Many area business leaders are hammering this message: severe overcrowding at Washoe County schools could hurt the region’s economic growth. That's why about four hundred gathered at an event in downtown Reno aimed at rallying support for a school funding initiative. Reno Public Radio’s Anh Gray was there.
A proposed sales tax hike of about half-a-percent is on the November ballot to generate funds that would alleviate school overcrowding. The Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada, or EDAWN, hosted the event.
Mike Kazmierski the head of the organization says the district is on the brink of adding 600 more trailers. That’s on top of the more than 200 already being used as classrooms.
“Of course it’s important to EDAWN; it’s important to our economy,” Kazmierski says. “If we don’t do something about our schools, we drop a prospect in here and show them trailer parks for education, what are they going to think of us? It’s pretty hard to sell that to a tech company that’s looking at our community.”
Longtime Reno resident Luke Hermann works for a construction company and Gretchen Beitz is a fundraising consultant and mom. They both attended the event and agreed this is an urgent problem.
“The folks that we employ look at the quality of education,” Hermann says. “And it’s a concern when you see overcrowding and double sessions or extended sessions because that usually doesn’t work very well with family plans and with the constraints they put on the kids.”
“I think it’s going to be very hard to recruit talent to these jobs that are coming to our community,” Beitz says, “if we don’t address the capital needs of our school district.”
The proposed tax hike would bump the rate to a little over eight percent in Washoe County, making it the highest in Nevada. Brian Bonnenfant is with the Center for Regional Studies. He crunched some numbers to analyze the impact of the increase. For a median income family of four making about $75,000 a year, the cost would be about seven dollars a month.
As for businesses, the ones hawking big ticket items like furniture and cars will be the companies most likely affected by the increase.
“So people will for big ticket items go to other counties and buy items just to save. If you’re talking tens of thousands of dollars, you’re saving a couple of hundred of dollars,” Bonnenfant says. “For our area, you’re looking at people traveling to Carson City for vehicle purchases. So that is what we see as the industry that’s going to take the biggest hit.”
Ryan Dolan is CEO of the Dolan Auto Group. He says his industry could lose sales to car dealers in places like Carson City and Douglas County.
“They would have a competitive advantage against us due to having a lower sales tax on a pretty pricey commodity, such as a car,” Dolan explains. “That’s where the competitive disadvantage comes into play for Washoe County car dealers.”
But Mike Kazmierski says the potential impact to car sellers could be mitigated by a strong economy.
“Yes, some of the revenue will be lost by the few that drive out of the region,” Kazmierski says, “but then because we’re growing, they’re [car dealers] going to sell more cars anyhow.”
Ryan Dolan says his company hasn’t taken a position to either support or oppose the ballot measure.
“As a resident of Washoe County and growing up here, and actually going through the public school system here as well,” Dolan says, “I obviously see the need for our school system and some of the stuff that the proposed sales tax increase would hopefully go to benefit.”
Right now, because of overcrowding, eight schools in the district are on the cusp of double sessions. That means the student body would be divided into two groups, with one starting at six in the morning and the second group mid-day. The proposed tax hike could potentially raise close to $800 million over nine years. That would pay for 15 new schools and repairing dated facilities that includes asbestos abatement.