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November 22, 2014

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P.E. teacher on chopping block catches lucky break

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David Becker / Special to the Home News

A group of physical education teachers received Physical Education Teacher of the Year awards at the annual CCSD Physical Education Conference at Centennial High School in 2009. From left are presenter Hayden Ross; Harold Reese, Cannon Middle School; Lexa Jones, Cannon Middle School; Kirk Grimm, Webb Middle School; Louis Markouzis, Libery High School; Mary Ann Hooper, Miller Middle School; Judy Peterson, Northwest Career and Technical Academy; and Shenoa Davis, Chaparral High School.

Coach Markouzis

Coach Markouzis

Lou Markouzis looked around the room during a meeting of physical education personnel at Liberty High School, did some quick math and realized his job was in jeopardy.

The seven-person department — which includes boys and girls physical education, dance and health — had to be trimmed to six as part of Clark County School District budget cuts, meaning the 36-year-old Markouzis could be transferred to another school, or worse, laid off.

So, he went home that evening and mapped out a backup plan with his wife, Kim. His prospects were dim.

“I was going into uncharted waters,” Markouzis said. “There was a time when my wife and I talked about me being a doorman at one of the clubs. If this went south quick like we expected, I could work there a few nights a week.”

Markouzis has been with the School District for seven years, starting at Liberty in 2003 when it opened on the outskirts of Henderson. He was the school’s first football coach, enduring five straight losing seasons while the program developed and the enrollment slowly grew enough to be competitive. He was physical education teacher of the year for 2008-09.

The others in his department had more seniority in the district, and even though Markouzis was popular with students and teachers, his days were likely numbered.

Then, just as he was coming to terms with going to another school or profession, Markouzis hit the jackpot. Not only was he going to be able to stay at Liberty, he was being promoted and would receive a small pay raise.

When Athletic Director Xavier Antheaume left for the same position at Chaparral High, Liberty Principal Jeff Geihs approached Markouzis about taking the position. He didn’t have to think twice.

“There has to be someone watching over me and my family,” he said. “I’m very blessed and fortunate to have the position offered my way. No question about it.”

Markouzis played college football at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania and came to Las Vegas during a student-teacher exchange program the School District had with his university. But since Markouzis, a native Canadian, only had a work visa, his first teaching job came in the private school ranks at Bishop Gorman High.

Even though he is paid like a teacher with 14 years experience, his seniority number was just seven. With a young family — the couple have a son who is almost 3 years old — Markouzis was understandably worried about how he would provide for them.

To make matters worse, open physical education jobs are virtually impossible to find in the district. Additionally, surplus teachers with more seniority would have priority.

“I really had no idea what would happen,” said Markouzis, who is an assistant coach for the Liberty football team. “I could likely stay with the district, but didn’t know where or what level. I knew I definitely lost my job at Liberty. I was on the chopping block.”

Markouzis knows exactly how other teachers in limbo feel. It’s constantly checking news outlets for updates on the state Legislature, looking at employment ads and praying everything works out. Teachers received a bit of a reprieve Tuesday with the news that $250 million in additional state funding was allocated to the district by the Legislature last weekend to save 1,000 jobs and keep classroom sizes at their current levels. But still, an estimated 800 — everyone from teachers, janitors and other support staff — are at risk of being laid off.

“It’s hard because everything was based on speculation,” said Rich Muraco, Liberty’s football coach and one of Markouzis’ closest friends. “I tried to tell him to stay positive, that maybe they will find money and not have to cut as many spots as they were saying.

“He is a great guy,” Muraco added. “He is always honest and upfront with people. The kids love him because they relate so well to him. He’s funny. They respect him and look up to him.”

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