Las Vegas Sun

October 31, 2014

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LOOKING IN ON: EDUCATION:

District still in no rush to fill teacher vacancies

But districtwide freeze is off following the special session

So, has the hiring freeze been lifted, or not?

Bill Garis, the Clark County School District’s deputy chief human resources officer, sought to clear the air Friday.

With the district bracing for deeper cuts to the state’s education funding, Superintendent Walt Rulffes froze all hiring June 20. The exceptions were for teacher positions in high-need areas such as special education and math, and for and school nurses.

Rulffes told the Sun he decided late Monday to lift the freeze because the state’s fiscal outlook was a little less murky following the special legislative session June 27.

But that doesn’t mean the district is rushing to fill all of its more than 700 teacher vacancies.

Until the latest enrollment estimates are completed, the district is moving slowly. Rulffes said he would rather have vacancies in the fall than layoffs. However, he has told Garis he can fill some “essential” teacher and support staff positions, in addition to the ones in high-need areas.

“Essential” positions are those that have the greatest likelihood of being necessary even if enrollment figures come in lower than expected, Garis explained.

There are two groups of teacher applicants: those who have been recommended for a position by a principal and those who have not.

The district is reviewing the first group’s files and making job offers where appropriate, Garis said.

•••

Two years ago, the Nevada Education Department revised the standards for elementary school mathematics and put school districts on notice that textbooks would need to be replaced.

This spring the Clark County School District, which replaces most textbooks on a seven-year cycle, ordered more than 120,000 new math textbooks, enough for every elementary school student to have one.

Fortunately, the $9 million cost was included in the district’s 2008 operating budget and effectively spent before Gov. Jim Gibbons announced that deep cuts to K-12 education funding would be necessary. The School District was expecting about $70 million in instructional supplies, but that money was cut in half during the recent special legislative session.

The allocation was to cover more than just textbooks, said Jhone Ebert, the district’s assistant superintendent of curriculum. Schools also rely on the money for instructional supplies such as software for classroom computers and interactive display boards.

Though relieved about dodging the bullet on the math books, Ebert’s office is mourning the other losses, including about $60,000 for tutoring programs to help high school students prepare for the statewide proficiency exams, which they must pass to graduate.

The district’s overall pass rate on the proficiency exam, particularly the much-dreaded math section, has risen steadily since schools began more aggressive test preparation efforts. “That’s why we’re so sad to lose those dollars,” Ebert said. “We know these are programs that really work.”

•••

Now we know the size of the cost overrun for the East Career and Technical Academy: $14 million.

After the district broke ground for the academy, geologists found a fault line running through the site, which required a major overhaul of the campus design. Then, underground caverns were discovered, which had to be collapsed and filled. The extra work raised the cost of the campus to about $90 million; $76 million had been budgeted for it.

Relocating the school wasn’t a realistic option, district officials said, because the site was acquired from the Bureau of Land Management for a token $1. With land at a premium in the east region, it would have cost the district $50 million to buy a similar parcel.

Built for 2,000 students, the academy, on Vegas Valley Drive near Hollywood Boulevard, will have only ninth and tenth graders this year.

The culinary and medical career programs are full, but there are a few spots still available at both grade levels in a few programs, including construction management, said Glenda Goetting, the academy’s principal. Enrollment is open to students from throughout Clark County.

For more information, call 799-8888 or go to ccsd.net/schools/ecta/ online.

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