- Associated Press - Thursday, August 7, 2014

RENO, Nev. (AP) - It’s a $400,000 Band-Aid for school overcrowding in Washoe County.

The Washoe County School District is spending that money to put in portable classrooms at as many as 13 schools. That funding comes from $5 million in state funds meant to reduce class sizes and expand full-day kindergarten programs.

The portables, shipped in two pieces and prefabricated much like a modular home, were designed to be a temporary fix but are becoming a crutch as the district copes without the funds to build new schools, according to district officials. Most portables can hold two classrooms.

“Unfortunately because of our funding situation where we can’t afford a new school, we are surviving with portable classrooms and we are not building the new schools,” said Pete Etchart, the chief operating officer for the Washoe County School District.

The district has no new funds for capital projects after the Washoe County Commission last year failed to vote on Assembly Bill 46, the proposal from the Nevada Legislature to raise property and sales taxes for school repairs.

At least 15 Washoe County Schools are over capacity and maxed out with the number of students that can be accommodated even with the use of portables. For example, McQueen High has 14 portable classrooms and no room for additional portables to be added.

The first portable classroom the district will install over the coming months recently arrived at Brown Elementary School in south Reno, the district’s largest and most overcrowded elementary school. What is expected to follow is a regular schedule of portables for the next three months to help deal with schools that are over maximum capacity.

The district identified 13 elementary schools that were over or near capacity and prioritized where portables would be installed.

Of those 13 elementary schools, seven are listed at over 100 percent capacity. That includes Brown, which has a projected enrollment of 883 and room for 775 students.

Last year, the school added three portables at Brown as it transitioned from a multi-track schedule. Two portables will be added in the next few weeks. Until then, the students will start the school year in the school’s library and music rooms.

Once installed, Brown’s entire third grade and half of its second grade will be in portables.

“One of the issues I can say, portables serve a great purpose, but we are kind of changing the purpose here,” Etchart said. “The purpose is when a school gets close to that enrollment cap is you start bringing in portables until you build a new school and then you remove the portables and have the kids go to a new school.”

Double Diamond and Silver Lake elementary schools are also scheduled to receive two portable units, totaling four classrooms.

Beasley, Allen, Westergard, Sepulveda, Alice Smith and Beck elementary schools are also approved to receive one portable each, providing two classrooms.

Hunsberger, Hall, Spanish Springs, Gomes and Sun Valley elementary are not approved to get portables, but may get one each.

Etchart said the number one need for the district is an additional elementary school for the Damonte Ranch and Double Diamond areas. He also said an additional middle school is needed now in the Spanish Springs.

He plans to make a report to school board trustees in the next month that shows with growth projections done by the University of Nevada, Reno, the area may need as many as 10 new schools in coming years.

Etchart said the funds for these portables could only be used for elementary schools because it came from facility upgrades tied to state money to reduce kindergarten class sizes and add full day programs. Because the portables can be shown to have trickledown effect on kindergarten, they do not have to house kindergarten students.

District-wide, there are more than 94 portables, housing 183 classrooms and thousands of students. The majority are at high schools where there are 31 portables, housing 60 classrooms.

Etchart said the district has also identified $6 million in repairs and upgrades needed on the district’s aging population of portables, some of which are more than 30 years old.

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Information from: Reno Gazette-Journal, https://www.rgj.com

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