In a drastic departure from recent practices, the Mineral County School District Board of Trustees denied three requests for inter-district transfers and tabled

Barbara Lancaster, the newest member of the Mineral County School District Board of Trustees is sworn in by Mark Nixon, board president. Lancaster was appointed to the board by a unanimous vote of current board members. (C.W. Wilkinson photo)

In a drastic departure from recent practices, the Mineral County School District Board of Trustees denied three requests for inter-district transfers and tabled discussion on a fourth until more information about the request was brought forward.

In recent months the board has approved most, if not all, such requests.

Much of the discussion about the transfer requests, officially known as requests for variances, focused on a new policy about transfer requests.

The policy was adopted “a couple of months ago, in an effort to clarify the guidelines for determining when to grant such requests,” said Chris Schultz, district superintendent.

“Because the granting of variance requests has a direct impact on the district’s fiscal resources for implementing and maintaining quality educational programs for all of the students it serves, such requests for inter-district transfer of resident students will only be granted in extreme cases,” the policy states. “Should the parents/guardians provide clear, compelling evidence to the Board of Trustees that there are no options within the district that will meet the needs of the student in question; the board may grant the request.”

The district withheld the names of the children involved for privacy reason. An enrollment count provided to the board to help it decide on the transfers shows 470 students enrolled in the district.

Schultz said the transfer requests are important because it affects the number of students in the district — one of the metrics the Nevada Department of Education uses to determine how much funding a school receives.

“Think of state funding as the gas in the car,” Schultz said. “We have a car full of kids. Without the gas, we aren’t going to be able to take them anywhere.”

Despite the national conversation about reducing class sizes, such a reduction is only helpful to a point, Schultz said.

In general, reducing class sizes is a boon for student learning—students learn better in a class of 35 than a class of 40.

However, there are so few students in Mineral County schools that the effect is starting to backfire. Schultz said the average class size in the district is 12, and reducing class sizes below 15 tends to make it more difficult for students to learn.

Schultz also noted class sizes “vary wildly,” but said he doesn’t believe the district has many classes with more than 20 students.

“We may have the smallest average class sizes in the state, class sizes that are so small they may actually harm the educational process,” Schultz said. “When we lose students, we not only lose the funding associated with the students, but we lose their participation, contribution, and value within the classes,” Schultz said.

All of the transfer requests the board heard last week, and many of the other request it’s granted in recent months, were to move students from Mineral County schools to schools in Yerington. Many of the families requesting transfers seek to leave Schurz Elementary School.

Schultz said misperceptions and history may have something to do with why so many parents seek to transfer their students to Lyon County schools.

“I am not aware of distinct advantages provided by Lyon County teachers over Mineral County teachers,” he said. “In fact, I suspect there are a great many cases in which the choice to attend schools in Lyon is a choice to miss out on some great teachers and programs in Mineral. There may be some programs that Lyon offers that we do not, but I am certain there are programs we offer that Lyon does not.”

The key question the board discussed in each of the transfer requests was whether or not each student’s need could be met in a Mineral County school—frequently the board’s suggestion was to transfer the student to Hawthorne Elementary school.

“If parents want to ensure that their children have the opportunity to work with excited, energized teachers and a school district that is targeting learning support to ensure that their children succeed, they need to look at Mineral first,” Schultz said.

New Board Member

The board also filled its vacant position by re-appointing Barbara Lancaster of Mina to fill the seat she vacated in early July.

The board voted unanimously to appoint her to the post.

The other applicants for the open position were Kathy Castagnola and Casey Kee of Walker Lake.

In her letter applying for the position, Lancaster wrote she resigned in July because her husband was diagnosed with lung cancer. Lancaster said he underwent surgery to remove the tumor in mid-August.

Lancaster wrote there will be no chemotherapy or radiation treatments.

Schultz said he was happy to see Lancaster return to her seat.

“She provided selfless service to the district in the past and I commend her for seeking to return to the position,” he said.

Schultz Evaluation

The board also gave final approval to Schultz’ performance improvement plan, a document designed to help Schultz meet the goals the board has for the district.

In order to improve his performance, the board is requiring him to improve in 10 areas. Most of the improvements focus on communicating with the board and the community, although he’s also required improve test scores district wide, and to ensure MAPS testing, the district’s internal performance tests, go off smoothly three times a year.

The winter test wasn’t taken last year because of technical difficulties.

The plan was approved unanimously, but is still a source of much friction between Schultz and the board.

After about half an hour of board discussion and public comment, Schultz made a rare comment on the subject.

Schultz, who offers an official comment on most of the issues the board takes up in his role as superintendent, has remained largely silent during the discussions about the improvement plan, chiming in only to suggest some suggested requirements were difficult, impossible, or so time consuming they would take away from his other work.

His comments have been otherwise confined to stating he thinks the board should be focused on “ensuring teachers and teach and students can learn.”

But, just before the vote was taken Schultz went on the offensive.

One of the points of the plan he attacked was the statement “the board has not received regular updates from you concerning the status of the schools and district-wide issues, problems or achievements.”

Schultz pointed to the weekly updates he sends out district wide as evidence that contention is untrue.

“A statement like that as a foundation for what you’re going to do next, I don’t think, is reasonable or accurate,” Schultz said.

Schultz also took issue with the suggestion in the plan that there weren’t enough reports from department heads coming to the board, saying that when he was hired, the board received no department reports, and now they receive one each quarter from every department.

With the plan’s approval, the board hopes to move on with business.

“This is the fourth month we’re onto this,” said board president Mark Nixon. “We’ve beat this to death. School’s in session. We need to move on.”