On my morning walks on the hills around my neighborhood in Sparks, I’ve lately been disgusted by an increasingly familiar sight.
There’s nothing particularly disgusting about houses, per se. And while I consider myself pro-environment, I’m honestly not thinking to myself, “Oh, isn’t that awful, all that unspoiled land has been sullied by construction.”
No. What I’m thinking every time I see a new home going up is this: Where the f*** are they gonna put those kids?
A decade ago, before I had a child, I would see the outward signs of development as a positive sign. It’s more inventory, more potential for homebuyers to get into homes, and more affordably at that, right? It means new jobs. Growth! It’s great! Yay Northern Nevada! I mean, isn’t that what all these PR folks and economic development entities keep saying?
The signs of population growth are everywhere. In another area half a mile from my home, a sign reads, “Proposed site for 45 new luxury townhomes.”
CRAP! WHERE ARE THEY GONNA PUT THOSE KIDS?
For f—’s sake, people, you can’t add hundreds of new jobs and build hundreds of new homes and bring thousands of new families into the area and not build the infrastructure needed to accommodate them.
Can you? I mean, isn’t it simple math?
Apparently not. Apparently, our lawmakers can’t do math this simple—not well enough, anyway, to arrive at a funding formula that supports the growth they’re simultaneously clamoring for. And it’s not surprising, since our state’s educational system ranks 49th in the nation. I can’t believe for a minute that this is a coincidence.
If you live in Washoe County (and you don’t live under a rock), you know there’s a huge campaign underway to encourage people to vote YES on WC-1, the Save Our Schools ballot measure that, if passed, would raise the sales tax by ½ a percent in order to fund repairs on existing schools and construction of 15 new schools, raising a total of about $780 million over 8 years.
A lot of people in support of WC-1 cite schools with broken equipment and facilities, kids in mobile classrooms, and threats of swing-shift school schedules to address serious overcrowding. The scare tactics work for people like me, but the argument few people are really talking about is this:
WHERE THE HELL ARE THEY GOING TO PUT ALL THESE NEW KIDS?
This isn’t about scare tactics or whether you like year-round schools or anything. This is truly about math.
There are the folks who hear the word “tax” and their brains immediately shut off. “Nope,” they say, “I don’t have kids. I don’t like paying taxes. Doesn’t affect me. My kids are doing fine. Year-round school doesn’t bother me at all. No new taxes. Period.”
But here’s the thing: It absolutely will affect you, whether you have kids or not. If you want job growth in this community, if you want our construction industry to be viable and to continue development, if you want to be able to find a home to buy in Washoe County, and if you want to actually have decent, educated people coming here to this community and contributing to this diversifying economy, to continuing a legacy you built or to take over a company you’ve run, you need to help pay for schools. This is the price of economic growth.
Here’s something else you may not know, something I only recently learned myself: All these developers building houses here? They aren’t required to pay any impact fees. In other states, any developer who wants to build homes on a swath of land has to pony up impact fees to help build schools and accommodate those people. Not here. Nevada, by law, is not allowed to charge impact fees for schools—they may do so for roads, sewers, policemen, and water, but not schools. They can build and build and build, and then schools are left to cope with hundreds of new families and their kids, to try to squeeze them into overfull buildings.
Meanwhile, the state keeps luring the Teslas of the world to our backyard. Businesses aren’t paying for the schools when they come here. Builders aren’t paying for schools when they build here. But we ALL reap the rewards when the economy grows. Unfortunately, all this economic growth punishes our youngest, most vulnerable citizens.
My daughter’s school went on the overcrowded list for the first time ever this year. She went from a first-grade class with 16 students to a team-taught second-grade class with 33 students and new ones joining almost every week. The school was slammed in the first weeks of the school year with an onslaught of unplanned-for students. They’ve had to play musical teachers, relocating one of my daughter’s teachers with no warning at all, putting them in copy rooms and resource rooms and on mobile carts. The poor teachers, reeling from the constant state of change, barely have the bandwidth to grade work let alone communicate what’s happening or even have the ability to focus attention on one of the sea of students. And with all the building going on in our area, who knows? It might be worse next year.
And there are many schools in the county in way worse situations. Most schools are at or over capacity.
Look, there are only so many people who can literally fit into a building.
We haven’t built a new school in this area in 10 years. The average school in the county is 39 years old. And we fund our schools in Washoe County at HALF the level of Clark County. Our district has 64,000 kids in it, with more added every day. And its only funding source is property taxes, which were capped years ago despite our growth. So we have a capped funding source serving as our only source of revenue for schools. Only 39 cents for every $100 in property taxes goes toward schools. That’s it.
People, we are already at the bottom of the totem pole in terms of school performance, funding per pupil, completion, and college preparedness. Surely, this is math we’re all capable of doing. I don’t want property taxes going up either, but something needs to happen, and quickly.
And quit griping about the school board, about the superintendent’s salary, about a myriad of things that piss you off and which still have no legal or financial connection to the funding needed to build and repair schools.
Because while you keep complaining, the people keep coming. A recent study projects Washoe County will add more than 50,000 new jobs by 2019. And by 2024, there will be more than 10,000 new students in the district. YIKES!!
Let’s say half of them come here from outside the county. When those people bring their families, we could be looking at a veritable TSUNAMI of people relocating to this region, and one that we will need THOUSANDS of new homes each year to hold.
WHERE THE HELL ARE WE GONNA PUT THOSE KIDS?
It’s becoming an emergency situation. You want to see more Teslas coming to this area? You need a decent education system. Bottom line. This is the price of economic growth. Let’s take some responsibility here and do something.
I for one will vote with all my might in favor of WC-1 because it’s what I can do. I will gladly pay the additional $90 or so dollars a YEAR it will cost me so my kid won’t have to attend class in the dark or in a restroom stall. So that she will be able to fit into a school at all.