KUNR 2020 Voter Guide: WCSD Board Of Trustees, District A

Oct 16, 2020

The District A race for a seat on the Washoe County School Board of Trustees may be among the most contentious on the ballot as former Trustee Scott Kelley faces off against Jeff Church, a vocal critic of the board. Kelley is the public information officer for the Nevada Department of Corrections. He also served as a trustee from 2012 until late August when he was told to resign by School Board President Malena Raymond. This occurred after This Is Reno first reported that within his divorce proceedings, Kelley admitted to having a sexual relationship with a stripper and tracking his wife with a GPS device.

Church is a retired police sergeant and U.S. Air Force Lt. Colonel. He has been an outspoken critic of the district as he considers himself a watchdog.

WCSD District A encompasses parts of south Reno and Incline Village, including Damonte Ranch, Galena and Incline high schools, as well as the schools that feed into them. The Board of Trustees races are non-partisan.

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

As a note: All responses in KUNR's 2020 Voter Guide have been submitted by the candidates. KUNR has not changed the answers other than to provide fact-checking as needed, indicated in the text with italics and parentheses.

Credit KUNR

Credit Courtesy of Jeff Church

Name: Jeff Church
Occupation: Owner of DRS Law Enforcement Consulting

What do you consider the biggest challenges facing the WCSD?

Last in nation in Quality of Education! Sorry Mississippi (ACT 18.3) and New Mexico! WCSD ACT scores 17.9 have fallen every year since 2013. (Fact check: Scores have hovered around 18 points since 2016, which was the first year all graduating seniors in Nevada were required to take the test.) If WCSD were a state we'd be worst in nation. We must do better. Think outside the Box! Challenge #2 is the fiscal meltdown. State cuts of $15 million, massive losses in sales and property Tax due to covid. Now the $20 million Incline Lawsuit Settlement (The settlement was approved by the Washoe County Commission over the objections of the school district). And they just gave fired Superintendent $70,000 (The amount was part of an agreed settlement between the district and former Superintendent Traci Davis). This is a challenge of unprecedented proportion and first I'd cut the bloated, overpaid administration.

How would you rate the district’s response to the pandemic, thus far?

"D", The re-opening was poorly done, not supported by many teachers and the Distance Learning a failure. 

Do you support/oppose the district’s decision to re-open schools with varying levels of in-person instruction amid the ongoing pandemic?

The failure of Distance Learning was the top news story on most news medias 9-14-20. Yes to degree that I'm not going to second guess Board on that decision but how it was done was terrible. (The top story from 9/14/2020 dealt with WCSD moving to full distance learning due to wildfire smoke. No local news outlet referred to distance learning as a failure.)

As a trustee, what would be your top priorities?

Top 3: (1) Improve Quality of Education i.e. ACT Scores. (2) Budget: Fiscal Responsibility. We are facing a Fiscal Tsunami that Board has ignored (3) Student Safety . I have real ideas and would like, at a minimum, that we research these and find solutions. do something! We have a great university- UNR and also another respected one south at UNLV. Let's reach out to Masters and PhD students to study these issues and provide solutions- at little or no cost! Then act! I'm the get 'er done candidate of integrity!

The Washoe County Board of Trustees has, in recent years, faced criticism for a myriad of reasons including a lack of transparency and community trust. How would you work to repair the board’s reputation in the community?

The Board and District are Dysfunctional. I will not allow "spin" vs truth. The District claims transparency and acts otherwise. Open Meeting Law issues, wagon circling, it seems to never end. I'll bring these to the forefront and ask that many issues be on the agenda. That includes oversight of the WCSD Police Department. As a retired USAF Lieutenant Colonel (Reserve Commission), Retired Reno Police Sergeant with two college degrees; I understand integrity and the importance of public trust. By contrast, the public needs to compare that to my opponent who served for years on the board before resigning August 27. He was part of the "lack of transparency and community trust" in your question!

Learn more about Jeff Church at WatchDogJeff.com. 

Credit KUNR
Credit Courtesy of Scott Kelley

Name: Scott Kelley 
Occupation: Public Information Officer, Nevada Department of Corrections 

What do you consider the biggest challenges facing the WCSD?

The biggest challenges are COVID-19-related. First, the pandemic has blown a large hole in WCSD's budget. This is unfortunate, because the School Board had just balanced WCSD’s billion-dollar budget in 2019 after cutting $68 million the previous three years. If elected, my philosophy when tackling future budget cuts caused by COVID-19 (and also the Incline Tax Settlement) will be keeping cuts as far from the classroom as possible. This means looking at cuts to administration, ancillary services, and programs that data shows are not working.

Second, educating students during the pandemic is a major challenge. Fortunately, the passage of WC-1 provided WCSD the funding to build new schools and expand existing schools in recent years. This is significant because its reduced overcrowding and gave WCSD the ability to socially distance students and offer high levels of in-person learning. Of note, my opponent fought tooth and nail against WC-1 in 2016, even writing the opposition to the ballot measure. Had WC-1 not passed, WCSD would have been so overcrowded that most students would be doing distance learning for a year or more. I've done a lot of door-to-door in recent months, and it doesn't sit well with people that my opponent fought against something so vital to public education, and now wants on the School Board. 

How would you rate the district’s response to the pandemic, thus far?

WCSD's response has been good considering no one had any experience educating students during a global pandemic. However, there is still a lot of work to do. For instance, thousands of students do not have access to technology or wi-fi and this has created equity issues. Microsoft Teams is causing issues with families who find it difficult to keep up with assignments. All of these issues are fixable, but WCSD leadership needs to improve its communication with staff and families and provide more resources where appropriate.

Do you support/oppose the district’s decision to re-open schools with varying levels of in-person instruction amid the ongoing pandemic?

I voted to re-open schools with varying levels of in-person instruction amid the ongoing pandemic because I saw the multiple layers of protection WCSD was putting in-place to protect staff and students. So I support the decision, and promise to closely monitor COVID-19 numbers in order to determine future levels of in-person instruction.

As a trustee, what would be your top priorities?

My top priorities are keeping future budget cuts away from the classroom, ensuring students, staff, and visitors are safe, providing teachers the resources they need, and navigating WCSD through the turbulent waters caused by COVID-19.

The Washoe County Board of Trustees has, in recent years, faced criticism for a myriad of reasons including a lack of transparency and community trust. How would you work to repair the board’s reputation in the community? 

The WCSD School Board reputation has ebbed and flowed over the years. The School Board had a good reputation during my first term (2009-2012). In 2012, we were voted the top urban School Board in the nation by the National Association of School Boards. The School Board reputation took its greatest hits after I left, when it illegally fired Pedro Martinez and lost a major lawsuit, then hired Traci Davis without doing a national search. Currently, the Washoe School Board has a slowly improving image in the community. Hiring Superintendent Kristen McNeill is improving the School Board's reputation because she and the Trustees work well together. If elected, I will work to repair the School Board's reputation by approaching every issue with an open mind, seeking input from diverse constituencies, and putting students first in all of my decisions.

Learn more about Scott Kelley at scottgkelley.com.

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