Las Vegas Sun

November 26, 2015

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Clark County School District’s new hires plunge, but there’s an upside

During those heady growth years (not too long ago), more than 2,700 new teachers would be welcomed into the ranks of the Clark County School District each summer, feted at three separate luncheons at Cox Pavilion.

Nevada’s congressional delegation would extend its welcome and dozens of vendors’ booths would spill through the hallways, offering deals on insurance, educational supplies and apartment rentals.

And this year?

To round out its roughly 18,000 licensed positions, the district expects to hire 630 new teachers by the start of the school year, Aug. 24 — about a third of the number hired a year ago.

So far 396 have accepted job offers and about 350 of them are expected at today’s orientation sessions at Coronado High School in Henderson. The district’s remaining vacancies include 189 elementary classroom teaching jobs, 94 for middle school and 85 for high school. The secondary level vacancies include a shortage of 31 math teachers and 51 science teachers.

There are also about 170 open positions in special education districtwide, and they are among the most difficult to fill.

The hiring has been conservative, based on estimates that schools will reach 97 percent of enrollment projections, said Martha Tittle, chief human resources officer for the district.

“It’s interesting to say you’re hiring 400 to 600 new teachers and that’s considered a slow year,” Tittle said.

It’s the new 3 Rs: reading, ’riting and recession.

For the better part of 10 years Clark County led the nation’s school districts in growth, with jumps in enrollment of 4 percent to 6 percent becoming the norm. Last year — with the unprecedented collapse of the job market in Clark County and the resulting drop in the number of families moving here — the district’s enrollment grew by less than 1 percent, the smallest increase in 25 years. This year it’s possible there will be no increase in enrollment, with some indicators suggesting that the county’s population is decreasing slightly.

The recession is affecting the movement of teachers to different jobs for various reasons. Districts nationwide are laying off workers, which means fewer openings for Clark County educators who might have been considering a move.

And the depressed local real estate market is making it all but impossible for many teachers to try to sell their homes and move elsewhere for better jobs.

In addition, many teachers who might have been approaching retirement age are continuing to work, in order to rebuild their investments.

There are fewer new jobs in the School District not just because of reduced growth, but also because the district has had to cut $130 million from its operating budget for the upcoming academic year, slashing programs and increasing some class sizes. Virtually all teachers were kept aboard — many in new job assignments — but the district has laid off several hundred support employees.

With fewer vacancies to fill, the district has been more selective in its hiring, Tittle said. From Jan. 1 through July the district received more than 2,000 applications. Unlike prior years, when teachers had been invited to apply online for positions across all grade levels and specialties, this year’s applicant pool was limited to select areas of high need. And after years of aggressive recruiting trips out of state, there was renewed focus on qualified local applicants.

“If they live here already, they probably really want to work here,” Tittle said. “That’s how our retention will improve.”

Today’s orientation sessions will be dedicated to paperwork and group sessions outlining the district’s procedures and policies. The new hires are invited back to Coronado on Thursday to learn more about the broader community. All teachers report to work Aug. 19.

There’s another upside to a smaller class of rookies. Moving to Coronado from Cox Pavilion saves the district the cost of the facility rental and the more lavish luncheon. Fewer vendors are expected, but this year there will likely be enough swag to go around.

The traditional welcome speeches from Nevada’s political leaders have also been scrapped, meaning the newcomers won’t hear Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid recall his favorite teacher from Searchlight or learn that Rep. Shelley Berkley was a member of Valley High School’s first graduating class.

With ample space in Coronado’s cafeteria and courtyard, all of the new teachers can eat together. That’s “a nice change of pace,” said Ruben Murillo, president of the Clark County Education Association, which co-sponsors the orientation events. “It just goes to show you how much things have changed.”

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