School board discusses preliminary plans for addressing 2024-2025 school year staffing, student numbers

At its apex from 1997 to 1999, student enrollment for the HCSD was at approximately 4,000 students; today, it is approximately 3,200 students, and with a pupil-centered funding plan, less students means less money for the district from the state to pay teachers, provide programming and more. 

At the regular meeting of the Humboldt County District (HCSD) School Board of Trustees on Feb. 27, the Board identified possible methods to recruit and retain teachers and address staffing based on student enrollment although no formal actions will be taken on any matter until more final budgeting is conducted.

The Winnemucca Grammar School (WGS) currently has the lowest number of students among the elementary schools in Winnemucca and is landlocked, making zoning an issue for drawing in more students. The Trustees discussed the possibility of students in east Winnemucca from Sonoma Heights Elementary School (SHES) to the WGS in order to help retain staff numbers at the WGS. 

Other factors, such as variances allowing students to attend a school, they are not zoned for could also be affected and consideration for how to attract more of the approximate 400 homeschooled students in the HCSD into or back into the public school system could help address the numbers. 

As the district numbers decrease, the Trustees and HCSD Superintendent Dr. Dave Jensen must evaluate the number of teachers in the school and whether they must be adjusted up or down. 

As the student population has decreased, the Trustees looked at possible teacher decreases at all three of the elementary schools. 

Dr. Jensen suggested that the Trustees consider a decrease in a second-grade teaching position at Grass Valley Elementary School, a decrease in a third-grade position at WGS, a kindergarten position at SHES and a position at Paradise Valley School, but the considerations could change based on the number of students the district will have the coming year. 

“We never want to do a reduction of force,” said Jensen, and if funds can be managed appropriately at each site, less aggressive means can be used to shore up funding. 

Another consideration, which the Trustees agreed would be very beneficial to the HCSD students, would be to use one of the positions being considered for reduction to create a talented and gifted program, which the district has had previously, but does not currently. 

According to Dr. Jensen, it is possible that an influx from future economic growth, the impacts of which are still out about three to four years, could add another 1,000 students, but space for more classrooms would be an issue at some schools. 

Despite the consideration for reductions, the HCSD will be able to keep all of the social workers in school, thanks to a grant that will secure the positions for the next five years. 

Trustee Lonnie Hammargren stated that those positions are “critical” to students and the district should continue to support them. 

HCSD Vice Superintendent Will Jensen presented a new course for substitute teachers that will be provided during their initial training to the trustees and explained that the district is working to provide more resources for substitute teachers with programs that give short but valuable information for the classroom. Having the proper resources could help encourage new teachers. 

The program allows for subs to complete a 6–8-hour self-paced training and earn a certificate. 

Trustee Ron Moser suggested that the program be offered to Lowry High School students and/or Great Basin College students in efforts to attract more potential teachers from the community

He said that the ease of access and the low cost—just $20— could entice some that had not previously considered teaching. 

Dr. Jensen also suggested a Career and Technical Education course that could be created to foster future teachers. 

The Board also discussed the most critical vacancies that the HCSD has had for many years of science and English teachers at the McDermitt Combined School. 

Students in McDermitt are currently using a hybrid of resources with their Science and English classes provided online from the Elevate K12 system and their other classes with a live teacher. 

The Trustees collectively agreed that this is not ideal for students and the disparities between McDermitt students and Lowry students in these subjects is very serious and incentivizing teachers to fill those positions is a major priority. Lack of housing in the community for new teachers was identified as a significant hurdle.

“Until this community addresses housing, we’re going to struggle,” said Dr. Jensen. 

The HCSD is currently offering incentives for teachers starting with a $7,500 incentive (paid in two installments) for teachers in town and a $10,000 hiring incentive for new teachers in the remote rural schools and McDermitt and the Trustees did discuss a possible incentive increase for new teachers for the McDermitt school, but no final decision will be made until the final budget discussion for the next school year. 

Even with the healthy incentive for rural remote teachers, the HCSD has still received no applicants for the English and science positions in McDermitt.