School supports Lake-Valley split with conditions
In an effort to ascertain an official position on the proposed secession of the Lake portion of Douglas County, the school board voted Thursday, in a special legislative workshop, to support the split, with numerous conditions.
“I don’t want to see our school board split,” said trustee Don Forrester. “But as long as there is protection for our residents by a vote, I can live with it.”
Superintendent Pendery Clark said she could support Senate Bill 144, a proposal to consolidate school districts, with the provision that the entire affected area, not just the Lake portion of Douglas County, which may wish to secede, vote on the bill.
This is stipulated in section 11, which states that the entire county, not just the portion which wishes to form a new school district, vote on the split.
The Tahoe Citizens Committee wants to abolish section 11 from the bill and have only the Lake portion of the county vote on the creation of a new Lake school district, said director of business services, Rick Kester.
“That makes it very difficult to do,” said Kester. “I’ve learned, in my 19 years in school district administration, that it should be that way.”
Kester said it was Clark County, not Tahoe, which cried for the bill due to the large number of students in that county.
“Right now we need to take a position on the break up of the Douglas County School District,” said board president Cheri Johnson.
Forrester read a written statement he had prepared stating the board’s position. The statement said the split is not in the best interest of the Lake or the Valley and would negatively effect the academic and financial situation of both areas.
Forrester’s statement basically became the board’s first motion which was passed, with more discussion to follow.
“The effects on the Nevada Plan could only be detrimental to all,” said Forrester, who is also the president-elect of the state school board. “The split could only be detrimental to all students.”
“I’ve struggled with this,” said vice president Mary Bennington, a Lake resident. “I’ve tried to come up with a way I could support it. It does affect the Nevada Plan,” said Bennington. She said the main issue will be the bonding capacity of the remaining part of Douglas County should the Lake break off.
“I haven’t been able to justify that in my mind. Unless there’s a way to keep bonding with the Lake casinos in the Valley,” said Bennington, pointing out that many of the Lake’s casino employees live in the Valley and have children who attend Valley schools.
“I think there are ways we could support it, but there are many hurdles,” Bennington said. “I personally would not like to see my kids in a different school district.”
Trustee David Brady said he didn’t think the board had enough information on the proposed split and its possible effects on either the Valley or the Lake to take an official position on the split.
Kester agreed with Brady.
“Until someone at the state says these are the assumptions that will be if the split occurs, no one can tell what exactly the impacts will be. This will have to be done before we know the final impact. I wouldn’t like to say until I know what it is.”
Kester also said that a county split would ultimately result in a new administration in Tahoe.
“This would lead to some decreases in administration in the Valley,” said Kester. “With one-seventh less students (in the Douglas County school district) we’ll have to give something up.”
“There will be some effect, whether it will be devastating or just a blip, I don’t know.”
Johnson said, unlike the Douglas County commission, the school board would try not to use negative words, such as “devastating,” but admitted that the discussion of splitting the county’s school district troubled her.
“‘Could be’ are key words. It could be,” said Johnson. “What scares me are the ‘ifs’ out there. I feel this district is quality at its highest. It wouldn’t be a good thing if we split.”
Forrester then argued that the split would wreck all the work the district had put into competency-based reform, extensive testing by the district to pinpoint in what study area the deficiencies in its students lie.
“It’s taken us 3-1/2 hours of hard work into competency-based reform,” said Forrester. “Now, right in midstream they want to change it. They (the Lake) would lose Pendery, John (Soderman, assistant superintendent of education), George (Mross, assistant superintendent of personnel, and Rick (Kester). They’re great, I don’t want to see the split. It would be bad for the Lake and the Valley kids.”
Clark then suggested that due to the large number of unknowns, she recommended the board take a general position on the split, then get more specific as the situation progresses.
“There are too many unanswered questions,” said board clerk Diane McCoy, as the board began to talk itself out of the motion on which they had previously voted.
“The people who want to form a new district don’t know exactly what they’re getting into,” said Trustee Randy Wallstrum. “We’re not quite to the point where we have enough information where we can take a position.”
“I want to know how this will affect students. I want to know that they will still be learning at the same level,” said McCoy.
Forrester then disagreed with the other board members on the point that the board shouldn’t have a position on the split.
“We will lobby the Legislature,” said Forrester. “We should be able to state a position, even if it’s something like, ‘Before we split, it must be proven to be a win-win situation for the Lake and Valley.'”
Forrester then withdrew his previous motion, which stemmed from his written statement, with the unanimous approval of the board.
In attempting to come up with a new, positively spun, yet general motion, Bennington said she could support a bill if it was demonstrated to be a win-win for the Lake and Valley and not detrimental to any counties in the state.
Trustee Michele Lewis said she wanted to amend the new motion to include that it is both academically and fiscally beneficial to all students within the county and not detrimental to other districts in the state.
“The people splitting the county want to do it for control reasons,” said Brady. “We are doing our job and doing it well and I’m proud of it. I can support a very generic motion, but I think we’re doing our job.”
The board then passed an amended motion, similar to Forrester’s first one, but included the idea that the splintering of school districts had to be advantageous to all areas of the county and also advantageous for both finances and students.
“Taking a positive approach is in the best interest of our students,” said Johnson.