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Teachers take fight over education funding to streets

Image

Leila Navidi

Andrew Piotrowski, 9, from left, Lincoln Aquino, 9, and Alexis Almeido, 11, all students at Glen Taylor Elementary School, rally to encourage the governor and Legislature to support education at Glen Taylor Elementary School in Henderson Wednesday, April 13, 2011.

Education Rally at Glen Taylor

Andrew Piotrowski, 9, from left, Lincoln Aquino, 9, and Alexis Almeido, 11, all students at Glen Taylor Elementary School, rally to encourage the governor and Legislature to support education at Glen Taylor Elementary School in Henderson Wednesday, April 13, 2011. Launch slideshow »

Education rally

KSNV coverage of school rally for education, April 13, 2011.

Glen Taylor Elementary

Parents, students and teachers have been holding rallies at Las Vegas-area schools this week as the Legislature considers education funding.

“We heard that the Legislature thinks that we and the parents don’t care because they haven’t heard from us,” said Bob Miller Middle School teacher Jen Stellavato. “So we’re showing them that we care.”

Teachers from Miller are now working just their basic contract hours — canceling all after-school clubs and activities, which the teachers ran on their own time — so they could “educate the public,” teacher Melanie Teemant said.

The budget Gov. Brian Sandoval proposed would slash K-12 education funding by about $625 million.

In Clark County, the school board approved a tentative budget that includes cuts of more than $407 million. It would eliminate 2,500 staff positions and includes pay cuts and benefit concessions equaling an 8 percent reduction.

At Bob Miller Middle School, teachers began standing on street corners around the school before and after classes with signs.

They have been handing out fliers to parents with contact information for the governor, members of the Senate Finance Committee, the Assembly Ways and Means Committee and representatives for the school’s area.

Then they started taking their rally on the road, alternating days at the middle school’s three feeder elementary schools.

On Wednesday afternoon, they were at Glen Taylor Elementary in Henderson, joined by about 50 parents, teachers and students from that school.

“We are here for our teachers or anyone who’s losing their job or getting their pay check cut,” said Colleen Fernandez, who has a fifth- and third-grader at the school. “We’re losing some great teachers because our system is so messed up.”

The elementary school children seemed to have fun holding signs and chanting, “Save our school” and “Save my teacher.” They broke into wild yells when the wind carried a poster out of a child’s hands and into traffic.

Cherrie Schell said she thinks the Legislature should remember that each member there was once in elementary school, too.

“I wish the Legislature would do the education budget first and make sure we have proper funding for our kids,” she said, adding that raising taxes to funds schools was OK with her.

Some parents “don’t realize how drastic the proposed cuts are,” said Julie Buck, who has been teaching third grade at Taylor for eight years.

Buck said the school averaged 20 students in each third grade class last year and is up to 22 this year. Next year, she expects to have 26 or 27 in her small classroom.

“The public needs to be aware how drastic these cuts are going to be,” she said. “Raising class sizes drastically decreases the effectiveness of the teacher.”

Shelly Soule, a fourth-grade teacher, said she, too, is worried about class sizes. “You’ll just have kids who are lost in the shuffle,” said Soule, who also expressed concern about pay cuts.

“After getting two master’s and a bachelor’s, it’d be nice to get paid for my education like other jobs are,” she said.

Because her husband is also a teacher, the cuts will hit her family doubly hard. “So, we’re concerned about the paycheck, because that impacts us. But we’re more worried about the kids,” the 12-year teaching veteran said.

Glen Owen, who works at another school but came to support his wife, a teacher at Taylor, said it’s not just teachers who are under fire.

As an education computer strategist, he works with students and teachers to use technology at two schools. If his position is eliminated, which is a possibility, there will be no one left to fill that role.

“They have hundreds of millions of dollars in technology that will literally be down the drain because nobody will be able to support it,” he said. Some teachers might know how to use the technology, but with larger classes, they won’t have time to implement it, he said.

“What they’ve proposed is irresponsible. It doesn’t represent common sense in our politicians,” he said. “I wonder if they understand the cause and effect of what these cuts do.”

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