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Politics and Policy

WCSD Board Of Trustees Candidates Weigh In On District’s Handling Of COVID-19

White tile building. A green sign with white letters that say, “Administration Building Washoe County School District.”
Lucia Starbuck
KUNR Public Radio
Washoe County School District’s administration building.";

Candidates for the open seats on the Washoe County School District Board of Trustees have weighed in on how they would rate the district’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. They have also shared their biggest priorities if elected for KUNR’s 2020 voter guide. KUNR’s Natalie Van Hoozer talked with Lucia Starbuck to break down what the candidates had to say.

Natalie Van Hoozer: There are six people running for the three seats on the Washoe County School District Board of Trustees. Tell us about those races.

Lucia Starbuck: Two newcomers are running for the at-large seat, including Diane Nicolet. Nicolet is the director of the E.L. Cord Foundation Childcare Center at Truckee Meadows Community College. She is running against Craig Wesner, a civil engineer. Nicolet was previously appointed to the Board of Trustees for nine months in 2016 after a different board member resigned.

In District E, which represents northwest Reno, Matthew Montognese, a network technician and youth baseball coach, is running against the incumbent Angie Taylor. She is the president and CEO of Guardian Quest Inc., a diversity and inclusion consulting firm. She was appointed to the board in 2014 and was elected to represent District E in 2016.

In District A, which represents parts of south Reno and Incline Village, Jeff Church, the owner of DRS Law Enforcement Consulting is running against Scott Kelley, the public information officer for the Nevada Department of Corrections.

Van Hoozer: Speaking of District A, can you break down the controversy surrounding that race?

Starbuck: Kelley was elected to represent District E from 2009 to 2012. He was later elected to District A in 2016, but he resigned in late August of this year after This Is Reno reported that Kelley put GPS tracking devices in his wife's cars, and he allegedly threatened her with physical violence, according to court documents obtained. There is currently a board member in his seat, but Kelley will still be on the ballot.

Both Kelley and Church agreed one of the biggest challenges facing the school district is its budget deficit. Both candidates support cuts to administration.

Where the candidates disagree: Kelley voted to reopen schools with varying levels of in-person instruction and Church called distance learning a total failure. Church has been a vocal critic of the school board for some time.

Van Hoozer: Let’s get into the reopening of schools. How did the candidates for District E rate the school district’s response to the pandemic?

Starbuck: When asked about how the district is handling the COVID-19 pandemic so far, incumbent Taylor said it depends. She said distance learning has had some issues. There is a lack of teachers and substitutes to fill in when staff members are excluded due to COVID-19 and she said the existing technology gap is serious. But Taylor commended the schools for having no major outbreaks.

Montognese said he supports the district’s decision to reopen schools as well because parents were able to choose between in-person or distance learning, but he argued better COVID-19 prevention could have been put in place, including plexiglass shields and more responsiveness to concerns from teachers. He also said students should have received more robust training on how to operate remote learning platforms.

Van Hoozer: Nearly all of the candidates said recovering from the pandemic would be their top priority over the next few years. What did the candidates running for the at-large seat say needs to be done to help stakeholders move forward?

Starbuck: Craig Wesner said there has not been clear communication between administrators and principals during the pandemic. He wants principals to take control and use more discretion to implement plans based on what their school needs. If elected, Wesner said he would like to work with the superintendent to conduct a climate survey of the employees to assess employee engagement and then work from there on how to move forward.

His opponent, Diane Nicolet, said the district’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been responsive, caring, and informed, but she did mention there’s a lot of work left to do. She said she supports the district's decision to reopen schools, but argued it should have been delayed until mid-September to give teachers and parents more time. Nicolet’s top priorities include finding ways to support the needs of parents during the pandemic.

Lucia Starbuck is a corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project.

For information on other races, visit our KUNR 2020 Voter Guide.

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