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October 21, 2014

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Frustrated families protest school budget cuts, teacher layoffs

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Leila Navidi

Andres Mendoza antagonizes the crowd during a protest outside Vegas Verdes Elementary School on Monday, May 7, 2012.

Protest at Vegas Verdes Elementary

Third-grader Omar Gonzalez, left, 9 and first-grader Emelyn Martinez, 6, cheer during a protest outside of Vegas Verdes Elementary School on Monday, May 7, 2012. Launch slideshow »

About 100 parents and students rallied at a local elementary school Monday afternoon to protest impending teacher layoffs and budget cuts.

Hoisting signs that read “Education First” and chanting “Don’t let our teachers go,” the group marched in front of Vegas Verdes Elementary School, located less than two miles from the School District’s administration building.

The protest comes less than a week after the district announced an undetermined number of teacher layoffs in response to an arbitrator’s decision that sided with the local teachers union on contract negotiations. The decision forces the district — which is facing a $64 million budget deficit — to not freeze salary step and education increases this school year.

Parents at the protest said they were concerned School District and Vegas Verdes leaders are cultivating an atmosphere that is forcing teachers to leave, raising concerns about burgeoning class sizes.

Fifteen of 47 licensed educators at Vegas Verdes have announced they plan to leave the school after this school year, and an untold number of teachers may be laid off if the School District follows through on its threat of layoffs.

“That’s terrible for my children’s future. It makes me fear my kids won’t be educated the right way,” said Teresa Sandoval-Salazar, a parent of three children at Vegas Verdes and the self-proclaimed organizer of the protest. “I don’t know why (the School District) is playing with the future of our children. I don’t think that’s right.”

Although the parents were seemingly self-organized, representatives from the Clark County Education Association were present at the protest, handing out water bottles and providing signs for the parents and students. Union spokeswoman Letty Elias said the parent group requested the union’s help in promoting and supporting the event, which follows on the heels of a smaller protest that occurred three weeks ago at the school.

The union’s executive director John Vellardita said parent protests might become more common if the School District begins to lay off teachers. He maintains the district has the finances to prevent teacher layoffs and overcrowding of schools.

“What you’re seeing today is that parents are frustrated by what’s really going on in CCSD,” Vellardita said. “They don’t want class sizes increased.”

The School District contends, however, that teacher layoffs are inevitable after the arbitrator’s ruling. Because payroll accounts for nearly 90 percent of its budget, the district cannot make further budget cuts without layoffs, district officials have said, adding that there is no extra money in its budget.

“The district wholeheartedly agrees with parents — we want to keep teachers in the classroom,” said district spokeswoman Amanda Fulkerson in a prepared statement. “We join with parents in their dismay that union bosses were successful in pushing through raises for some at the expense of pink slips for others.”

Click to enlarge photo

Teresa Sandoval-Salazar, a parent, speaks to the media during a protest outside of Vegas Verdes Elementary School on Monday, May 7, 2012.

Former School Board member Jose Solorio — who was at the protest representing the Latino political group Si Se Puede — said the budget cuts so far have disproportionately hurt Hispanic students, who make up the majority of students in the district. English Language Learner facilitators were cut last year, which hurts schools like Vegas Verdes that serve a majority minority population, he said.

Solorio added that the School District should take a closer look at its budget instead of blaming teachers, who he said were attracted to the profession because of the annual step increases. Solorio is worried about teacher retention at a time when the School District is facing many academic challenges, he said.

“Teachers shouldn’t be lambasted because they got to keep their salaries,” he said. “The real issue is the lack of education funding from the state. Teachers shouldn’t bear the brunt of the blame.”

Protesters also lobbed their complaints at the Vegas Verdes principal, who they said created a stressful environment for teachers as part of the School District’s new emphasis on teacher evaluations and lesson plans. Parents complained Alice Roybal-Benson has not communicated well with the community, and one teacher complained the school environment is pushing experienced teachers out of the profession.

Fifth-grade teacher Joseph Portilla, who has been with the district five years, said the 15 teachers who are leaving Vegas Verdes have been “forced out” to seek refuge at schools where he said they would feel respected. The tumultuous and tenuous teaching profession is also forcing teachers to rethink their careers, he said.

“They’re trying to get rid of experienced teachers through intimidation and evaluations,” said Portilla, who is a member of the local teachers union. “The conditions here are just miserable for students, parents and teachers.”

First-year Vegas Verdes Principal Alice Roybal-Benson rebuked the protesters’ claims, saying that she regularly meets with parents at school functions and is readily accessible to the community. Although she was on campus during the rally, she did not speak with protesting parents, saying that her work and routine duties kept her from addressing parents at the rally.

Roybal-Benson, who has been with the district 15 years, said she has instituted a number of changes at the school — including teacher evaluations and lesson planning — that has been met with some teacher opposition. She contends the parent protest at her school was a political move by the teachers union in response to the district’s announcement of teacher layoffs last week.

“I am asking teachers to raise the bar, and some teachers are uncomfortable with what I’ve asked of them,” she said. “I’m asking teachers to put a little bit more effort for the benefit of our children. I’m not asking for anything unreasonable.”

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  1. Mrs. Roybal-Benson is delusional if she thinks 15 plus veteran teachers are leaving Vegas Verdes because she has "raised the bar". She needs to practice a little self-reflection. Not only are the "parents complaining Alice Roybal-Benson has not communicated well with the community", she has not communicated well with her staff. Thus she is losing many highly qualified, dedicated teachers.

  2. As an employee at the school I can say with absolute certainty that resistance to lesson plans and evaluations did not cause any problems with the staff. Vegas Verdes has had 6 principals in the past 15 years and the staff has always embraced changes when they are treated as professionals. The teachers are leaving because our principal moved them from the grade levels they have always taught without asking them or warning them--the classic tactic a principal uses to get her staff to leave. Power in the hands of an administrator with little or no teaching experience is a recipe for disaster.

  3. As I looked at the slide presentation that was given on April 11th to the board on the 2012-2013 something didn't add up. The budget presentation said approximately 25000 FTE positions at a cost of 1,780,000,000. This is the link to that presentation. http://www.boarddocs.com/nv/ccsdlv/Board......

    Let's assume for the sake of argument that the 2012-2013 budget project approximately 17500 teachers at a cost of 1,000,000,000. That leaves a balance of approximately 7,500 positions for support staff, CCSD police and administrators at a cost of 780,000,000. Just dividing the two numbers means that the remaining 7500 people earn an average of 100,000+ each. We know that support staff probably makes up at least half of that 7500, so that begs the question as to who are the rest and how much do they get paid.

    As much as it pains me to say it, I then went to the Transparent Nevada site for Clark County School District salaries for 2011. What I found was surprising to say the least. The salaries are listed in decreasing order from highest paid, Jones, to lowest paid, all 2125 pages of them with approximately 50 names on each page. As I paged through the list, it took UNTIL PAGE 37 for the page to show a majority of teachers. That is a list containing approximately 1850 names. The lowest salary at the bottom of page 37 was approximately 102,800. Even being conservative, that means that there are approximately 1400-1500 administrators making well over 100,000 working for CCSD in 2011. This is the link to that site. http://transparentnevada.com/salaries/cl......

    There are 360 schools in CCSD and figuring an average of two administrators per school, that only comes to 720. Where are the rest of the administrators working? Has anybody seen a chart or table that shows the organization, and more importantly the staffing of performance zones and areas? Has anybody seen a listing of the duties and responsibilities of the performance zones and areas?

  4. No one can deny that there are some serious questions that need to be asked of CCSD. But the union's attitude that "they have the money and it belongs to us!" can not be justified in today's economy, especially when CCSD is going to ask us (the taxpayers) for 100s of millions of dollars to repair school buildings.

    I will say this: Clean house in the CCSD administration before doing *anything* else and maybe we will consider paying higher taxes.

  5. If you really value your childrens education you're better off moving to small town America. Big city school systems can't come close to the quality in the suburbs. 9 times out of 10 it's not the teachers, it's not the money, it's the 50% of parents and their children who see no value in pushing themselves to learn that impede the rest of them. If my kid and 3 other kids stand up in class, I don't want him looking at 2 of them knowing they will be dropouts. I want him to be with kids that want to learn, want to go on to college and want to participate in class.

    Do people really think the teachers or curriculum is to blame for a 50% drop out rate?
    I could take all the teachers here and move them to the school systems in Connecticut and the students there will still thrive, still have 100% graduation rates, still send 90% of them to college.

  6. Its funny that the Principal, Mrs. Roybal-Benson, couldn't talk to the parents protesting outside of her school because her "duties" kept her from them.

    Yet, surprisingly enough, Mrs. Roybal-Benson had enough time to talk to the reporter from the Sun...

    You aren't that busy, sweetheart. You'd better start listening or the pitchforks are going to start showing up.

    What are you going to do when you're surrounded by pissed off teachers (employees) on one side, and pissed off parents (customers) on the other?

    You earn at least $85K a year to do very little. You aren't in the classroom, you aren't impacting learning. You leave discipline issues to your Assistant Principal, so what exactly do you do that makes you so inaccessible to the parents of your school's students? You've only got at best 50 teachers to evaluate, so even if you did 3 evaluations a year, one a day, you'd have plenty of time to address the parent's concerns.

    Perhaps the Sun should ask Benson why she's been employed at three different schools in as many years... Something smells rotten here.

  7. The main problem that CCSD is going to have at these poorer schools is that all qualified and experienced teachers have rushed out to the suburbs so they don't have to deal with discipline, scripted programs, and parents who don't speak English. The reality is that this principal may drive out her "bad" teachers but there are no qualified teachers banging on the door of Vegas Verdes ES trying to get a job. Check the transfer list and you'll see all Title I schools in the inner city. The achievement gap is just going to keep getting wider under financial incentives are offered to teachers in the inner city.

  8. I just wish the legislators would allow Clark county to break up the huge bureaucracy that exists in this city. My town, Henderson, would do quite nicely as an independent school district. My zip code, 89012, has 5 schools noted as "exemplary". But 89012 isn't filled with rich people. Most of the homes are 3 bedroom econoboxes worth very little now. But they are also filled with parents who care about their children's education and their future. Of course, the pols will cite "equal opportunity" and such fluff to deny Henderson any chance to succeed on its own. My child is grown up, but I assure you, if I had to send her to CC schools, we'd be on the road to a place, almost any place, to get a real education. CC schools for the large part are daycare centers for dropouts. And you all know it.

  9. Generally speaking, in my experience, the bigger the bureaucracy...

    the bigger the financial RAT hole.
    CCSD is a HUGE bureaucracy...
    teetering @ the top from all the dead weight up there.
    If this tarnished tower of tempestuousness were toppled, it's Top tier of 'talent' could be trimmed a TON!!!

  10. Nevada has a decades old chronic funding problem for the state's infrastructure, that can only be changed by the state LAWMAKERS addressing tax laws within the Nevada Constitution!

    Tanker1975 provides compelling evidence on the top heavy salary payments taxpayer dollars go to ADMINISTRATIVE staff within the CCSD, "As I looked at the slide presentation that was given on April 11th to the board on the 2012-2013 something didn't add up. The budget presentation said approximately 25000 FTE positions at a cost of 1,780,000,000. This is the link to that presentation. http://www.boarddocs.com/nv/ccsdlv/Board.........

    Let's assume for the sake of argument that the 2012-2013 budget project approximately 17500 teachers at a cost of 1,000,000,000. That leaves a balance of approximately 7,500 positions for support staff, CCSD police and administrators at a cost of 780,000,000. Just dividing the two numbers means that the remaining 7500 people earn an average of 100,000+ each. We know that support staff probably makes up at least half of that 7500, so that begs the question as to who are the rest and how much do they get paid.

    As much as it pains me to say it, I then went to the Transparent Nevada site for Clark County School District salaries for 2011. What I found was surprising to say the least. The salaries are listed in decreasing order from highest paid, Jones, to lowest paid, all 2125 pages of them with approximately 50 names on each page. As I paged through the list, it took UNTIL PAGE 37 for the page to show a majority of teachers. That is a list containing approximately 1850 names. The lowest salary at the bottom of page 37 was approximately 102,800. Even being conservative, that means that there are approximately 1400-1500 administrators making well over 100,000 working for CCSD in 2011. This is the link to that site. http://transparentnevada.com/salaries/cl.........

    There are 360 schools in CCSD and figuring an average of two administrators per school, that only comes to 720. Where are the rest of the administrators working? Has anybody seen a chart or table that shows the organization, and more importantly the staffing of performance zones and areas? Has anybody seen a listing of the duties and responsibilities of the performance zones and areas?"

    Blessings and Peace,
    Star

  11. Many of the commenters have shared some very valid insights. Out of my own experiences, I can attest to commenter TomD1228's observations, "If you really value your childrens education you're better off moving to small town America. Big city school systems can't come close to the quality in the suburbs. 9 times out of 10 it's not the teachers, it's not the money, it's the 50% of parents and their children who see no value in pushing themselves to learn that impede the rest of them. If my kid and 3 other kids stand up in class, I don't want him looking at 2 of them knowing they will be dropouts. I want him to be with kids that want to learn, want to go on to college and want to participate in class.

    Do people really think the teachers or curriculum is to blame for a 50% drop out rate?
    I could take all the teachers here and move them to the school systems in Connecticut and the students there will still thrive, still have 100% graduation rates, still send 90% of them to college."

    Part 1 of 2
    Blessings and Peace,
    Star

  12. Part 2 of 2
    In 2000, my family moved to rural Nevada, up in White Pine County, to Lund. There, my son finished his secondary education admidst hard-working, goal oriented students, supported and encouraged by our family, the school personnel, parents, families, and local community. After finishing his college education at UNLV, he had keenly noticed the difference of people's mindsets, support, and achievement without me having to point it out. Clark County has a huge bureaucracy, coupled with with a "majority minority" population, and operates admidst casinos and resorts dictating what is needed in the workforce. Just picture a child's future in Clark County. Look at Clark County's children raising themselves watching gangsta videos and listening to such music, emulating situation tv show characters, and surviving off of junk food, with little parent supervision nor involvement.

    This is the picture many new businesses see, when considering relocation to Clark County. Then they notice the lack of social priorities by the Nevada State LAWMAKERS, who have continuously underfunded the state's infrastructure in favor of elite corporate mining, casino/resort, and big box store industry interests. They look at HOW we support a better future, key to success.

    It is time to reduce the top heavy bureaucracy, reduce the size of the district by creating smaller and more localized districts with schools focused on their unique concerns, and send a message to LAWMAKERS that "kicking the can down the political road regarding tax reform" will no longer be tolerated.

    I also take issue with the CCEA's involvement with this particular "protest." These community members should create an action committee, organize and collectively plan, and carry out their mission. Where are these "protesters" during the Nevada State Legislative Session? Where are they during Federal and State elections?No union dues should be directed in assisting them. Teachers need effective representatives informing LAWMAKERS of what is going on in the trenches. They need representation when treated unfairly at the workplace. They need resources for their lifelong concerns in planning for retirement. Teachers PAY for career support...

    Nevada's Constitutional tax laws need revision. And our LAWMAKERS need to hear it from US. Let's get to it folks!

    Blessings and Peace,
    Star

  13. I feel that we all need to settle down a bit in the fact that Dwight Jones said in an interview, after the arbitration decision, that he didn't want to lay off or fire any teacher so he "was going back and looking at the Budget Again." I was totally upset and embarrassed because this was suppose to be done during the Arbitration. It took the Arbitrator to tell the District they did have the money. Something tells me that if he needs to look at the budget again he does not trust Jeff Weiler, CFO of the District. Remember that Jeff Weiler found $167 million in the couch after 100's of teachers and support staff were fired or let go. I guess he has anther couch somewhere that Jones wants him to check the cushions on. I would like to know the Trustees feelings on this issue (of going back and looking at the budget)?

  14. A number of years ago, a state assembly woman, Sandra Tiffany, I believe, presented a study to the state legislature. It showed how the district can be divided up into 4 smaller entities. Each district would require fewer administrators, would get fewer federal dollars, but would actually increase per pupil spending. As we can see, that never happened. The huge CCSD fought it hard, the fat cat big wigs at the top of the heap wanted to keep their cushy jobs and their bloated salaries. So, the legislators do know how to improve things, they just can't.
    Star, in response to the organization of schools:
    High Schools typically have 1 principal, 3 or 4 assistants, depending on size and 2 deans. Principals, make right around $100,000, assistants about $80-90 thou and deans make about $65-75 thou. All these are approximations, depending on the administrator's years of service in the district, both as a teacher and as an administrator. Middle schools usually have 1 principal, 2 assistants and 2 deans. their salaries are slightly lower than their high school counterparts. Elementary schools typically have 1 principal and 2 assistants. Not sure how their salaries compare to middle and high schools.

  15. @scottb62. I would suggest you go to the following link. It is the 2011 listing of CCSD pay on Transparent Nevada. There are about 50 names per page. You will notice, that you don't see teachers showing up until page 37 or so. The listings before page 37 are administrators. That works out to be about 1800 administrators all making well over 100K. This is the link to that site. http://transparentnevada.com/salaries/cl............

  16. Star makes a valid point. The district does appear to be quite top heavy. Although to be honest (like most bureaucracies) I have never seen a school district that wasn't. I certainly hope if they eliminate teaching jobs that they reduce administrative jobs proportionately.

    As to any teachers that are dissatisfied with the pay and working conditions here, move to another city that will pay you what you feel you are worth. That will teach them.

  17. The teachers are not leaving the school because they are not willing to put in the effort for the kids. Teachers have remained at Vegas Verdes for 10, 15, 20 plus years. For more than a decade, many teachers have worked hard for the kids and the families of Vegas Verdes. It became a second home and a second family for many of them. In a matter of five months, the "family" has been destroyed: grade level teams split, a complete 180 degree in administrative philosophy, the elimination of teacher creativity and individuality. Stepford Teachers, that's what the students will be getting, where Teacher A is doing exactly what Teacher B is doing regardless of the students or the personality of the teacher. No, veteran teachers are not leaving because they do not want to put in the extra effort. The staff of Vegas Verdes would have done anything to reach our students and better the school. Teachers are leaving because they cannot stand by and watch Vegas Verdes become something they do not believe in. I will not say negative things about the administration of Vegas Verdes. I wish the same courtesy could be extended to the teachers. Let's be professional, finish out the year strongly, and say good-bye before everyone goes on their merry ways.

  18. Has anyone mentioned that both the principal and the assistant principal are brand new to their positions? Where exactly is the logic in placing two individuals with under 5 years actual classroom teacher experience AND ZERO administration experience into an "under performing" school? Both of these people moved up the totem pole and continue to climb the ladder as quickly as possible for ONE THING ONLY; $$. The amount of politics that plague the CCSD is staggering. The CCSD is not about WHAT YOU KNOW - it is about WHO YOU KNOW. Alice Roybal-Benson has not a clue what she is doing as a principal and it shows quite clearly. Her quote in this article stated that teachers are leaving because she "raised the bar" and "implemented changes with lesson plans and evaluations". While she has made changes, they are neither good for kids or would have any significant impact on the quality of learning going on at the school. And for a school full of very dedicated teachers who have gone through an entirely different set of changes approximately every 2-3 years with new administration, why all of a sudden now would they all be leaving after some giving 20+ years of their lives and careers to this community and school? Two years ago, Vegas Verdes was considered a "model school" in terms of reading instruction and regularly had visitors to observe and learn from the SAME TEACHERS THAT ARE THERE TODAY. After stuff like that, how all of a sudden are they bad teachers who don't want to put in the extra effort? These teachers have been giving every ounce of effort they have to their students for many years - with little to no recognition. When all of a sudden you get someone as disrespectful, inexperienced, and unprofessional as Alice Roybal-Benson at the wheel, sometimes enough is enough.

    Additionally, Vegas Verdes had a really great administration team about 3 years ago. This was evident by the fact that the school not only met AYP, but the climate was outstanding. Parents were happy, kids loved coming to school, and the administrators genuinely cared for both the welfare and future of the students. The principal left and despite rigorous efforts of parents and teachers to have the assistant principal promoted to principal, a very mean and unpleasant veteran principal was brought in, only to retire halfway through her second year at the school. As an administrator, if you retire in a school that is designated as "Title 1", you get more retirement payouts. There was no consideration of what would have been best for the kids, it was only about people's paychecks.

  19. The picture above of those so called families I have to ask, are they American or illegals? I first inclination would be illegals wanting more freebies from Americans.

  20. Tim....still beating the dead horse. SCOTUS decided that kids get free, appropriate, public education notwithstanding their immigration status. Congress has not seen fit to overturn that decision and NO major Republican office-holder or candidates suggests overturning it. You are in serious wack-job territory on this one.

  21. Education starts in the home first. If parents took more responsibility we wouldn't need as many schools. Based on end product of what the schools are turning out these days, they are a waste of tax payer money.

  22. Thank goodness I was educated in Boston a city surrounded by at least 10 universities. Education is first and foremost. In the state of nevada only 6% of you have a bachelor's degree. Maybe it's you and your attitudes, blame the teachers, blame the parents, cut education funding, build windowless schools, use racism to deflect (Tim, these parents are taking an active role and all you see is the color of their skin?! Are you a product of Nevada's wonderful education system too?). Yep sounds like real solutions.