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December 18, 2014

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Education:

Teachers new to district — even the outstanding ones — face uncertain future

Image

Steve Marcus

First grade teacher Judith Alfaro, a New Teacher of the Year award winner, takes a break from cleaning her classroom on the last full day of class at Sewell Elementary school in Henderson Wednesday, June 6, 2012. The school has two “new teachers of the year” whose jobs are in jeopardy because of budget cuts and an arbitration decision that forces the school district to pay raises.

New Teachers Worry About Layoffs

Fifth grade teacher Edward Savarese takes down his award for Launch slideshow »

Judith Alfaro wipes her dry-erase board clean and begins taking down the posters in her classroom.

It’s the last full day of the school year and the first-grade teacher at Sewell Elementary School doesn’t know if she’ll be decorating her classroom again in the fall.

That’s because Alfaro is among the 266 “first-year” teachers in the Clark County School District who are facing seniority-based layoffs because of budget cuts.

Alfaro, however, isn’t just a rookie teacher. She is one of seven teachers recognized last month by the School District for being an outstanding New Teacher of the Year.

To receive that award, Alfaro — like many teachers across the district — went above and beyond her job description, volunteering her time before and after school to help her students succeed. The 28-year-old teacher helped organize and run Sewell’s after-school tutoring sessions.

“It’s kind of sad to lose my job after being recognized,” Alfaro says, sighing. “Teaching is what I’ve always wanted to do. I don’t want to do anything else.”

Last month, the School District approved a final budget that bridged a $64 million deficit with as many as 1,000 teacher layoffs. Pink slips are expected to go out next week.

District officials contend they are forced to lay off hundreds of teachers because of an arbitration decision last month that forced the School District to continue paying salary step and education increases to its teachers, per its contract with the teachers union. Officials warned as early as November that the cash-strapped district could not avert teacher layoffs if the union did not agree to concessions.

All school year, hundreds of recently hired teachers weren't sure if they would have a job next year.

“Unfortunately, we had to live with that uncertainty,” said Sewell Principal Carrie Buck, who counts four new teachers among her 45-member staff at Sewell, a four-star school. “That’s the unsettling thing: You don’t know what’s happening.”

The Legislature enacted a law last year that was supposed to end the practice of basing teacher layoffs on seniority. The law mandated that teachers who received bad evaluations would be laid off first.

However, the School District has only 38 teachers who demonstrated poor performance. The majority of the expected 1,000 layoffs will fall on new teachers. (It is unknown yet how vacancies, retirements and resignations will affect the final layoff number.)

More than 837 licensed employees were new to the district this school year, according to chief Human Resources Officer Staci Vesneske. These new employees include teachers, psychologists and counselors.

When a new teacher is hired, he or she is given a “seniority number” among the more than 18,000 teachers in the district.

Of those 837 new employees in the district, 266 are first-year teachers who will be the first to be let go during a “reduction in force.”

“Certainly, we still hope we will be able to resolve something with the (teachers) association, but this is what we’re looking at right now,” Vesneske said regarding the expected layoffs.

Alfaro’s “seniority number” is about 600 from the bottom of the list, she said. If there are more than 600 pink slips issued next year, count Alfaro among the ranks of the unemployed, she said.

School Board Passes Budget with Layoffs

Clark County School District Superintendent Dwight Jones listens to a presentation on the budget during a Clark County School Board meeting at the Edward Greer Education Center on East Flamingo Road Wednesday, May 16, 2012. The board approved a final budget that will lay off 1,015 positions in order to balance the budget. Launch slideshow »

“You work hard, finally get the job and get superexcited, and then this,” Alfaro said, talking on Wednesday about the impending layoffs. “I don’t want to leave this school. I love my school, my children, my colleagues.”

•••

The loss of new teachers is unfortunate, Buck said. That’s because these younger employees often bring new ideas that “rejuvenate” a school, she said.

“It’s very unsettling when (teachers) become a number on a list,” Buck said. “They might be a number to the bureaucracy, but to us, they’re such an asset. They have so much to give to our students.

“All four of my new teachers go above and beyond. They constantly give 100 percent. They give their heart to this school.”

Ruben Murillo, president of the Clark County Education Association, said he also lamented the idea of teachers losing their jobs. He stuck to the union’s oft-repeated stance that the district doesn’t need to lay off teachers.

“Any teacher being laid off is not what we want,” he said. “We don’t think any teachers have to be laid off.

“Any teacher who is laid off is a loss to children, whether they are a veteran or new teacher. Veteran teachers bring a wealth of knowledge. New teachers bring enthusiasm. It’s a good mix.”

All the first-year teachers at Sewell aren’t exactly “newbies,” Buck said. For example, Alfaro was a long-term substitute teacher, filling vacancies across the district for six years before being hired for the 2011-12 school year at Sewell.

Despite the ongoing contract battle, Buck said her Henderson elementary school was able to maintain a stable learning environment for her students, many of whom come from low-income families.

“We’re like a family at Sewell,” she said. “Morale was hit hard, but we tried to do the best we could.”

What worries Buck just as much as losing teachers next year is how the layoffs will impact Sewell’s student-to-teacher ratio. District officials have said class sizes may jump by three students next year.

That means Alfaro’s first-grade class, which started out with 29 students this year, may have more than 30 students in the fall.

With fewer teachers and more students, some children are going to be left behind, Alfaro said.

“I can’t get kids ‘Ready by Exit’ when there are so many kids in a class,” Alfaro said, referencing the School District’s renewed focus on graduation. “It becomes very difficult to teach.”

Jill Plourde shared Alfaro’s concerns about class sizes. Plourde’s 7-year-old son Cooper was in Alfaro’s class this year.

“If (class sizes) go up any more, I don’t think teachers can handle all of the students,” Plourde said after a recent award ceremony honoring Sewell student accomplishments this year.

“I would be really upset if Mrs. Alfaro is laid off,” Plourde continued. “She’s a great teacher who really cares about her students.”

•••

On the other side of Sewell’s campus — on a dusty patch of land on Lake Mead Drive — fifth-grade teacher Edward Savarese Jr. already has cleaned out his classroom for the summer.

The first-year teacher is leaving behind one item, however: a tall red and gold trophy.

Two years ago, Savarese started an after-school archery club at Sewell. That year, his team of 15 young archers came in second place at the state tournament.

“I’ll miss this,” Savarese said, gazing longingly at the trophy. “I’ll miss the kids. I’ve watched them grow up.”

Savarese became a teacher four years ago because he was a special education student whose third-grade teacher believed in him, he said. Barbara Morris taught the now 34-year-old Savarese about organization and gave him the confidence to succeed.

Savarese — who has a form of dyslexia — went on to graduate from college and receive his master’s degree.

Click to enlarge photo

Teachers union president Ruben Murillo speaks during a Clark County School Board meeting at the Edward Greer Education Center on East Flamingo Road Wednesday, May 16, 2012. The board approved a final budget that will lay off 1,015 positions in order to balance the budget.

“She changed my life,” Savarese said, reminiscing inside his empty classroom. “I want to do the same for these kids. I want to teach.”

However, Savarese’s “seniority number” is 537 from the bottom. He was pretty critical of the union, saying that he believes the union is protecting mediocrity by arguing for seniority. Although Savarese has four years of teaching experience, the former substitute teacher was just hired in August — which means he has a “good chance” of being laid off, he said.

In anticipation of that dreaded pink slip, Savarese is moving to a smaller apartment. He and his wife are also postponing plans to start a family.

“If I don’t have a job and medical insurance, we can’t have a baby,” Savarese said.

Furthermore, Savarese has about $50,000 in student loan debt he is paying off for his bachelor’s degree in anthropology and master’s degree in education.

“I’ll be paying off a loan for 10 years for a job I’ve had for just one (year),” he said. “It’s terrifying. I don’t know if I should start selling things, sending applications or move to another state.”

Like Alfaro, Savarese was recognized last month for being a New Teacher of the Year. Yet, that accolade doesn’t ease the constant fear of losing his job as a new teacher in the district, Savarese said.

“The irony of it is outstanding,” Savarese said, his voice rising. “I’m the one being punished for going above and beyond. Meanwhile, there are some veteran teachers who are comfortable and happy doing just the minimum. Why are they safe when I’m not?”

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  1. A thousand teacher layoffs? If the school district's record is any indication there is no chance that one thousand teachers will actually lose their jobs.

  2. I just hope people start waking up to the real problem of education here in Nevada.

    From comments I see and articles, the teachers are all pointing fingers at each other, at the unions, at education itself, at the students, at the administrators, and any other assorted and asundry reason....other than the real reason: This stupid Government we have here in Nevada.

    Make no mistake. This succession of Tea/Republican Party Governors in this State have gutted education.

    They want this discourse going on. So they can rape education more.

    I make a prediction. If our Government here in Nevada flips over to a majority of Tea/Republicans, you can kiss any type of half average education goodbye. Because Governor Sandoval will be free and clear to take a sledge hammer to it. He will make what Governor Walker did in Wisconsin look like a sideshow.

    The fact of the matter is the Government here in Nevada only wants to blame teachers...rather than work with them. They act like it's THEIR problem this is all happening. And they have, in the past, as they will in the future, not lift one finger to help, nor even sit down at a table to figure it out. THEY JUST WANT IT DESTROYED!

    If you actually were to sit down and look at Nevada compared to other States, it will be revealed we are going backwards in education. Other States that have moderate Governments composed of Democratic Party members tend to have better education.

    In short, we keep going like this, Nevada will have the same education level of some third world country.

    I just hope people wake up and start realizing that Nevada is not just casinos and mines, it also has the youth of this Great State to encourage also. We deserve to give them a chance.

  3. "If I don't have a job and medical insurance, we can't have a baby," Savarese said.

    I wish more people thought like Mr. Savarese. Of course then we wouldn't need as many teachers.

    I do wish you well. Teachers do a great job and should be paid more. Class sizes should be smaller. I challenge one of those who want to cut pay and increase class size to spend a day trying to manage (let alone teach) 30 children under the age of 12.

  4. Apparently none of these budding educators had the brains to perform due diligence on their selected professions and employer. Had they done so they might have noticed that that the economy of Nevada and Las Vegas is [possibly] the worst in the country and that all of the public sector, from the feds down, is shrinking significantly. They may have also noticed that CCSD in particular was engaged in contentious negotiations with teachers. They might also have considered that their skill/knowledge sets don't match what is necessary in this rapidly changing economy. If you really want to be a teacher with a guaranteed slot then pick math, hard science or special education. I'm sorry to be the one to break the bad news but an anthropology graduate is, for all intents and purpose, unemployable.

    The District continued to recruit and hire knowing that there were risks. I'm gonna speculate that their recruiters were not exactly forthcoming about those risks. So I'll give you the same advice that I gave my seniors; get some marketable skills, don't go to college without a firm idea of what you want and be prepared to move to find work.

  5. The superintendent admonished us through district email for not conceding like the school police did. Perhaps he is unaware that the school police got a nice raise during the boom that teachers did not, and that many school police officers make more than teachers?

  6. Good teachers losing their jobs because crappy teachers that have been in the job for years, not for the kids but for themselves get to keep their jobs...gotta love unions.

  7. These people are "New Teachers" of the Year? By definition, they are not the best teachers in the District, they are the best of the "New Teachers". This meaningless award in no way tells us where they stand compared to ALL of the teachers in the district. Cut administrative waste and CCSD could employ MORE teachers, not less. Currently more that HALF of CCSD employees DO NOT WORK IN CLASSROOMS.

  8. Truer words, f/JeffFromVegas...

    "One is the brainwashing of America by the republican ruling class. They are brainwashing their own followers. This is all about the money they want to privatize and demonize everything they don't control. Their acolytes -- like the predominant posters here on this thread are mirrors of this domination of right wingers. It is Stockholm syndrome on steroids."

    Astute observation, Jeffrey.

    Leading NASCAR NATION around by their nose hairs, and getting them good ol' boys (& girls) to buy into a program that is nearly entirely against their own best interests has been a masterstroke of/by the right; comparisons of which sends their leaders into apoplectic fits, because...well, besides being painfully correct, they are entirely, universally unflattering.

  9. The article refers to "1,000 expected layoffs." Please quit throwing around the word "layoffs" so loosely. Try to actually explain this to the public. I have two points to make to help clarify, and hopefully the Sun will dig deeper and actually do so officially as well.

    First, on Jon Ralston's Face to Face program earlier this week, the superintendent himself, when pressed by Jon, acknowledged that the actual number of layoffs will probably be less than that. While Jones wouldn't give a specific number, and rightly can't at this point, he did say it would be in the hundreds. Go back and watch it right on this website. My best-guess opinion is that actual people laid off will come out, if any prior to the start of next school year, at less than 100.

    Second, the budget presentation to the Board, if the Sun looks closely, does not predict 1,000 layoffs. The slide with information about reductions refers in the header specifically to funding from the general operating budget. Of the 1,015 positions discussed for elimination from that specific budget, 175 of those are for literacy specialist positions. In essence, however, those 175 are being converted over to a new title, "Learning Coach," and are now being paid for out of grant funds. The bottom line is that those positions are being "eliminated" only in the sense of title and funding source, but those are not actual jobs lost for people.

    Please be more thorough in your reporting of these numbers and the actual meaning attached to them.

  10. @LJ_Vegas:

    Thanks for your comments, which are well put and taken.

    The story mentions your first point briefly in the first section. When we covered the School District's "layoffs" announcement last month, we reported on your second point. This story today focused on how some new teachers feel about bearing the brunt of expected layoffs.

  11. Many administrators don't seem to actually know which teachers are best. They seem to prefer those who do extensive amounts of clubs, coaching, etc.

  12. Paul, in your next article maybe you could ask why CCSD delayed the surplus meetings that had been scheduled earlier this week. Several teachers I know were full ready to get on with the process - to finally achieve some definitive answer as to what is happening. CCSD delayed the meeting, and at this point it is not clear why.

    I know many people who just don't think there will be any actual layoffs at this point. Anecdotal evidence is pointing to a higher than usual attrition rate. Of course, even if there are not layoffs the bottom line will be a worse education system with larger class sizes.

  13. Under Dwight Jones leadership, the district has been hiring teachers all year, knowing full well that if the arbitrator's decision went against the district, as it did, there would be no money to retain them. To me it's just irresponsible to entice someone to relocate for a job, when you know there's a good chance it will only be for a few months. If there are lay-offs, I think Dwight Jones should personally deliver each pink slip and apologize for his callous and reckless behavior.
    There are several other aspects of this whole budget/staffing situation that should be explored: First,even now, with no money and lay-offs pending, the district is still recruiting new teachers, sending HR staff and retired principals across the country to interview and hire teachers. Second, the large lay-off number, is only for public consumption,it's not accurate. That number does not account for the 500-700 teachers lost through attrition (retirements, resignations, etc.) each year. With that attrition number factored in, the actual number of lay-offs will be much less dramatic. Finally, with all the exaggerations, falsehoods and "cooking of the books" that Jones has been peddling to the public, he has lost his credibility and moral authority to lead;maybe it's time for the school board to hold him accountable. Dwight Jones has proven that he will lie and manipulate the numbers to serve his purpose; is that a leader who can be trusted?

  14. eh, Colin... CCSD hasn't faced much of a budget cut at all in the last 5 years. The bulk of the "cuts" come from promised increases not money that was ever spent.

    CCSD went on pretending to cut teacher salaries (they let the step and pay increases occur behind the scenes and asked teachers to take unpaid time off) now its time to pay the piper...

    Unfortunately education is about funding jobs for adults for teachers, not actually educating students and that is why we have such policies as paying teachers significantly more for extra years of work or PhDs when no evidence suggests PhDs or MAs are helpful or that any experience beyond 5 years does any additional good.

  15. @Patrick. The CCSD budget for 2012-2013 is just over 2 Billion. In the past 5 years, the budget for CCSD has dropped by 500 MILLION. What do you call that? Since 2008, the teacher pay scale has been the same. The only pay increases for teachers went to those who moved in years of experience and in education, which is required to maintain a teaching license. Before you complain about the increase for years of experience, that is capped at 5 years for teachers with bachelors and 9 years for teachers with a masters. So the actual amount of teachers moving was not significant. It wasn't like all 18000 moved.

    CCSD has never had teachers take unpaid time off during the school year. CCSD administrators did have some unpaid days off a few years ago.

    How do you feel about the 2011 salary information posted on Transparent Nevada. You know the top 50 employees making a total of 8.5 MILLION in salary and benefits. Not ONE teacher on that list. In fact teachers don't start showing up until page 36. There are 50 names per page, so that is over 1750 people before teachers show up. The classic is the last name on page 35, Rudy Petshauer, a roofer in general maintenance who made over 104K. Here's the link to help you remember.

    http://transparentnevada.com/salaries/cl...

  16. Where did these people ever get the idea that a 'lil 'ol common, ordinary, generic B.Ed. was immune to the same economic realities that we all face?

    There are scads of Ph.D.s out there in the unemployment line so stop whining about the field YOU chose and get in line.

  17. In regards to seniority based layoffs or "first in, last out", there are certainly some valid arguments for reforming/balancing the current CCSD evaluation and layoff process. "True" merit based evaluations have been discussed for years in CCSD and other districts, but have met resistance not only from unions, but fair minded administrators as well. In a perfect world, it all sounds great. However, personalities and egos often skew objective evaluations in the workplace. I just left(ran) from a campus with a despotic, egocentric admin who had the campus divided between "her favorites" and "her scapegoats". Morale under these circumstances quickly disappears and mediocrity becomes the order of the day. Why??? Because hard working "teacher of the year caliber" educators are frequently rewarded with harassment/hostility and simply more work and extra duties while their colleagues that are incompetent and lazy are rewarded by being given less work and left alone......simply because they know where to park their noses"""".

  18. I find it amusing that people think that education reform is changing the method of teacher evaluations and trying to get rid of teacher associations and trying to change the pension system. How does that help improve instruction in the classroom. I am waiting for somebody to explain to me how that works.

    When you look at the countries that rank about the US in math and science, they all have several things in common. Their school year is longer than 180 days, and they don't give their students 3 months off during the summer. If you go back and look at the year round schools in CCSD they had better test results than schools on a 9 month calendar. Why do we use a school calendar that dates back to the 1850's in the 21st century?

    Those countries have longer school days and smaller class sizes than the US. Those countries value education and teachers are viewed as professionals and treated accordingly.

    Those are education reforms that will have a positive impact in the classroom and on students.

    Why is nobody talking about those meaningful education reforms? Oh, yeah those changes will cost money. Opps, my bad. Nobody wants education reform that will improve student performance, and will cost more money.

  19. CCSD hired over a thousand teachers, one year ago, and now they are laying off a thousand teachers. All these teachers getting laid off should have never been hired in the first place. THAT is the true tragedy. The rest of this is all emotionally charged smoke and mirrors.

    The other truth is there are dozens of studies that show a teacher's level of experience matters, so does their education levels, so does class size.

    Patrick_R_Gibbons, good to see you astroturfing for Michelle Rhee. Please site the EXACT research you are pulling your innuendo from. (Self citation isn't citation, the legislature has proven NPRI can't competently analyze statistical models.) Thanks!

  20. Uncertain future? How about all the people formerly employed at anything? Anyone in their first year of employment might also be uncertain.
    I suspect CCSD has been hiring Science, Math and Special Ed teachers when they can find them. Enough Liberal Arts types already. Arizona still K-12ing for $1,000 per pupil per year less. That's about $100,000,000 WASTED in CCSD EVERY year. And, Arizona gets graduates who can read and write English. All of Europe (save small Switz.) spend LESS than the U.S. and gets results. Nevada: Average spending for U.S. which is be definition EXCESSIVE. Nevada: 51st in results despite years of wasted Class size reduction funding.

  21. @Roslenda. Please cite your sources for your unproven claims. You keep saying the same things, but whenever you are asked for sources, you tell the person asking to look them up. I do my research, and provide links to my sources. It is only fair to ask you to do the same. Until you do, I will consider your wild a## claims to be baseless. CCSD has been hiring all types of teachers, in the past year, not just math, science or special ed.

  22. @Roslenda. In one of your comments to "Spending may not improve education" you advocated the following.

    'Longer school days. Longer school years. Put teachers on FULL TIME and year round. Teach reading in elementary school. No advancement UNTIL you can read at grade level. And writing, basic composition within a grade level.' This was posted at 6:38 AM on June 9th.

    This is the link to the article in the Sun.

    http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2012/jun...

    If your employer changes the number of days that you work or the number of hours that you work per day, do you not expect that your pay will be adjusted appropriately, i.e. INCREASED? I think that would be a reasonable expectation.

    So, if you are complaining about per pupil spending, why are you advocating for a longer school day and year, which will INCREASE spending?