By Amanda Litvinov / photo courtesy of SOS Washoe
Take Action ›
Get the latest information on the issues that matter to students, educators, and public schools. Click here ›
In many ways, the future looks bright for residents of Nevada’s greater Reno area. An array of high-tech businesses are setting up operations there—including Amazon, Panasonic, and Tesla Motors Inc., which has opened a $5 billion, 10 million square-foot factory that could employ more than 6,000 people once it is fully operational.
But so far, the area’s revitalization is not evident in Washoe County’s school facilities.
“We’ve got more than 225 portable modular classrooms in parking lots and playgrounds,” said social studies teacher Phillip Kaiser. “At McQueen High School where I teach, we’ve got what I call seven doublewides—that’s 14 classrooms out in the parking lot.”
Kaiser is one of the many educators speaking to fellow Washoe County voters about why they should support a half-cent sales tax hike to fix infrastructure problems like those at his school. Ballot measure WC-1 is backed by SOS Washoe, a coalition of businesses and community groups as well as the local and state education associations.
The issue of overcrowding is nothing new in Washoe County—those trailers have been in place at McQueen High School since Kaiser started teaching there 17 years ago. But it is a problem guaranteed to worsen as families relocate to the area to fill positions in the burgeoning tech industry.
Educating students in trailers is not just a minor inconvenience. Most modular classrooms have no ramps, rendering them inaccessible to those with physical challenges. Educators can’t wheel carts with supplies or computers into the trailers, either.
“Our computer lab inside the building is too far to realistically bring students to if you’re out in the trailers,” said Kaiser, who feels fortunate to work inside the main building.
Trailer classrooms also make it difficult or impossible to rearrange seating for group work that is part of the curriculum.
McQueen High School is one of eight middle and high schools that will be forced to move to a double-session schedule if the ballot measure fails. That would mean students would attend school in two shifts, with some waiting at bus stops at 4:30 a.m. and others returning home from classes as late as 7 p.m.
And who knows when the district would be able to fix all the leaky roofs and finish asbestos removal and repair faulty ventilation systems?
Kaiser said the voters he spoke to on a recent canvass were receptive to the idea that Washoe County students deserve better facilities. He did have to address some residents’ concerns about whether the money would actually to restoring and building schools.
“There’s some distrust there,” Kaiser said. “But the very language of the measure shows that all the revenue raised has to be spent only on facilities—not a cent can go toward anyone’s salary.”
Nevada will likely face a budget deficit when the state legislative session starts in February, which always leads to skirmishes over resources.
“If this measure doesn’t pass, we’re sure to have an uphill battle in the legislature,” said Kaiser.
“We’ve made such great strides with our graduation rates, closing achievement gaps, and getting students into AP classes,” he said. “It would be a shame to put any of that progress at risk by packing more and more students into neglected facilities and more trailers.”