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Stories from the KUNR newsroom and regional partners related to the 2022 elections

Three incumbent WCSD trustees face off against conservative challengers

Three people sit at a large wooden table in a television studio.
Jose Davila IV
KUNR Public Radio
Debate moderator Mark Robison (from left), WCSD Board of Trustees District B challenger Colleen Westlake and incumbent Ellen Minetto pose for a photo after their debate in Reno, Nev., on Oct. 12, 2022.

The balance of power on the Washoe County School District’s Board of Trustees could shift after the Nov. 8 election.

Three moderate incumbents are being challenged by more conservative candidates who are critical of the district’s COVID-era learning restrictions and the way it teaches social studies and social-emotional skills.

In an interview with KUNR, District C candidate Melanie Sutton said social-emotional learning should be taught at home.

“It’s the parent that’s responsible for the child and I’m sure most parents don’t want their children living in their basement the rest of their lives, because they’re not getting the education that they need,” said Sutton.

The incumbent, Joe Rodriguez, said he sees value in social-emotional learning.

“What’s wrong with learning how to carry a conversation and have an understanding? I mean, it’s simple things about [the] sender, receiver, the message. I mean it’s to be able to express, ‘Hey, you know what? What you said made me mad.’ And then to not have an outburst, to not act in violence,” said Rodriguez.

Vlad Kogan, associate professor of political science at Ohio State University, said similar disagreements are permeating school board races across the country.

“I think what we’re seeing today is not only a continuation of many of these debates, but, I think, now really coinciding with the partisan divide in ways that becomes reinforcing,” said Kogan.

At-large candidate Graeme Reid is critical of the district’s low test scores and says it needs to get back to basics by having teachers spend more time on reading and math. Colleen Westlake, who is running for District B, has criticized the number of district administrators and their salaries.

Another concern for the challengers is how the district is incorporating teaching about race.

In a debate hosted by the Reno-Gazette-Journal and Nevada Newsmakers, Westlake said the district and the incumbent, Ellen Minetto, were “addressing racism by creating racism” through curriculum on social issues and said that it should “avoid skin color in all venues.”

In response, Minetto said she had never encountered such a curriculum in the district as a teacher or as a school board member. She added that the district is teaching from the standards set by the state.

The incumbents, including at-large trustee Adam Mayberry, have all pledged to increase staff recruitment and retention, improve school safety, and address pandemic learning loss. When asked how the board could support teachers both Mayberry and his opponent Reid agreed that reducing teachers’ administrative burden would be a big help.

As for campaign funding, Reid and Sutton have received support from Robert Beadles, a prominent local GOP donor who has made false claims about Nevada’s election system and cited antisemitic propaganda online. Westlake declined to take money from Beadles but has been endorsed by his political action committee, the Franklin Project.

The incumbents have all received donations from the Washoe Education Association, the teachers’ union, as well as local construction companies.

Jose Davila IV is a corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project.

Corrected: November 2, 2022 at 6:01 PM PDT
Candidate Colleen Westlake and incumbent Ellen Minetto are running for the Washoe County School District Board of Trustees seat in District B. An earlier version of this story associated the candidates with another district.
Jose Davila IV is a former reporter at KUNR Public Radio.
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