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September 18, 2014

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Education:

Last-hired teachers can be first fired, despite intent of 2011 Legislature

Fine print in the reform legislation left layoff policies up to collective bargaining, so teachers union gets final word.

An education reform package passed by the Legislature last year was supposed to have ended the practice of basing teacher layoffs on seniority rather than performance.

But that’s exactly how the Clark County School District says it will make the overwhelming number of layoffs under an arbitrator’s decision handed down last week.

Of the up to 1,000 layoffs the Clark County School District expects to make, just 38 will be targeted toward teachers with disciplinary problems.

The rest will be based on seniority because of the arbitrator’s ruling in favor of the Clark County Education Association, according to a district spokeswoman.

Education reformers, including Gov. Brian Sandoval, touted the bills passed in 2011 as a victory in efforts to help school districts weed poor-performing teachers from their ranks.

But as the bills are implemented, the difficulty of changing the education system is becoming apparent — particularly when many of the rules are subjected to collective bargaining agreements between employee associations and school districts.

Assembly Bill 229 last session said layoffs “must not be based solely on the seniority of the teacher or administrator.” But it left details up to the collective bargaining agreements negotiated between school districts and the county teacher associations.

An arbitrator last week ruled in favor of the Clark County Education Association, granting pay raises for years of service and education. The Clark County School District, which had requested salary freezes, said that decision will force layoffs.

Click to enlarge photo

Dwight Jones, Clark County School District superintendent, addresses the media Wednesday morning after an arbitrator sided with the district's teachers in a contract dispute. The decision, Jones said, probably will force the district to lay off hundreds of teachers.

The arbitrator’s decision in favor of the teacher’s union also allowed the union to set the rules about who gets laid off.

“By protecting ‘last in, first out,’ the union has continued to protect tenured teachers who may or may not be effective,” said Amanda Fulkerson, spokeswoman for the Clark County School District. “It only makes sense to lay off teachers who are not effective. This is not what’s best for kids.”

Clark County Education Association President Ruben Murillo was unavailable for comment on Tuesday.

Under the agreement proposed by the teacher’s union:

• First, the district will ask for volunteers to be laid off and use retirements to fill holes.

• Second, it will look at teachers who have been suspended for five days or more within the past two years.

• Then it will turn to seniority.

About 38 teachers fall into the second category, Fulkerson said.

In the future, teachers rated “unsatisfactory” for two consecutive years would be laid off before seniority is considered. But those teacher evaluations won’t count until after June 8, 2012.

The district, in its final offer before going to binding arbitration, wanted to immediately use unsatisfactory evaluations of teachers to decide layoffs. Also, it wanted to target teachers “who have been determined to have abused their sick leave,” according to their final offer presented to the arbitrator.

Doing away with “last in, first out” has been a centerpiece of the education reform movement nationally. States and school districts have been moving toward basing layoffs on other factors, such as teacher evaluations.

Two states, Utah and Idaho, prohibit seniority from being used to determine layoffs, said Emily Cohen, district policy director for the National Council on Teacher Quality, a think tank not associated with teachers unions.

Basing layoffs solely on seniority will eliminate some high-performing teachers and protect some teachers who are under-performing, they argue.

“Not all teachers are equal. Some are better than others,” Cohen said. “In these tough economic times, it’s an opportunity to make smart decisions. Layoffs are not the best way to remove ineffective teachers from classrooms. But there is an opportunity.”

She added that school districts need effective evaluation tools in place before using that in layoffs.

As part of the reforms, Nevada is still working on putting together an evaluation model, which will be based partly on student test scores. That new model will be released this summer.

When the Legislature dropped the last-hired, first-fired philosophy and adopted other education reforms, Sandoval said at the time: “Today we have made great advancements on behalf of our schoolchildren. These are historic education reforms which will improve the quality of Nevada’s education system.”

He said the new law “dramatically alters the practice of using seniority as the only factor in school district layoffs.”

Sandoval on Tuesday called the arbitrator’s decision “unfortunate.”

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, who sponsored some of the legislation, said, “I knew that going in, we weren’t going to see these changes overnight. We are on the path to significant change.”

She added that properly funding education would avoid any talk of layoffs.

“The reason we are where we are is because of budget cuts,” she said. “It’s not because of some type of negotiations demanding onerous raises. We are where we are because of cuts.”

But conservative operatives say the new law’s failure to force Clark County to move away from seniority proves their original point — that the reform isn’t as dramatic as some had portrayed.

“As we said at the time, the reforms that were passed were very minor,” said Victor Joecks, spokesman for the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a free-market think tank.

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  1. It is a nasty little game CCSD is playing. For the past few years the district has frozen positions at 97%. This year, knowing they would be short, before arbitration, it funded all schools at 100% Why would they do that with a shortage of funds? When the arbitration decision came down, all those "newly created" positions were cut and transfers were frozen. Dr. Jones does not like to lose. The beatings will continue until morale improves.

  2. The comments of Nevada Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, speaks volumes, "Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, who sponsored some of the legislation, said, "I knew that going in, we weren't going to see these changes overnight. We are on the path to significant change."

    She added that properly funding education would avoid any talk of layoffs.

    "The reason we are where we are is because of budget cuts," she said. "It's not because of some type of negotiations demanding onerous raises. We are where we are because of cuts."

    One of the most impressive tools the CCSD has available, are the hundreds, if not thousands, of professional development educational courses available for educational workers to access and improve their skills throughout the year. Even if a worker has a weak area found in their evaluation, the CCSD has been diligent in providing offerings that will greatly assist improvement. Many of these courses can be used for relicensure, recertification, or pay step advancement. Also, there exists a collaborative effort with the local colleges and universities to provide such professional development.

    The heart of this matter is the fact that well over a century, the State of Nevada LAWMAKERS have failed to provide a comprehensive plan to fairly TAX such industries as MINING, GAMING/RESORTS, and Big Box Stores. But especially MINING, who are owned by outside corporations, take the wealth of Nevada, and pay a pittance in taxes. To change this, the LAWMAKERS must changed the archaic tax laws within the Nevada State Constitution. For over a century, these LAWMAKERS have "kicked the political can down the road," avoiding any meaningful, effective change towards adequately funding Nevada's ailing infrastructure.

    Again, as Assemblywoman Debbie Smith stated,"The reason we are where we are is because of budget cuts," she said. "It's not because of some type of negotiations demanding onerous raises. We are where we are because of cuts."

    It is time to hold Nevada LAWMAKERS to the fire of the taxpaying public's scrutiny and accountability.

    Blessings and Peace,
    Star

  3. The district is not telling the whole truth here. They are complaining about not being able to LAY OFF the bad eggs, but they don't tell you what the end result will be.

    To start, I am a teacher who firmly believes that those with suspensions and negative evaluations should be FIRED. But what they're talking about here and what they're concentrating so much effort on is a REDUCTION IN FORCE.

    According to the contract, teachers have a right to return for two years as positions open. In our school district, it would be virtually impossible for any teacher RIF'd to never get a right to return. As we've cut back the past few years, everyone who didn't decide to quit or move away always came back before school started the next year. This all happened during terrible economic times.

    The result, then, is that all those with suspensions (and eventually negative evals), will just be plucked out of their schools during a RIF, and eventually they will be placed somewhere else when the openings occur. That isn't fair to the schools where those openings just happen to be when their numbers come up. It's effectively a "dance of the lemons."

    Overall, we need stronger laws for getting rid of poor teachers with reasonable protections in place from administrators who are on a witch hunt.

    This is the truth. The public should know what all this means. Thus far, the way things have come out in the news, they have been led to believe this is a wildly positive thing. I'd encourage the Sun to pose what I've said to Amanda Fulkerson, Staci Vesneske, or Dwight Jones and see how they spin this one for a story tomorrow.

    Bottom line: Putting bad employees through a reduction in force solves nothing. It only moves the problem to someone else eventually.

  4. To change this, the LAWMAKERS must changed the archaic tax laws within the Nevada State Constitution. For over a century, these LAWMAKERS have "kicked the political can down the road," avoiding any meaningful, effective change towards adequately funding Nevada's ailing infrastructure.

    --------------------------------------------------

    There are several misleading or flat-out inaccurate statements just in these two sentences alone.

    1) The Legislature alone cannot amend the state's constitution -- any change must be approved by the voters once (and, in certain instances, twice). Even if the Legislature proposes a constitutional amendment and passes it through both houses, it still requires voter approval.

    2) As an extension to number 1, the Constitution allows for the people themselves to propose a petition to change it. Article 19, Section 2 spells out the requirements, including the number of signatures required and the fact that it must be approved by the voters at two consecutive elections.

    Because any citizen is capable of proposing the changes to the state constitution, your blame of the Legislature for failing to do so as the ones who "must" do this is completely misguided.

    3) The last change to the relevant section of the state constitution for the net proceeds of minerals tax was in 1989, when the current $5 maximum was put into place.

    Prior to the passage of this constitutional amendment by voters in a 1988 ballot question, the consitutional maximum for the tax was the local property tax rate (up to $3.64) -- increasing the limit to $5 was the first time that the state actually got any money from this tax, because they now receive the difference between the local rate and the $5 maximum. Before that, all of the revenue stayed with the local governments and school districts who imposed a property tax rate where the mine is located.

    To blame the Legislature for "kicking the can down the road" for a century or more 1) ignores the reality that the Legislature alone cannot change the constitution, 2) ignores the reality that the people are completely capable of changing the constitution without the assistance of the Legislature, and 3) ignores the reality that the tax rate was increased as recently as just over 20 years ago.

  5. @ happyleper:

    The Legislature has failed to engage in any form of legitimate revenue reform in Nevada. If, by your assertion, the people should be responsible for undertaking such a process, why even have a legislature? Let's just lay off all of the buffoons and see how well direct democracy works. (Here's a hint... it won't)

    The push to change "reduction in force" methods is always framed in the light of "getting rid of bad teachers" by the politicians who push the issue.

    This is, of course the least of their concerns. There is never a push to "get rid of bad teachers" in good economic times. The motivation to get rid of anyone is always motivated by MONEY.

    The truth, which you will never hear from any politician, is that the removal of seniority protections is aimed specifically to allow school districts the ability to get rid of older teachers, who of course make more money.

    If schools wanted to get rid of poor performing teachers, there is already an apparatus in place that allows them to do so. It isn't an issue, in fact, my wife's principal fired a "bad" teacher last year.

    This agenda is about nothing more than whittling down the personnel budget by getting rid of people who make more money, and cost more in benefits.

  6. The Legislature has failed to engage in any form of legitimate revenue reform in Nevada. If, by your assertion, the people should be responsible for undertaking such a process, why even have a legislature? Let's just lay off all of the buffoons and see how well direct democracy works. (Here's a hint... it won't)

    -------------------------------------------------

    I congratulate you for twisting my post into an argument I never made. The issue solely dealt with whether the Legislature should be blamed for not addressing a single issue -- a constitutional amendment to change one specific policy -- that the people didn't bother changing, either.

  7. In 2009, the mining industry had gross revenue of 5,800,000,000. After deductions, including some that may have not complied with state law, the net profit was 1,800,000,000. The former state director of taxation admitted during the last legislative session that the mining returns had not been audited for a number of years. The tax paid to the state of Nevada was 48,600,000. For comparison, in 2010 gaming had the same gross revenue and paid over 425,000,000 in taxes to the state.

    The state of Alaska collects a royalty of 25% on oil. Alaska currently has a 3 BILLION surplus in the state budget, and Exxon just reported record 1st quarter profits of over 10 BILLION, so the royalty payment doesn't seem to be causing the oil companies financial problems.

    The Barrack annual report has just been published, and shows record profits and dividends above the record levels of 2009. This is a link to the report, you may want to look closely at pages 2, 3, and 4. http://media.lasvegassun.com/media/pdfs/.................. Net earnings and profits have jumped dramatically between 2009 and 2010. Shareholders return on investment jumped from 12% in 2009 to 19% in 2010.

    In 2010, the Cortez Hill mine in Nevada produced 1.14 MILLION ounces (31.6 TONS) of gold at a cost of $312 per ounce. In the first quarter of 2011, the mine produced 366000 ounces (11.4 TONS) at a cost of $220 per ounce. Nevada is one of the largest producers of gold in the world. Assuming a profit of $1000 per ounce, that amounts to a profit from one mine of $366,000,000 for one quarter. That amounts to a profit of $1,464,000,000 if production for each quarter remains the same. Of that profit, Nevada will see between $10,000,000 and $20,000,000 based on current rates.

    The other issue that mining tries to ignore is the fact that very little if any money is paid to the federal government for mining rights. What percentage of taxes paid by mining are paid to the mining counties versus what is paid to the general fund of Nevada.

    Let's not forget that no business in Nevada pays a tax on profits earned in Nevada. That means that all the profit made by the big box stores, by the chain grocery stores, the chain department stores, the banks, etc in Nevada IS NOT taxed. Yet those businesses use services, use infrastructure.

  8. But CCSD can hire or rehire anyone who has skill in science and math, areas where we need more good teachers. Some liberal arts teaching subjects are available anywhere and everywhere.

  9. Private Industries doesn't think this much when their bottom lines are in question. You can't protect jobs and salaries we can't afford. The Teaparting Govenors where suppose to change this. Not one has done it. So here we are again back to square one how to compensate when taxpayers don't have the money to spare. The housing market took a big hit so when will salaries/entitlements? You can't keep government employees in their homes while the rest of us lose ours.

  10. CCSD is over-funded by about $100,000,000 each year. DSA for illegal students. Tax revenue for teachers on sabbatical. Buying out teachers for early retirement. Paying out large settlements upon retirement or leaving for other reasons. Too many administrators. Too many schools, too many class rooms. We spend more than all of the rest of the world, per pupil, on K-12--except affluent Switzerland. Per Jon Ralston, Nevada is about average in funding but 51st in RESULTS. No more nonsense.