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KUNR Youth Media is an award-winning program that trains high school students to be radio reporters. Our spring 2022 cohort has created a questionnaire for all of the candidates running for a seat on the Washoe County School District Board of Trustees.

Breaking down KUNR Youth Media’s Washoe County School Board candidate survey responses

A roll of red, white and blue “I Voted” stickers sits sideways on a white tabletop. The background is out of focus.
Lucia Starbuck
KUNR Public Radio
“I Voted” stickers at the Washoe County Registrar of Voters office on May 28, 2022; the first day of early voting for the 2022 Nevada Primary Election.

KUNR Youth Media student reporters crafted questions for Washoe County School Board candidates. KUNR’s Lucia Starbuck and Nick Stewart break down what local high school students are concerned about this election and what the candidates had to say.

Lucia Starbuck: There are four seats up for grabs on the school district Board of Trustees. We asked our student reporters to come up with solutions-based questions for these candidates. Nick, what were some of those questions?

Nick Stewart: We asked candidates what solutions they have to address staffing shortages for bus drivers and teachers. We also asked them about student mental health and food in schools. Let’s start with at-large District F, Lucia.

Starbuck: Yeah, that race has the most contenders and covers the entire school district. Every candidate except one responded to our survey. Each person spoke in support of an increase in salary for bus drivers.

There’s incumbent Adam Mayberry who was appointed in November. He’s the Public Information Officer for the Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District. Mayberry pointed to the board’s recent vote to approve the 2023 operating budget. That allowed funding for salary increases for bus drivers, and according to KRNV, it must go through labor negotiations first.

Candidate Seth Mueller just graduated this week from the Academy of Arts Careers and Technology in Reno. One of our former Youth Media students is actually his volunteer campaign manager. Mueller agrees with paying drivers more but he said if those funds aren't available, he wants to see more elementary and middle schoolers walk to school in groups led by parents.

Nick, you provided a question about student mental health. Can you talk about that?

Stewart: As of 2020, youth mental health in Nevada ranks 51st, which makes it the worst out of any region in the United States. Even with students in-person again, the impacts of the pandemic still linger strongly. There are also increased cases of violence in schools. I asked candidates what new ideas they have to help students.

Brooke Westlake, who is also running in at-large District F, is the founder and owner of the Women in Cannabis Expo in Reno. She suggested conducting a survey to collect data on suicide and violence within schools, then she would want to notify parents via email if there’s an increase in those behaviors, and provide them with resources.

Graeme Reid is another candidate for this race. He owns and operates a law firm in Reno. He said parents and guardians are primarily responsible for student mental health. Reid said COVID protocols and social media use have impacted mental health too.

At-large District F candidate Mon Bertolucci did not respond to the survey. KUNR reached out to this candidate by email and voicemail several times; however, we did not receive a response.

Starbuck: Now, let's pivot over to District B, which represents most of Sparks and Sun Valley. Two out of three candidates responded, including incumbent Ellen Minetto. She’s a retired teacher with the Washoe County School District (WCSD) and she was elected in 2018. For mental health care, Minetto wants to provide parents with resources and hire more social workers in schools. She’s also an advocate for processing emotions through art.

Colleen Westlake works for an orthodontist in Reno. She suggested having more school staff with backgrounds in psychology because she said teachers are not qualified to address these needs. She also said the mask mandate harmed children and was totally unnecessary. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, wearing a mask reduces the risk of spreading COVID-19.

It’s interesting that both of these candidates were in support of more psychologists, social workers and school counselors. The board of trustees has voted to spend a portion of their federal COVID relief funds from the American Rescue Plan on just that.

District B candidate Cathy Reyes did not respond to the survey. KUNR reached out to this candidate by email and voicemail several times; however, we did not receive a response.

Stewart: Let’s chat about District C, which represents Spanish Springs, Lemmon Valley and Stead. Two out of three candidates in this district responded to our survey. They both had different ideas on how to recruit and retain teachers.

Incumbent Joe Rodriguez was appointed last July. He works for the Nevada State Police in the State Fire Marshal Division. He’s in support of salary increases, sign-up bonuses, and college repayment plans for teachers. He also wants to see a new high school in Cold Springs to lower class sizes.

His opponent candidate Melanie Sutton owns and runs a traveling petting zoo. She said she wants to eliminate 20% of the school district’s administrators and then give them the option to teach.

District C candidate Kurt Baker did not respond to the survey. KUNR reached out to this candidate by email and voicemail several times; however, we did not receive a response.

Lastly, let’s discuss District D.

Starbuck: District D represents a large chunk of Southwest Reno, including South of UNR to the Huffaker area, in between Interstate 580 and Caughlin Ranch. There are three candidates and only the incumbent, Beth Smith, responded to our survey. She was also appointed last summer and has worked for International Game Technology for nine years. She pointed out Washoe County receives thelowest amount of per pupil funding in the state. She wants to advocate for more funding at the legislative level. Smith also suggested combining part-time jobs so district staff can be eligible for benefits.

District D candidates Jeff Baclet and Edgard Hitti did not respond to the survey. KUNR reached out to these candidates by email and voicemail several times; however, we did not receive a response.

Nick, I’m also curious, how did you and your peers come up with these questions, and why were they important to you guys?

Stewart: We were definitely eager to get our thoughts on paper. From what I’ve seen, students are definitely worried about the future of the school district.

Our process was really just reflecting on the learning impacts we’ve experienced during the pandemic. The chronic use of substitutes and lack of bus drivers have been really disruptive.

I personally provided the question about mental health support. I thought this question was important because my school had to bring in a therapist for much of the school year and that just speaks volumes. With everything that’s happened over the last two years, students like myself are burnt out.

We’re seeing these issues not only in Washoe County but around the nation as well. That’s why these questions are important too, because why should we have to wait for other school districts to make changes when we could be the ones leading the way?

You can view KUNR Youth Media Washoe County School Board survey’s here.

An interactive map of the WCSD Board of Trustees Districts can be found here.

KUNR’s Lucia Starbuck is a former corps member with Report for America, and coordinated KUNR Youth Media for her service project from Aug. 2020-May 2022.

Lucia Starbuck is an award-winning journalist covering politics, focusing on democracy and solutions for KUNR Public Radio. Her goal is to provide helpful and informative coverage for everyday Nevadans.
Nick Stewart is a former student reporter at KUNR Public Radio.
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