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May 27, 2015

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Nevada Territory

Sandoval bill would put teachers on one-year contracts, change layoff system

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Brian Sandoval

An assembly committee heard Gov. Brian Sandoval’s broad education reform bill Saturday that would put all teachers on one-year contracts and require school districts to decide layoffs on a system other than seniority.

Assembly Bill 555 reflected data-driven research on how to improve classrooms, said Dale Erquiaga, senior adviser to Sandoval. It was praised by the Reno-Sparks and Las Vegas chambers of commerce.

Some educators testified on the importance of eliminating “last in, first out,” which means some of the youngest teachers would lose their jobs under budget reductions proposed by Sandoval.

Clark County School District lobbyist Joyce Haldeman also said the district supports using different measures than just seniority to determine layoffs, including non-medical absences and evaluations.

But a steady flow of classroom teachers testified in opposition, worrying that administrators would fire teachers based on pay, and expressing an overall feeling that the education bill was “reactionary and punitive” toward teachers.

One teacher testified from Las Vegas that one-year contracts would create a “temporary workforce.”

Assemblyman David Bobzien, D-Reno, said it would neuter districts’ efforts to develop teachers.

Erquiaga said that the legislation was meant to reward the best teachers and make it easier to get rid of the small number - about 4 percent to 10 percent - of bad teachers.

“Look at the data,” he said. “We want to reward those performing.”

The bill would eliminate future automatic pay bumps for master’s degrees and other higher education classes, because there’s no proven data between higher education degrees and better student performance Erquiaga said.

The administration argued that AB555 should be viewed as a policy bill, separate from the budget.

But inevitably, it is all being wrapped together, as the 2011 Legislature looks at taxes to minimize cuts proposed by Sandoval and changes to the education system. Sandoval’s budget contains over $600 million in cuts for K-12, which districts have said would mean higher class sizes, teacher layoffs and reduced salaries and benefits for educators.

Besides his promise not to raise taxes, Sandoval’s other prominent campaign plank was dramatic conservative changes to the education system. A proposal on school vouchers was not heard by the Legislature, and did not pass a Friday deadline for bills to come out of committee (though there are a number of ways around that deadline.)

Sandoval’s bill and its more dramatic provisions, like eliminating “tenure,” are all but guaranteed to fail in the Legislature in this form. Both the Assembly and Senate are controlled by Democrats.

But it served as a useful bargaining point for business groups who have demanded education reforms for a tax increase, and for Democratic leadership, which has presented its own education reforms and gotten blowback by the states teacher’s union.

Democrats passed bills to put teachers with two consecutive years of bad evaluations back on probationary status, to make it easier to fire probationary teachers and changing the probationary period from one year to three years.

“If there are those concerned about our bills, they heard the version on steroids today,” said Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Spark and chair of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee.

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