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School district calls in the SWOT
by Jessica Garcia
Feb 01, 2010 | 796 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
At a Saturday work session on Jan. 23, Washoe County School District trustees and staff mulled over the factors that either work for or against making Washoe County become a “World Class School District” during its Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) analysis. From time to time, school administrators perform a self-evaluation to determine where the WCSD is at in achieving its mission of educating children and making them college- or career-ready.

The ideas reverberated off the boardroom’s walls at the central services office in Reno, some very clear-cut, fitting precisely into one particular category while there were others that might have fit nicely as a strength or a weakness. Hiring practices, effective teaching, public perceptions – it seemed hardly one stone was left unturned.

It’s smart thinking to do a little self-assessment now and then, especially in the realization that Superintendent Heath Morrison and his counterparts, Deputy Superintendent Pedro Martinez and new chief operating officer, Jane Woodburn, among others, will need to do some “forward thinking,” in Morrison’s terms, to give the district some crucial funding in the face of dismal budget cuts.

One issue that did seem somewhat glazed over, however, was how to address disturbing public perception about the district’s campaign in the failed 2008 WCSD-1 ballot initiative in preparation for the vital renewal of the 2002 Rollover Bond program.

It’s not hard to imagine these days that staff members are analyzing the failure of the 2008 ballot initiative WCSD-1 as they prepare to bring the renewal of the 2002 Rollover Bond program to voters this November.

A brief recap: The 2002 Rollover Bond was approved by voters, giving the district about $58 million each year to construct a handful of new schools, such as Kendyl Depoali Middle School in south Reno, and fund revitalization projects that would boost equity within older schools so they can be more on par with newer schools. If voters don’t approve its renewal, the bond will expire in 2012.

WCSD-1 was a measure endorsed by a bipartisan Washoe County School Construction and Revitalization Advisory Committee, which was established by 2007’s Senate Bill 154. The committee determined other sources of funding were needed to improve schools. The result was WCSD-1, which would have implemented a one-quarter percent increase in the state’s sales tax rate and one-half percent increase in the government services tax, which would have been collected through vehicle registrations. School administrators and legislators anticipated the initiative would support $393 million in bonds through 2014 dedicated just for renewals, repairs and revitalization to help about half of the district’s schools that are more than 40 years old.

But come election time, Washoe County voters spoke loudly against it with 55 percent opposing the measure. Back then, Sparks Councilwoman Julia Ratti conjectured that voters of urban districts weren’t as willing to pass the initiative because they didn’t have a true grasp of the need in older schools in rural Nevada.

In today’s economy, most residents are most likely trying to save a few bucks where they can. Criticism abounds on newspapers’ Web sites from taxpayers who complain they already contribute too much to education or that the district isn’t responsibly using its dollars.

It can be assumed many of those critics don’t attend school board meetings on Tuesdays.

Even the idea of a slightest increase in vehicle registrations turned many off to helping with capital improvements for school buildings.

Plans have not yet been revealed as to what approach might be taken in a campaign that would overcome WCSD-1’s defeat to pass the 2002 bond renewal, but the message needs to be clear, strong and convincing. Having made nearly $14 million in cuts in the last two years, the district can’t afford to lose out for the sake of its children, its teachers and one of its key goals to increase the graduation rate.

Whatever the strategy might be, it has to be different, it has to prove that the funding would be invested wisely and, most importantly, that student achievement would be positively impacted as a result of having roofs that don’t leak, windows that seal out the cold, desks that aren’t ready to crumble and technology that gives the kids tools they need to get by in the real world.

Morrison, the Board of Trustees, principals and teachers all know some difficult work lies ahead. It’s a task not to be envied and while the SWOT might not save the day, hopefully open collaboration with the community and positive feedback will.

Jessica Garcia is a reporter for the Daily Sparks Tribune. She can be reached at
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