First Day Of School Offers Glimpse Of District's Challenges

Aug 8, 2016

Parents line up at the front office at Sparks Middle to register their kids and get paperwork as students head back to class.
Credit Julia Ritchey

Washoe County got an early start to the school year on Monday, with all but five public schools back in session. Reno Public Radio's Julia Ritchey reports from one of the district's overcrowded schools.

That sound marks the first class change of the first day of school at Sparks Middle, as students spill into the hallway.

Superintendent Traci Davis is on hand to welcome parents, students and staff back. This year, she's focused on raising academic standards and awareness about the challenges the district faces.

"We're looking at what's happening with growth and overcrowding," she says. "What will happen this year if we receive funding, or if we don't receive funding, as it relates to putting kids on double sessions over the next few years."

At 50 years old, Sparks Middle is an example of what Davis is talking about — it's over capacity and needs millions of dollars in repairs.

Voters will decide this fall on a ballot measure that could provide the district with $800 million over the next decade to help alleviate this problem. But it requires raising sales tax and if it fails, many schools will be forced into year-round schedules or double sessions, which splits a school's student body into two groups and two start times.

By law the school district cannot advocate for or against the measure, but Davis says it's important for parents to understand the implications for their own children beyond this school year.