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September 2, 2014

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education:

Budget cuts would be ‘crushing’ for Las Vegas elementary school

Brian Sandoval

Brian Sandoval

Iverson Elementary School

The sheer scale of Nevada’s budget deficit can dwarf its human-sized effect.

But at one Las Vegas elementary school last week, the faraway debate on the state budget in Carson City was translated into terms everyone understands: Iverson Elementary Principal Linnea Westwood met with 10 of her 35 teachers and warned them they could lose their jobs next year.

If that happens, fourth- and fifth-grade classes will increase from a barely manageable 34 or 35 students to 40 or more — “traffic-cop” territory as teachers sometimes call it.

The educator who tutors students for whom English is a second language, more than 25 percent of the school, will be gone.

Out too: the literacy specialist who helps teachers teach reading, and children struggling to read.

“It’s crushing,” said Westwood, who is in her first year as a principal.

Iverson is where the hope of the past and hardship of the present intersect.

Perched on Hollywood Boulevard at the eastern edge of the valley, the school was built about six years ago, during the boom. The facilities still look new. Its sprawling playground offers a panoramic view of the valley.

The student body of about 750, kindergarten through fifth grade, is a mix of races and economic backgrounds. Staff members are young and enthusiastic.

Busy running the school, Westwood admits she hasn’t followed every turn of the screw in the state capital. She knew the budget proposed by Gov. Brian Sandoval would mean cuts, if not the details.

Then, this month Clark County School District officials gave her a number. And 10 teachers, among them her “best and brightest,” were told the order in which they will face the chopping block.

Westwood has gone to lengths to keep this from the students. During a recent assembly to honor students, she invited parents to stay and hear the latest on the state budget after the children had returned to class.

“The adults will figure this out,” she told a reporter.

Still, some sense of the situation has spread among the students.

“It’s very distracting. The kids know and they’re running up and giving us hugs. They’re worried,” second-grade teacher Amanda Benavidez said. She’s No. 8 on the layoff list.

“None of us got into it for the money. We do it to raise the next generation of doctors, lawyers and professionals. But my question is, are we going to have any of those in this state?”

•••

Sandoval won in November promising to balance the state’s budget without raising taxes despite a $2.2 billion deficit. He has kept his word, proposing a budget that would make deep cuts in social services, K-12 schools and higher education.

He acknowledges the difficulty that will accompany his budget, but he has also said improving education is a priority. He explains the paradox by saying reforms, such as ending teacher tenure and giving administrators control over which teachers to lay off, could improve schools with less money until the state’s economy rebounds. He has also recommended pay cuts for educators to lessen the effect on classrooms.

He said last week that he would not trade any taxes for such reforms.

Democrats — who control the Assembly and Senate but lack the two-thirds majority to override a veto — have complained about the depth of Sandoval’s cuts. But they haven’t found Republican lawmakers who would join them in passing new taxes to blunt the cuts.

The uncertainty will drag on at least until June 6, when the legislative session ends.

And schools such as Iverson will remain in limbo, not knowing whether almost a third of their teachers will be sent packing.

But Westwood said the school needs to move forward. She’s planning classes and positions as if the 10 teachers will be gone next year.

Westwood, however, would like the district to change how teachers are laid off.

Now, it’s a matter of seniority. She would prefer being able to keep her top teachers regardless of how long they’ve been with the district, as Sandoval has proposed.

“We’re losing our newest teachers, who are also some of our brightest and most energetic,” she said. “That would be a crushing blow to us.”

•••

So what happens when a school loses nearly 30 percent of its staff? Any grade-school student learning long division can figure out that fewer teachers mean bigger classes.

Academics argue about whether class size affects learning. An effective educator in the classroom is the most important factor, most say.

But teachers at Iverson say their experience shows bigger classes affect learning — it already does.

Cheryl Lopez, a fourth-grade teacher with 35 students — she is in her first year teaching and is No. 4 on the school’s layoff list — put it this way: “You’ll have a child crying, saying ‘I don’t get this.’ But your hands are tied because you have 34 other kids who need the same attention. When you have 35 kids in a class, it’s insane giving that individual attention, but they deserve it.”

With the cuts, fourth-grade classes at Iverson would have 40 or more students.

“Do the math with 40 kids: Just to grade papers at 10 minutes per paper times 40 kids, that’s 400 minutes,” Westwood said. “And that’s just prep time away from the kids. Ten minutes per parent phone call, all times 40 kids. Logistically, it’s impossible.”

Because state mandates restrict the size of classes in first through third grades, crowding becomes a problem starting in fourth grade.

As class sizes grow, so does the gap between high-performing and low-performing students, teachers said. If the “bubble kids” don’t catch up to their peers by the time they leave Iverson, they likely never will.

The school is under pressure to help its lowest-performing students.

When Westwood, 31, arrived at Iverson last year, the school was classified as “Needs Improvement Year 4” under No Child Left Behind, the federal law requiring student achievement be tracked more closely and holding schools accountable for the results.

“We have a building full of amazing teachers who’ve made amazing gains,” Westwood said. The “Needs Improvement” label “is the black cloud hanging over our school. It doesn’t come close to showing what the school has been able to achieve in the last few years.”

“On weekends we’ll text each other, ‘What are you doing here? What are you doing there?’ ” said first-grade teacher Katelynn Reilly, who is No. 5 on the layoff list. “We have a buddy system almost.”

Despite the school’s struggles to comply with No Child Left Behind, Westwood doesn’t resent the measurement even though the school’s progress hasn’t yet registered. In fact, she sees the power in it.

“We have to look at the data,” she said. “Teachers who come in know the reality of the school and the profession. They know it, they like it. They want the kids to do well.”

•••

Westwood doesn’t want to leave the impression that anyone at Iverson is giving up. They’re moving forward, planning to make do with 25 teachers.

Westwood expects teachers and administrators will take pay cuts, as Sandoval has suggested, to reduce layoffs.

“I think they’re barely surviving to begin with,” Westwood said. “But if you asked any of them, if it means the person next to them keeps their job, they’d do it.”

Some, however, have seen enough.

Cassie Restrepo, a first-grade teacher and No. 12 on the layoff list, moved to Las Vegas from Kentucky three years ago to take a job with the School District. Because of the budget turmoil, she’s leaving teaching and Southern Nevada. She will enroll in law school at the University of Louisville.

“I still want to stay in education, but not here,” she said. “It really makes me sad that I’m not going to be in the School District next year. My kiddos, I worry about them.”

Meanwhile, Westwood said her teachers are putting on their “game faces” and “fighting desperately hard not to crumble.”

“They’re pumping themselves up for the kids, but behind closed doors I think they’re struggling to make ends meet, come up with backup plans about what to do next year,” she said.

The educators struggle with the feeling that “they’re alone in all of this. It feels like nobody’s fighting for them. And they’re the ones taking all the cuts, all the losses for these kids. And they keep coming.”

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  1. No Child left a Dime. With 40 or more elementary students in one room, the environment becomes babysitting and crowd control, not learning. Physical education would amount to practicing Duck and Cover exercises.

  2. So...
    THIS IS Brian Sandoval's Education Improvement Plan:

    In lieu of actual MONEY, B.S. says, "If we could just fire teachers AT WILL, and PAY teachers LESS, well, that would tide us over nicely (AS AN IMPROVEMENT PLAN!) until we get some actual MONEY."

    THIS IS YOUR GOVERNOR SPEAKING, Nevada! HIS WORDS. HIS PLAN.

    Gym Gibbons promised to be the "Education Gov'ner",
    and look what we got from HIM...

    Brian Sandoval says, "IMPROVING EDUCATION IS A PRIORITY"...
    And yet, he is actually CUTTING EDUCATION FUNDING, in a state that RANKS NEAR-BOTTOM in actual MONEY spent on educating it's kids.
    And BASHING TEACHERS & CUTTING THEIR MEAGER PAY.

    AND THAT is supposed to "IMPROVE EDUCATION" while we wait for our ship to come in...
    And you are to nod and say, "SURE! THAT'LL WORK!"

    WHAT A CROCK OF B.S.!!!

    No WONDER he wants STATE VOUCHERS to offset paying for HIS URCHINS to go to EXCLUSIVE, FOR-PROFIT, PRIVATE SCHOOLS.

    Nevada, please, WAKE UP!!!
    You are BEING PLAYED LIKE A FIDDLE!
    Rosin up that BOW, B.S...

  3. Its clear that Sandogibbons couldn't care less about our children-their education or their future. All he cares about is not taxing the rich-the people who have made money off of the misery of the working people in the last few years. Sandogibbons cares about the foreign mining corporations who have made record profits and paid almost zero tax but not about our kids. Call your state legislator today and tell them to stop Sandogibbons from balancing the budget by bankrupting our kids and the working class-call 1-800-978-2878.

  4. ...B.S. FIDDLES while Nevader BURNS!!!

  5. And, YES, Mr. Hilton...
    "All he cares about is not taxing the rich".
    Brian Sandoval, your Governor, is ALL BOUGHT & PAID FOR.
    http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2011/jan...

    Call the phone number provided by Mr. Hilton...
    1-800-978-2878.

  6. In addition to PAY CUTS for teachers, and INCREASED CLASS SIZES, hardly anyone is talking about THIS:

    A 25 PERCENT REDUCTION in the classroom SUPPLIES BUDGET:
    http://www.educationnews.org/ednews_toda...

    This is another de-facto CUT IN TEACHER PAY.
    Teachers already are forced to bear a large brunt of paying for "classroom supplies"...

    Additionally, the current rumor is a 20 percent increase in Health Insurance premiums for teachers.

    Hey, B.S.,
    Why don'tcha just come right out and SAY IT:
    "WE DO NOT VALUE YOU IN THE LEAST."

  7. The whole tea party movement and extremists like Sandy Valley are about telling lies that being able to restrict union people will suddenly somehow create a pile of money. Hey, it ain't gonna happen. Nevada schools were bad before this guy, his signature achievement will be assuring that Nevada schools are on the bottom for the next 20 years. Get him out of there! Raise taxes and fund things adequately - not extravagantly - but adequately.

  8. Man up people. This is what the majority of voters decided on election day--no tax increases. Get with the program folks. Everyone wants to spend more money but no one has a clue about where it will come from, except some fleeting references to the rich.

    The tax base has eroded and 15 percent are unemployed we are poorer today than 5 years ago. For those who want to tax the mines. Fine. Today the mines contribute about $50 million per year to the general fund. If we were to triple the taxes to say $150 million, the effects would be small, an incremental increase of $100 million in revenues. If the schools got one-half of that, say $50 million, it might help, but not a lot.

    Businesses are working off the $1 billion or so owed to feds to pay for unemployment benefits. That has the same effect as a tax.

    So folks where is the money going to come from? The knee jerk tax the rich and blame the Republicans doesn't cut it. Let's hear something concrete for a change except the same empty "tax the rich" and blame the Republicans. Remember folks the Dems control the legislature.

  9. This article and its companion--Teachers in the bullseye create an interesting juxtaposition. Very interesting takes on the various realities of the mess.

    As for the governor sending his kids to private school, this is not relevant to the discussion here.

  10. Why is it that education is always on the chopping block ? . How about support staff first , extra activities, field trips, sports programs. Laying off teachers may help the states pocketbook, but it will create a nightmare in the schools. How about cutting back on the Govenors staff. How about pay cuts on all State Legislators , state road workers, ya see 1 or 2 actually working and 5 standing there watching. Trim the fat everywhere else first before you lay off 1 teacher.

  11. @Tanker1975--I don't know the answer to your question.

    My point was that the decision by the Governor and his family to send the kids to private school would have been made regardless of how much money was being spent on public education in this state.

    I do know that parents make decisions regarding sending their children to private schools. Private schools prosper in states where per student spending is more than double what it is in Nevada. These choices are made by families everyday and from all walks of life. Parochial schools charge and people pay bucks over and above their taxes each year to send their kids.

    In particular, public figures, with school aged children, such as the Governor, the President and others make these choices all of the time. There are no doubt many factors involved in these choices. That was my point.

  12. First solution to reduce the huge negative impact on K-12 education that Sandoval's irresponsible budget would impose: write to your legislators to urge them NOT to "sunset" the 2009 tax fix. We can all agree that with such terrible budget butchery, giving a tax cut adds insult to injury and makes no sense. Sandoval's budget is like a chain-saw massacre of public education, very well illustrated in this article.

    Second: write to your legislators to urge them to increase taxes on at least a few things, such as a new tobacco and liquor tax (sin taxes). AB333 right now proposes to do this (not much revenue but at least this is something).

    Also: write your legislators to support AB 428, which revises the net proceeds tax on the mining industry, which, over the past ten years, has paid no taxes at all on more than 4 billion in net profits. This won't solve the whole problem, but will help.

    Third: write to your legislators to support a broad based business tax, very similar to the one that Governor Kenny Guinn tried (and failed) to get through in 2003, as a visionary Republican who cared uppermost about quality public education in our state: AB 336 right now proposes a similar tax that also includes special exemptions and exclusions for small businesses.

    These three solutions, above, are at least a start toward stabilizing Nevada's tax base as the economy very gradually improves. Public education can then work toward increased efficiencies and improvements over the long-term.

    In sum: 40+ students per class in the 4th grade is not education; it's not even responsible babysitting; it means that citizens in Nevada will turn their backs on children and leave the majority of them ill-equipped and unprepared for productive lives in the 21st century. Shame!

  13. Douglas is right on the money, as it were.

    The 700 million dollar tax deal, if renewed, would knock out at least a third of the budget deficit. The renewal would also keep a number of important tax breaks for small businesses intact. When Sandogibbons came out against the 700 million deal, he also supported ending those tax breaks. INEXPLICABLY, when this fact was pointed out to him, Sandogibbons told the press that he didn't know about the tax breaks for small businesses! His Chief of Staff, Gansert, who was in the legislature WHEN THE TAX DEAL WAS MADE forgot. Incompetence.

    Taxing the mining industry and eliminating their deductions which allow them to write off the 5% net proceeds tax they DO pay is the next step. That, combined with taking the brothel industry up on their offer, THEIR OFFER MIND YOU, to be taxed by the state each year gets you to at least half way.

    Now the figure is a manageable billion over two years. This can be tackled with a number of ideas-Douglas has mentioned only a few. But you have to have elected officials who want to cooperate, and that starts with the Governor. We have another Republicans Governor who has refused to negotiate with Republicans or Democrats who disagree with the cuts in his budget. He is NO DIFFERENT that the last Republican Governor. The only change is that this one has listened to teachers and taxpayers, students and seniors, who pointed out the severe harm his budget will cause TO HIS FACE. He listened, told them he knows about the harm he is about to cause, and decided to side with the rich foreign mining companies and against the people of this state. He is HOPELESS. That is why people need to call the legislature at 1-800-978-2878 and tell their representatives to STOP SANDOGIBBONS NOW and prevent his budget from getting out of the legislature. Its time for reasonable people who are ready to negotiate to take over; enough of the Republican games that are being played with Nevada's working families and their children.

  14. RoseAnne RoseannaDanna, you incipient ninny...

    IS THE EARTH FLAT IN YOUR WORLD???

    I wonder...
    Is Roseanne Roseannadanna REALLY P.R.G.???

    Turrialba, sir...
    You know I respect your opinion.
    However, you are WAY OFF BASE HERE, IMO.
    You are equating CCSD, and Education in general, as a BUSINESS MODEL ONLY.
    There are MANY, MANY MITIGATING FACTORS at play here.
    May I ask, and not to be disrespectful;
    WHEN was the last time you were in a K-12 classroom?
    Back in the day, when I went to school, if there was ONE CHILD who was disrespectful or having trouble, EVERYONE KNEW IMMEDIATELY...there were problems OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM causing the behavioral/learning issues, and it was dealt with IMMEDIATELY.
    Nowadays, you have half a class full of these problem children... and the other half suffers, commensurate with the cacophony caused by the crop of crazed and/or I.Q. challenged, yet MAINSTREAMED bunch; Depending on the luck of the draw, literally, you can have the worst class in the world one year, and the best class in the world the next. And the teachers DON'T COMPLAIN ABOUT IT!
    But now, according to the Anti-Union bunch, we ought to PAY TEACHERS based on how this group PERFORMS, regardless of what hand you're dealt? Do you know how many CANS OF WORMS this kind of system potentially opens???

  15. gmag:

    At one point in my life I taught in a community college back east. It was during the Bush Administration.

    Each day I saw the wreckage produced by a public school system unable to teach some very basic writing and arithmetic skills to very average kids in 12 years.

    Kids that arrived had no idea that if you flunked every test you would flunk the class. The model was flunk every test and still get a "C" and get pushed on to the next stop. None had been asked to read anything but a text book. Too much time building self-esteem in phony ways that the kids saw through. They did multiple choice exams for 12 years. They were honest and decent kids.

    For some reason these same kids who walked in the door with no skills left in 12-24 weeks with some very basic skills--they could construct sentences and write an essay--not great writing, but enough to write a memo to the boss. Similar results were achieved in math. They couldn't read a graph, but that was for another day. The only type of examine they had ever taken was a multiple choice test. That could be changed too. It is amazing how they would respond to standards, once standards were put in place and there were consequences to their actions.

    The kids were angry with their teachers and the school system. A waste of student time and taxpayer money. Afterwards, society was spending bucks to achieve something in a matter of 12 to 24 weeks that could not be achieved in 12 years. Not cheap, but worth it.

    This leads to the question, what was going on for 12 years and why on earth was so little done for the average kid (not a rocket scientist nor a kid with a disability)? This falls to the parents; the kids; school system; and the taxpayers that supported and perpetuated this system of incompetence and waste.

    BTW--this was the during the late 80s and early 90s, during the G.H.W. Bush administration.

  16. @ShannonK

    Let's accept your position for the moment. The average kid doesn't apply his/her self to learning--at least for the past 40 years.

    Then why bother? I don't quite see where your position leads. We can't do any better than we have?

  17. Joe--

    Are you saying we give up on the average kid? I am confused.

    Where is Nancy today or has she given up on us?