Published Monday, June 11, 2012 | 8:30 a.m.
Updated Monday, June 11, 2012 | 9:05 p.m.
The Clark County School District sent pink slips to 419 teachers this morning after eliminating more than 1,000 teaching positions next school year to balance its budget.
Last month, the School Board approved a $2.06 billion budget for fiscal 2013 that bridged a $64 million deficit by shedding 1,015 positions.
The 419 pink slips sent out Monday reflect the estimated number of filled teaching positions that are being cut after taking into account end-of-year retirements, resignations and relocations. The School District – the fifth largest in the nation – is the largest public employer in Nevada with more than 37,000 total employees.
“We remain firm in our position that keeping teachers in classrooms is what’s best for our students and community,” Clark County Schools Superintendent Dwight Jones said in a prepared statement.
Immediately after the layoffs announcement, the local teachers union fired back, rallying more than 100 teachers in front of the School District’s administration building on West Sahara Avenue. Wearing red T-shirts, union members held signs that read “No Layoffs” and chanted “Save our teachers, save our schools.”
“Four hundred pink slips is 400 too many,” said Ruben Murillo, president of the Clark County Education Association. “There should be no layoffs. The district doesn’t have to do this.”
Affected teachers will be informed by a letter sent out today from the School District’s human resources department.
“It is with deep regret that I must inform you … that you will be reduced in force,” reads the letter from Staci Vesneske, the district’s chief human resources officer. “At this time, you will be placed on a leave of absence for a period not to exceed two years.”
It is unknown what teaching positions were impacted by the layoffs, although officials said last month the district would lay off 840 teachers and 175 literacy specialists, which include librarians and reading coaches.
English, math, special education, science and some language teachers are exempt from layoffs. Teachers at the district’s “turnaround” schools — Chaparral, Mojave, Rancho and Western high schools and Hancock and Kit Carson elementary schools — are also spared from layoffs.
The layoffs were determined in large part by seniority, because a new state law that should have ended the “last in, first out” policy only applied to a small minority of teachers. Just 38 of the 419 teachers were laid off for having poor performance, defined as having five days or longer suspensions.
School District officials attributed the layoffs to a recent arbitration ruling that forced the district to continue paying salary step and education increases, per its contract with the local teachers union.
The district is in contract negotiations with the Clark County Education Association in hopes of putting the 419 teachers laid off back in the classroom by the fall, officials said.
“We continue to approach negotiations with the hope of securing a contract that allows the district to live within our means while keeping teachers in the classroom and employed,” Jones said in a statement.
Union officials say the School District has the funds to avoid layoffs and argue the pink slips were meant to goad the union into taking concessions next year. District officials refuted this claim, arguing that all the money has been allocated.
John Vellardita, the union’s executive director, said the School District was asking for fewer concessions next year. He questioned why district negotiators are only seeking $22 million in concessions when the district has a $64 million budget deficit.
District officials did not verify the union’s figure, citing closed negotiations.
“The district has a financial problem, but not like this,” Vellardita said. “For the past 10 years, there has been a collaborative relationship between the union and the district. In less than a year, (Jones) has destroyed that.
“The School District can’t proceed with their reforms without its teachers,” Vellardita continued. “They should be bargaining with us to get more state funding for education.”
Union officials said they were confident many of the teachers who were laid off might be able to return by the fall because the union expects more teacher retirements and resignations this year. Already, more than 500 teachers have said they would leave the district, Murillo said.
The district – which has laid off and then rehired teachers in the past – had to issue pink slips “to save face” after warning for months about layoffs, Murillo added.
After negotiations are concluded, the district will conduct a “surplus” meeting to determine estimated staffing levels at each school to see if some teachers can be brought back.
If there are any open positions, licensed teachers would be reinstated to qualifying positions in reverse order of the “reduction in force.” The School District has no obligation to rehire teachers after the two-year leave of absence expires.
The reduction of 1,015 teaching positions means class sizes will grow by an average of three students, officials said.
Next school year, middle and high schools are expected to have an average class size of 35 students. Elementary schools will have an average class size of 21 students in the first to third grades and 34 students in the fourth and fifth grades.
Teachers protesting this morning said they were shocked and dismayed by the pink slips.
“I love my job, but I’m very frustrated,” said LJ Bright, a second-grade teacher at Harmon Elementary School. “It’s crazy. You don’t know what’s going to happen anymore.”
The 14-year veteran teacher said the layoffs would hurt her students, some of who are special education students who need more attention.
“It’s less time I have to spend with each student,” she said. “It makes my job a lot harder and it hurts the kids the most.”
Debra Cooley, a kindergarten teacher at Steele Elementary School, said she had about 100 students this year in her morning and afternoon classes. She said she was worried she would be forced to just baby-sit her students instead of preparing her students for first grade.
Although the 17-year-veteran teacher said she sympathized with teachers who were laid off, Cooley said she supported seniority-based layoffs.
“If you just graduated from law school, do you become a partner right away?” Cooley said. “You have to earn it and gain respect.”
Griffith Elementary School kindergarten teacher Christie Rodriguez said the layoffs probably would dissuade her husband from seeking a teaching job with the district.
Her husband just finished his first year student teaching at Griffith and is contemplating a career change from working in the casino industry, Rodriguez said.
“I’m worried about my job and being able to support my family,” she added. “It’s scary.”
Moreover, Rodriguez – a six-year veteran teacher in Clark County – said she was worried about the kind of education her 4-year-old daughter would be getting in the School District when she starts kindergarten in two years. Rodriguez said she was expecting 37 students in her kindergarten class next year due to the teacher layoffs.
“With 37 kids, how are we supposed to teach anything?” Rodriguez said. “It’s terrifying to think (my daughter) will be in a class with that many kids.”