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May 28, 2015

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Principals warned of layoffs if teachers union wins arbitration

The Clark County School District warned school principals Wednesday to prepare a contingency plan to shed nearly 1,000 teaching and other licensed positions should the teachers union win arbitration over contract negotiations.

Clark County Schools Superintendent Dwight Jones met with school principals early Wednesday morning, urging them to plan for a mid-year reduction in staff to balance the budget should the Clark County Education Association prevail in the arbitration.

Each school is expected to plan for a reduction of about 6 percent in licensed staff, which includes teachers, counselors, school nurses and specialists such as speech pathologists.

The School District has been seeking $39 million in concessions from the union to close its budget gap this year and an additional $39 million the following year. Proposed concessions include freezing salary and step increases and consolidating the Teachers Health Trust.

The teachers union has rejected the district’s plans to freeze salaries and declared an impasse in August, sending the matter to arbitration after four meetings. Both sides have been meeting with an arbitrator, but it is unknown when a decision will be made.

According to a memo from Chief Human Resources Officer Staci Vesneske to school principals, the potential layoffs would result in middle and high schools having to develop a new master schedule, which determines student and teacher scheduling as well as class sizes.

The painstaking process would occur midyear and would cause a major disruption for school staff and students, School District spokeswoman Amanda Fulkerson said.

“It would be devastating,” Fulkerson said. “It’ll take teachers out of classrooms, increasing class sizes. It’s not in the best interest for students. We want to avoid this as much as possible.”

Elementary schools with fewer than 400 students would have no layoffs, according to the memo. Schools with more students would lose positions, up to seven licensed positions for high schools with more than 2,635 students, according to the memo.

The memo did not come as anything new to union President Ruben Murillo. The School District warned earlier this year that at least 500 to 800 positions could be cut should the district be forced to grant teacher raises, per its contract.

“It’s unfortunate the district is looking to cut resources that impact student achievement — teachers,” Murillo said, criticizing the district for hiring more than 250 new teachers earlier this year. “It doesn’t make sense to hire teachers and then lay them off...Our goal is to keep our teachers.”

The union is being “thorough, asking a lot of questions” about the proposed contract, Murillo said.

About 60 union members wearing red T-shirts packed Tuesday night’s School Board meeting, reminding Board members of their “sacrifices” in the classroom and urging them to “invest in teachers” to better student achievement.

About 750 positions may be cut by January should the arbitrator rule in the union’s favor, according to a principal who attended the superintendent’s meeting Wednesday.

The School District is not looking to cut any positions from special education, said the principal, who wished to remain anonymous because of the sensitive nature of potential layoffs.

The School District intends to follow a new state law that de-emphasizes seniority in making staffing decisions should layoffs occur, Fulkerson said. Teachers with two negative evaluations would be laid off first, before teachers with less seniority.

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