Interview: Would Voters Raise Taxes For Washoe Schools?
All this week, Reno Public Radio has been examining overcrowding in Washoe County Schools for our series Bursting At The Seams. So far, we've talked a lot about the problem; we turn now to one possible solution: a potential ballot question that would ask voters to approve tax hikes for school infrastructure.
To learn more about that uphill battle, our News Director Michelle Bliss spoke to Tray Abney. He's with the Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce, which sits on the local committee in charge of that ballot question.
The Public Schools Overcrowding and Repair Needs Committee will decide by April whether to include a question on the 2016 ballot in November asking voters to increase Washoe County taxes in order to fund new school buildings and renovations.
Right now, there's an annual shortfall of close to $70 million to get the district's aging, jam-packed infrastructure in line with growing enrollment needs.
"We can't fit the kids we have now," Tray Abney said, "much less the Tesla kids and the Switch kids and the other kids that are coming here."
Despite an obvious need, Abney said that asking voters to raise local taxes right after lawmakers approved a $1.1 billion tax package last session will prove challenging.
What may not be clear is that while Governor Brian Sandoval's historic tax package will pay for a variety of education programs, none of that funding will be set aside for infrastructure.
"Not a dime of that is going to actual buildings," Abney explained. "We're paying for a lot of new, great programs, but there was nothing for capital. It's categorical--it's for English Language Learners or gifted students--but it's not for school buildings."
Along with representing the local business community through the chamber of commerce, Abney has a son attending Brown Elementary in South Reno, a school that is severely overcrowded.
As a parent, Abney's also concerned about how these worsening conditions could eventually impact safety and instructional quality: