WCSD now charging for volunteer background checks, may lose volunteers
If you want to volunteer in your child's classroom on a regular basis, the state will make you get fingerprinted and undergo a background check. This is standard procedure for the district. But now, parents and community members who want to volunteer in their kids' classrooms will encounter something new -- the bill. Starting this year, the Washoe County School District will now charge fees for these mandatory measures and volunteers will pick up the tab.
The school district is worried it will lose some volunteers because of the cost.
Senate Bill 287 passed in the 2017 legislative session and requires that fingerprinting and background checks be done for any regular volunteer in any Nevada school district. A regular volunteer is anyone who interacts with students on average four days in a month or once per week. It does not apply to parents who want to read with their own child in school or those who occasionally volunteer at a school.
"The whole goal of this program is to ensure the safety of our children," said Katy Simon-Holland the President of the Washoe County School District Board of Trustees. "If you came in and sat with your child and read with your child, we are not requiring the background check. But if you are working with other children on a regular basis again those other parents want to know that you are a good faith person to be there."
Dolores Atkins volunteers at Nancy Gomes Elementary School and Cold Springs Middle School with her grand kids. She's been helping out for years.
"Whatever they want me to do," Atkins said. "I enjoy the kids."
But she was surprised when she found out this year that the Washoe County School District is charging $45 for fingerprinting and background checks, when it's always been free. These records are good for five years.
"I think it's ridiculous. If they want you to put your time in they should pay for it. I feel it's just a way that they want to get more money," Atkins said.
Simon-Holland said she's worried they may lose some volunteers due to the cost. "Absolutely, absolutely. And all of those volunteers are very precious to us."
This change could affect a lot of volunteers; but the district can't absorb the high cost when it's already dealing with a $7 million budget shortfall.
"We have about 12,000 volunteers who come in regularly into the classroom who would be affected by this and when you do the math on that it's an excess of $500,000... the legislature did not provide any funding to local school districts to implement this law. We call that an unfounded mandate and there are many of them," Simon Holland said.
Since all Nevada school districts must comply with the law, we took a look at how the cost in Washoe County compares to other state jurisdictions.
What other Nevada school districts charge for background checks:
- Clark County School District - $60
- Carson City School District - $10 (District pays the remaining $60)
- Douglas County School District - $10 (District pays the remaining $29.50)