the committee that the school district has been recognized on both the state and national levels as well as having two National Blue Ribbon Schools, C.C. Meneley and Scarselli elementary schools.
She said the school district has had four Milken Foundation Award winners in the past five years including two teachers from the Lake area.
Bennington then spoke to the committee as, she said, the only board member who lives at the Lake with children in Lake schools.
“My children attend Zephyr Cove Elementary School and have received the finest education a parent could ask for,” said Bennington. “When I listen to the plans for the new county and district, not once have I heard the Tahoe Citizens Committee address how they plan to improve the education our children receive.
“The issue always comes down to control.”
Board president Cheri Johnson, who, along with Forrester hasd been to the Legislature 38 times on the issue, told the committee that in April 1996, the TCC requested an independent study be done to compare the curriculum, support services, programs, and extracurricular activities in terms of equity between the Valley and Lake schools.
She said part of the study included a portion where parents were asked to grade their schools on an “A-F” scale.
Johnson said that while only 88.4 percent of the total parents in the district gave their schools an A or B, 90 percent of the parents of Lake middle school students and 100 percent of Lake elementary school parents gave their kids’ schools and A or B.
“Whittell High School was given significantly lower satisfaction rates and those concerns are being addressed by our district,” said Johnson. “In our district’s goals and objectives, we made addressing Lake issues one of our priority goals.”
Forrester told the committee a Lake Tahoe Schools Facilities Task Force was formed in May 1996 in response to concerns. He said the task force included him and the district’s director of business services, Rick Kester, as well as many Lake parents.
“The goal of the task force was to analyze the schools at Lake Tahoe and put together a prioritized capital improvement plan for those schools,” said Forrester.
He said the task force completed its mission in March 1997 and presented the findings to the board.
Needs that will be addressed as a result of this study include new carpeting at ZCES, moving the old music room out of the KMS parking lot and building a new one for the middle school. A new library/research center, additional computer science labs, carpeting and a multi-use field are improvements needed at Whittell.
“The 1997-1998 budget approved by the board on May 21, contains approved items for the Lake , including the Whittell Library, in the total sum of $1,342,000,” said Forrester. “All of the major requests were included in the 1997-1998 budget.”
“We fully intend to do exactly what needs to be done,” said Kester Thursday. “We wanted the opportunity to tell the Legislature that.”
“We don’t want Lake Tahoe to be part of another county. They would do worse with their own county by far than we do,” said Forrester.
“The Legislature thinks we’re doing the right thing and we’re going to continue to do the right thing up there.”
Forrester also addressed the effect the split would have on both portions of Douglas County.
“What the report (made by the TCC) does not indicate is what happens to the staff, both itinerant and shared support staff,” said Forrester. “We have gifted and talented teachers.
“None of this is explained as to how that’s going to be handled.”
Forrester said the TCC report stated that the district would lose 918 Lake students and be left with 6,130 Valley students.
“It would appear that if we lose 918 students and the approximately $4.4 million that goes with them, we will have to cut support staff in the Valley, which will then affect the program for Valley students.”
Forrester said the most critical financial item was not even discussed in the TCC plan.
“If the Lake portion of Douglas County School District were allowed to split off, we would lose approximately 13 percent of our students, but around 45 percent of our total assessed evaluation.
“This means that if and when a future bond is necessary to handle Valley growth, the cost per household for the bond would approximately double.”
Clark said there were many reasons why the district wanted to remain whole including the financial aspects and bonding issues, but, said Clark, there was also a philosophical point to be made.
“Philosophically, the Lake has always been part of Douglas County and the Douglas County school district,” said Clark. “They bring a very positive element to the school district.
“The parents are very supportive, and, as a whole, we like the connection to the Lake.”