Las Vegas Sun

July 6, 2015

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Schools want to decide layoffs on attendance, evaluations, criminal record

The Clark County School District wants to consider more than just seniority when it decides who to lay off -- including whether teachers or administrators have a criminal record, something not currently allowed by state law.

The Senate Education Committee heard Assembly Bill 225 and Assembly Bill 229, which would change the employee system that teachers and administrators function under, commonly called tenure.

Those bills are sponsored by Democratic leadership but are likely to get caught up in the tug-of-war over the budget and efforts by Democrats to reduce through tax increases the cuts proposed by Gov. Brian Sandoval.

Even with tax increases, Democrats say there are going to be cuts to state services, like K-12 and higher education. In preparation, the Clark County School District offered an amendment Monday to the education reform package that would allow districts to consider more than just seniority when determining who gets laid off. The districts would consider:

• An employee’s attendance;

• Performance evaluations;

• Discliplinary history;

• And whether they have a criminal record.

Those factors would be considered along with seniority, said district lobbyist Joyce Haldeman. State law already allows teachers to be dismissed for “cardinal sins,” including felonies, but it can be difficult to get rid of those with lesser offenses.

Some senators were startled that the district could not currently get rid of someone with a criminal record.

“We don’t hire people with criminal records,” Haldeman told the committee.

Click to enlarge photo

Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas

“But you don’t have the ability to dismiss them?” Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, asked. “Oh, my.”

The bills proposed by Democratic leadership would upend a long-held system that critics say has made it difficult to get rid of poor teachers. Under the bills:

• Teachers and administrators would be evaluated on a four-point system of highly effective, effective, minimally effective and ineffective. Currently, teachers are only evaluated as satisfactory or unsatisfactory.

• Teachers and administrators would have a three-year probationary period when first hired, during which it would be easier to dismiss them or not renew their contract. Currently, most teachers get tenure after one year.

• Teachers and administrators with two consecutive years of unsatisfactory evaluations would be placed back on probationary status.

The bills passed the Assembly earlier this session, but with criticism from both Democratic and Republican lawmakers. Some Democrats said it unfairly targeted teachers. Republicans said the changes don’t go far enough.

Click to enlarge photo

John Oceguera

The bills are sponsored by Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, and Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks.

The Assembly bills represent Democratic leadership’s proposals to reform the state’s education system.

The law allows tenure, formally called “post-probationary status,” to be granted within two years, but the second year is commonly dismissed. A review of records by the Las Vegas Sun found that, over the past five years, 95 percent of new teachers in Clark County were granted tenure after their first year in the classroom.

Sandoval has called for the elimination of tenure. Senior adviser Dale Erquiaga said the changes proposed by the bills represent “a good first step” though the administration has additional amendments it would support, including:

• Elimination of a law allowing teachers and districts to ignore certain provisions of state law if it conflicts with their collectively bargained contract.

• Requiring 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation be determined by test scores.

Right now, Smith said Assembly Bill 222 would create a committee to develop the teacher evaluation process.

Assembly Bill 555, which contained the governor’s more sweeping education reforms, received one hearing but has not come up again.

Smith and Oceguera have been targeted by the Nevada State Education Association, which represents teachers and support staff, for their proposed reforms. On Monday, teacher’s union lobbyist Craig Stevens said the union opposed changes for new or probationary teachers because it would make them essentially “at will employees.”

“You could have a bad day on Thursday and get fired on Friday,” he said.

Smith said: “We do not have an epidemic of bad teachers. What we have is a system that needs to be reworked.”

During the boom, Smith said, Clark County hired 25,000 teachers, recruiting anyone willing to journey here from across the country and world. The slowdown in growth offers an opportunity for reform.

Smith said she has worked on these reforms with administrators, teachers and business groups for over a year. “They’re important to me personally,” she said.

But she acknowledged that some Democrats want reforms tied to an increase in education funding from what Sandoval has proposed.

“There will be people here who would have a hard time supporting major changes when others are not at the table,” she said. “We are at the table. We are serious about cutting budgets. We’re serious about reforms.”

So far, Republican lawmakers have been either unwilling to negotiate on taxes in exchange for reforms or have said that Democrats’ reforms to education, collective bargaining and employee benefits don’t go far enough.

The Senate Education Committee will consider the bills again on Wednesday.

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