As noted in the sample ballot, the school district argues that because more than half of our schools are more than 40 years old and 19 of them were built more 50 years ago, they need more revenue to replace roofing, heating and cooling systems, update security systems and provide modern-day technology within the school system.
The district lobbied the 2007 Nevada Legislature for money to fund construction and revitalization for our schools. The lawmakers preferred to defer and created the Washoe County Schools Construction and Revitalization Advisory Committee pursuant to Senate Bill 154 (SB154). Sen. Randolph Townsend chaired the committee comprised of four members of the Legislature and 11 members from the community. The state conspicuously did not invite or include any elected members of the Washoe County School Board to join their exclusive committee. I wonder why?
The select group met for 10 months examining facility needs. They decided our older schools did indeed need repair and revitalization. Ironically, that’s what the school superintendent and board members were telling the Legislature for the past 10 years. The committee mandated that 100 percent of any increase would go directly to the school district and will be used for that purpose.
The impact on any given household will be minimal. For every $10,000 spent on taxable sales, the additional tax amounts to $25 and, on average, the vehicle tax increase would amount to about $15 annually.
There are those who argue that the school district hires too many middle-tier administrators and should have budgeted more revenue for maintenance, and that argument might have some validity. I remember the day when the school secretary did most of the work that vice principals currently do. Now we have vice principals all over the place floating around in the school halls.
Another reasonable concern is the lack of a “sunset” on the tax. Without a sunset, the school district “could just continue to borrow without voter approval.”
The proponents for the new legislation note that the operating budget was never designed to fund school repairs, upgrades or the replacement of old school buildings. Furthermore, the new tax is meant to be an “ongoing revenue source dedicated to older schools.”
The opponents ask, “Why confiscate seniors’ dollars?” After all, if you lived here for more than 20 years, you have paid a lot of property taxes to the school district. Well, that’s the point of a sales tax increase. Everyone, even tourists, pays something for education, not just property owners.
Most of the seniors I know can afford $50 to $100 a year to support educational needs. I have to laugh at some of the people who say they need every dime they get for rent and groceries and the new tax will create a financial burden on them. These are the same ones who bring coupons to the grocery store, make the clerk check the receipt to make sure they get every sale price while we all have to wait in line, and then, on their way out, can’t wait to feed $20 to their favorite slot machine.
For those who are concerned about accountability, there will be accountability and oversight of these new funds. First, the elected school board members will have to approve recommendations for any expenditure. Second, their approval will be reviewed by the bond oversight panel on school facilities comprised of elected officials and members of the community. Third, Washoe County’s debt management commission has to approve the sale of bonds to ensure responsible use of taxpayer dollars.
Over the last 50 years, I have paid my share of property taxes for public education and, I have to admit, when times were not easy it did seem unfair to continue paying property taxes 20 years after my children were out of school. But as I grew older, I realized that education really is an investment in our future.
If WCSD-1 is not passed, you can bet other sources of funding will be considered: a statewide property tax will be considered by the Republicans and if the Democrats take control of the Senate, a personal income tax for those earning $50,000 or more may not be too far from the political horizon. Can I guarantee that won’t happen anyway? No, but I can guarantee that the school district genuinely needs more funding for our schools.
The 92 schools in our county belong to the public. They represent the public’s real estate investments in the future of our children and, like any other real estate investment, we have to maintain it. WCSD-1 will do that at a minimal cost to public ownership.
David Farside is a Sparks resident and political activist. The polemics of his articles can be discussed at firstname.lastname@example.org. His Web site is www.thefarsidechronicles.com.