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Interview: A Monkey Wrench In Washoe School Board Election

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One more Washoe County School Board seat is going on the November ballot, creating a total of five open positions.  

Reno Public Radio’s Anh Gray sat down with a Reno Gazette-Journal education reporter Trevon Milliard to learn more about the new development. Milliard covers  K to 12 education, focusing on the Washoe County School District and he also reports on the state’s education policies.

This April, board member Nick Smith resigned over allegations of sexual misconduct while he was at his job as a restaurant manager at a Sizzler in Sparks. Allegations involved two employees of the restaurant; one is a teenager. Smith represents District C which covers northern Washoe County.

Going into the June primary election, the board had four open seats.  Now with Smith's position vacant, the new change throws a wrench in the general election. 

The Washoe County Registrar of Voters will take candidate filings for this fifth seat, which has been vacated by Nick Smith, after the June 14 primary election. The filing period is from June 20 through July 22. This later filing period bypasses the primary election where only the top two contenders receiving the most votes in the primary would then move on to the general election.  Instead, all candidates filing for District C , by the deadline, will be on the November ballot.

“If there’s 10 candidates, you could win as a candidate and be on the school board with only 11 percent of all the votes," Milliard says.

Milliard says it was already a  crowded pool of of 20 candidates vying for the four seats in the primary.  The candidates running for those positions come from various backgrounds.

“You have these two separate group of candidates; you have those with a ton of experience locally and people know their names," he explains. "Then you have candidates on the other side who are complete strangers to education, the public largely, and they’re running on that, saying, ‘Vote for us because we don’t have that experience; we’re not part of the system.'"

Milliard says the school board election comes at a crucial time. The board has been facing public scrutiny and voters are skeptical about the board's ability to make good decisions affecting the 64,000 students in the Washoe County School District. Controversies include citations from the Nevada Attorney General's Office for twice violating the state's open meeting laws. Some community members have also expressed concern about the compensation approved for the current Superintendent Traci Davis, saying it's inflated.

This November, voters will also be deciding on a school ballot measure which raises the sales tax in Washoe County--to the highest in Nevada--to raise money for renovations and school construction. Most schools across the district are exceeding capacity despite re-purposing space, co-teaching, and placing some overcrowded schools on a multi-track system.

"That's a huge issue," Milliard says. "Because the board that's elected will decide where that money goes if the ballot question passes."

In the meantime, the school board will hold a public meeting on April 21st to discuss a possible appointment to fill Nick Smith's seat before a general election takes place.

Anh is a contributing editor for the KUNR news team and has been with the station since 2014. She is an alumna of the Boston University School of Public Health and Teachers College, Columbia University.