School budget focus of candidate forum
Both candidates vying for the District 7 seat of the Carson City School Board called the $5.5 million budget gap the biggest issue of their campaigns.“The reality is,” said Joe Cacioppo, “there is no easy answer.”He is facing Alice Mueller for the seat being vacated by Joanna Wilson who is coming to the end of her 12-year term limit. The two were featured during the League of Women Voters forum held Thursday evening at the Carson City Library where they fielded questions posed by audience members. Laurel Crossman and Donnie Moellendorf, contending for District 2, also were scheduled to participate, however Moellendorf announced she would be dropping out of the race to deal with family matters. Her name still will appear on the ballot.Both Mueller and Cacioppo attended recent school board workshops that solicited ideas budget-cut ideas.In response to how they would cut the budget, Mueller said a 10 percent cut of all staff across the board — as had been presented during the workshops as a possible scenario — would “decimate the school district.”She suggested, instead, the district look at closing Fremont Elementary School, although she said she knew it would be unpopular. “You can keep the pain in the same place,” she said. “Move some people to Empire, move some people to Seeliger. That’s quick. That’s easy. That doesn’t mean it’s right.”Cacioppo said that with 84 percent of the district’s overall costs going to salaries and benefits, “it’s hard not to look at those.”“But before we do that, we need to go through and just make sure our housekeeping is in order,” he said.He said the district needed to examine ways to become more energy efficient and to minimize training and travel expenses to the extent possible. “We need to do those things, then at that point look at salaries,” he said. One question asked the candidates if they would commit to posting school district employees’ salaries — as nearby districts have done — on the Transparent Nevada website by Feb. 1. Mueller worried doing that would put teachers and other employees at risk of being targeted by angry parents “if they felt the teacher was making too much money.”“People have a right to a certain amount of privacy.”Cacioppo countered, “I agree people have a right to privacy, but in the public sector salaries and benefits are being paid with public funds. The public has a right to know how their money is being spent.”Although he said he could not guarantee the Feb. 1 deadline, he said he would work with the board and district officials to make that information available. On the topic of school uniforms, Cacioppo said he was indifferent.“I love them,” Mueller said. When it comes to reducing the high school dropout rate, Cacioppo said work had to begin at the younger grades. “The way you reduce the high school dropout rate is to get to these kids before they get to high school,” he said. “If we wait until they get to high school, we’ve missed the boat for some of them.”He said engaging students through community partnerships — bringing the business community into the schools and opening businesses up to students — was key.Mueller said high school needed to be more relevant to students, particularly career and technical education classes. “One of the reasons kids drop out is they see no gain in struggling through high school,” she said. “If we give them hope there is a job, they will stay.”She called for more and better courses that train for technical programs and other careers. Once the budget is settled, Mueller said, improving education will be her focus. “If we can survive and survive intact, we need to work on getting more meaningful classes at our high school,” she said. “A child can either blossom in high school or wilt. I’d rather see more kids blossom.”For your informationWatch the League of Women Voters forum on Access Carson City, TV channel 226, or go to acctv.org.