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January 26, 2015

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Schools want to decide layoffs on attendance, evaluations, criminal record

The Clark County School District wants to consider more than just seniority when it decides who to lay off -- including whether teachers or administrators have a criminal record, something not currently allowed by state law.

The Senate Education Committee heard Assembly Bill 225 and Assembly Bill 229, which would change the employee system that teachers and administrators function under, commonly called tenure.

Those bills are sponsored by Democratic leadership but are likely to get caught up in the tug-of-war over the budget and efforts by Democrats to reduce through tax increases the cuts proposed by Gov. Brian Sandoval.

Even with tax increases, Democrats say there are going to be cuts to state services, like K-12 and higher education. In preparation, the Clark County School District offered an amendment Monday to the education reform package that would allow districts to consider more than just seniority when determining who gets laid off. The districts would consider:

• An employee’s attendance;

• Performance evaluations;

• Discliplinary history;

• And whether they have a criminal record.

Those factors would be considered along with seniority, said district lobbyist Joyce Haldeman. State law already allows teachers to be dismissed for “cardinal sins,” including felonies, but it can be difficult to get rid of those with lesser offenses.

Some senators were startled that the district could not currently get rid of someone with a criminal record.

“We don’t hire people with criminal records,” Haldeman told the committee.

Click to enlarge photo

Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas

“But you don’t have the ability to dismiss them?” Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, asked. “Oh, my.”

The bills proposed by Democratic leadership would upend a long-held system that critics say has made it difficult to get rid of poor teachers. Under the bills:

• Teachers and administrators would be evaluated on a four-point system of highly effective, effective, minimally effective and ineffective. Currently, teachers are only evaluated as satisfactory or unsatisfactory.

• Teachers and administrators would have a three-year probationary period when first hired, during which it would be easier to dismiss them or not renew their contract. Currently, most teachers get tenure after one year.

• Teachers and administrators with two consecutive years of unsatisfactory evaluations would be placed back on probationary status.

The bills passed the Assembly earlier this session, but with criticism from both Democratic and Republican lawmakers. Some Democrats said it unfairly targeted teachers. Republicans said the changes don’t go far enough.

Click to enlarge photo

John Oceguera

The bills are sponsored by Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, and Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks.

The Assembly bills represent Democratic leadership’s proposals to reform the state’s education system.

The law allows tenure, formally called “post-probationary status,” to be granted within two years, but the second year is commonly dismissed. A review of records by the Las Vegas Sun found that, over the past five years, 95 percent of new teachers in Clark County were granted tenure after their first year in the classroom.

Sandoval has called for the elimination of tenure. Senior adviser Dale Erquiaga said the changes proposed by the bills represent “a good first step” though the administration has additional amendments it would support, including:

• Elimination of a law allowing teachers and districts to ignore certain provisions of state law if it conflicts with their collectively bargained contract.

• Requiring 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation be determined by test scores.

Right now, Smith said Assembly Bill 222 would create a committee to develop the teacher evaluation process.

Assembly Bill 555, which contained the governor’s more sweeping education reforms, received one hearing but has not come up again.

Smith and Oceguera have been targeted by the Nevada State Education Association, which represents teachers and support staff, for their proposed reforms. On Monday, teacher’s union lobbyist Craig Stevens said the union opposed changes for new or probationary teachers because it would make them essentially “at will employees.”

“You could have a bad day on Thursday and get fired on Friday,” he said.

Smith said: “We do not have an epidemic of bad teachers. What we have is a system that needs to be reworked.”

During the boom, Smith said, Clark County hired 25,000 teachers, recruiting anyone willing to journey here from across the country and world. The slowdown in growth offers an opportunity for reform.

Smith said she has worked on these reforms with administrators, teachers and business groups for over a year. “They’re important to me personally,” she said.

But she acknowledged that some Democrats want reforms tied to an increase in education funding from what Sandoval has proposed.

“There will be people here who would have a hard time supporting major changes when others are not at the table,” she said. “We are at the table. We are serious about cutting budgets. We’re serious about reforms.”

So far, Republican lawmakers have been either unwilling to negotiate on taxes in exchange for reforms or have said that Democrats’ reforms to education, collective bargaining and employee benefits don’t go far enough.

The Senate Education Committee will consider the bills again on Wednesday.

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  1. Also, what about the attendance requirements? Teachers get 15 days of sick leave a year (admittedly, an insane amount), a flex day (for religious holidays) and up to 4 personal days (depending on attendance). So if my son is sick, and I take sick leave granted to me by my contract, I could be fired? If I take my personal leave, or my flex day, I could be fired? That's a very slippery (and scary) slope. I can understand a teacher taking unpaid leave, however...

  2. How about fire all those worthless gym teachers? Look at the rampant obesity and you can see the gym teachers are not real effective at getting them kids active.

  3. Chunky says:

    Teachers like any other employee should be hired, fired and managed based on their overall performance as well as their criminal background status. They should be subject to drug testing as well if not already.

    Parents are the ones who should be held responsible for their kids performance. Teachers should be given a stronger say in classroom control, punishment and behavior issues as well.

    Too many of our children have been raised as spoiled little brats and the teachers are stuck with them.

    We still have to balance the budget so it's great to finally see some ideas on how to cut the deadwood out of the system. Chunky would rather see that money go to teachers who are the best overall employees.

    That's what Chunky thinks!

  4. Imagine owning a business and not being allowed to fire an employee who is a thief! Can it happen? You bet! A bus person working in an off-Strip casino restaurant who was caught stealing food servers tips was reinstated after being fired because of union intervention. How'd you like to be forced to work with such a dishonorable person?

  5. So sad that we are trying to change the rules of the game under the pretense of balancing the budget. This just sounds like Union busting to me.

  6. There is an error in this article.

    Sandoval's plan doesn't call for using test scores (which implies end of year score only or reaching some preset benchmark)for teacher evaluations it calls for value added assessment which doesn't look at the students test score but the growth in the individual students achievement. That is, students are compared only with their own past scores rather than other teachers.

  7. First, let me encourage you to read the section, "See all comments," as you will read many comment penned by those teachers or folks who are currently WORKING IN THE SCHOOLS. By doing so, it will bring some balance in perspective.

    No matter the industry, the employer will utilize techniques towards getting more "bang for their buck." Keep that in mind. You have senior teachers out there that have put years of best practices teaching, volunteer work, and their heartfelt care for students and their communities. They are younger and grow older, used, unappreciated, turned into near slave labor, forever being "asked" to do something, but not receiving credit, appreciation, or acknowledgement. It happens more than most think. The employers solution: get a new employee with energy, work them hard. Same results. Then, do what is going on now.

    Furthermore, disseminate all and any forms of misinformation and propaganda. Hire the likes of Ms.Rhee to "advise and consult" the new Governor on how to treat people and be successful.

    Like it or not, "the WAVE" hit Clark County hard with a diverse population that predominately is second language, has problems acculturating to American society, and has negatively financially impacted our social system of basic services as education, medical care, housing, and law enforcement.

    Teachers face many challenges. They DO NOT have the choice of who is placed into their classroom: English speaking: able to read, write, or speak it. Then compound it with lack of parental involvement. That manifests itself with poorly performing students either academically, behaviorally, or BOTH! Try visiting a public school classroom to check this fact.

    It is highly unfair to evaluate teachers working with at-risk students by the same evaluation standards. It's apples and oranges. Liken to comparing a feral cat to a domesticated cat, if you get my drift. Many teachers at Title 1 Schools are quite concerned about this disparity, and rightly so. Most in the public are unaware of this issue. Now you know.

    Please take the time though, to read through, "See all comments," as there are many coming forward, courageously so, because education is on-going for all intelligent life, and it is vital to support life-long learning in the best possible way. Thank you.

  8. We should grade the governor based on his ability to get along with the Demicans

  9. Evaluating a teacher's performance based on test scores in this way will: prejudice teachers in low-income neighborhoods; prejudice teachers who teach English as a Second Language students in their classes (which can be as high as 25% in some of CCSD's schools); and will motivate good teachers to get out of the more challenging schools, leaving the students most in need with the least qualified teachers. Some more sensible approach would be to "scale" the test based on demographic factors (such as ELL students); and allow teachers at certain "crisis schools" to be evaluated differently.

    In sum: one size does not fit all, and that's the major problem with this bill. Let's hope it becomes a platform for the right kind of discussions toward genuine reform of educational philosophy (embracing, for example, concepts of "transitional literacy" in curriculum revision; or seeking much better assessment tools than the current "teach to the test" mandates of "No Child Left Behind"). God help us: there's a lot to do. What I most wish is that ALL sides of the political divide in our state could come together with parents, teachers, and students and work in harmony toward effective reform. Let's hope.

    And give yourselves the news: Sandoval's chain-saw massacre of the K-12 budget will pre-empt any effective, genuine reforms.