Las Vegas Sun

November 30, 2015

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Unruly teachers union members cause a scene but can’t deter layoff vote


Steve Marcus

Teacher Lisa Immel Muntean speaks to board members before leaving a Clark County School Board meeting at the Edward Greer Education Center on East Flamingo Road on Wednesday, May 16, 2012. The board approved a final budget that will lay off 1,015 positions to balance the budget.

Teachers Protest Layoffs

Debra Cooley, a kindergarten teacher at Steele Elementary School, holds up a sign before a Clark County School Board meeting at the Edward Greer Education Center on East Flamingo Road Wednesday, May 16, 2012. The board approved a final budget that will lay off 1,015 positions in order to balance the budget. Launch slideshow »

The Clark County School District kept its promise.

Since November, the district warned teachers that their jobs were in jeopardy if their union refused to make concessions. The Clark County Education Association stood its ground, fighting back vehemently for pay raises they argued were contractually theirs.

So after an arbitrator sided with the union earlier this month, the district responded Wednesday with an official announcement that it will shed 840 teachers and 175 literacy specialists next month in what is being called the largest reduction in force in the district's history.

And as a result of the layoffs, average class sizes — already criticized for being one of the largest in the nation — will rise by another two or three students.

"This is a very sad day," School Board member Carolyn Edwards said. "Increasing class sizes by two is not what we wanted to do."

On Wednesday night, the School Board unanimously adopted a fiscal 2013 budget that bridges a $64 million shortfall with 1,015 teacher layoffs.

At a tense meeting interrupted several times by raucous teachers union members and parents, district officials and School Board members outlined a grim financial outlook.

Depressed property values due to the sustained economic downturn have led to decreased tax revenues to fund public education, officials said. The impending layoffs are the consequence of continued budget cuts and a complete lack of compromise between the cash-strapped district and its teachers union — and it all comes at a cost to students.

As a result of the layoffs, average class sizes are expected in the mid-30s in the upper elementary, middle and high school classes. With more students, existing teachers will be saddled with more work. With fewer teachers, students will have to fight harder to receive individualized attention in class.

"It's a harsh yet undeniable reality," Clark County Schools Superintendent Dwight Jones said. "When 90 percent of the budget is salary and benefits, it's difficult to find cuts."

The ramifications of that reality rendered itself in the teachers union rhetoric and reactions Wednesday.

Before the meeting began, about 200 teachers union members picketed outside the Edward Greer Education Center. Despite the mercury hitting triple digits, teachers — wearing CCEA shirts with targets on their backs — hoisted signs that read "Save our teachers" and chanted mantras such as "This is not reform."

Pacing outside was John Vellardita, the local union's executive director, who said he was disturbed by the School District's rhetoric. Instead of talking about trying to secure more state funding for Clark County schools, the seven-member School Board has turned on its teachers to close its deficit, Vellardita lamented.

"We have a real problem with the district framing the discussion around the assumption that we can get by with a lack of funding," he said. "The so-called Dems on the board need to wake up and smell the coffee."

At the meeting, a sea of red-shirted union members cheered on their own while heckling those who crossed them with outbursts.

After union President Ruben Murillo made his public comments — arguing that the district has the resources to avert teacher layoffs — union members began to chant: "Save our teachers! Save our schools!"

School Board members — who had repeatedly issued warnings to rowdy teachers — suddenly recessed the meeting, and one by one walked out in protest. They returned about five minutes later.

"What we don't appreciate is you disrupting our meeting," a visibly angry School Board President Linda Young said, chastising the teachers by comparing them to unruly schoolchildren. "We want you to model the kind of behavior you would want for your kids."

School Board Passes Budget with Layoffs

Clark County School District Superintendent Dwight Jones listens to a presentation on the budget during a Clark County School Board meeting at the Edward Greer Education Center on East Flamingo Road Wednesday, May 16, 2012. The board approved a final budget that will lay off 1,015 positions in order to balance the budget. Launch slideshow »

The School District did not want to lay off teachers, Young said, adamantly. They tried to save jobs, but there's just not enough money to pay raises and keep positions, she said.

Others echoed her sentiments, notably members of the administrators union, which settled with the district on concessions. The administrators, support staff and police unions all made concessions, said Stephen Augspurger, the executive director of the Clark County Association of School Administrators and Professional-Technical Employees.

"This was your choice," Augspurger told the teachers union. "This consequence was known beforehand … It was predictable and inevitable."

In response, a number of teachers union members turned their backs and booed Augspurger. Some coughed repeatedly, one muttering an expletive under his breath.

During a budget presentation later in the meeting, Teresa Sandoval-Salazer — a parent who organized a protest at Vegas Verdes Elementary School last week over budget cuts — yelled out, "I'm very ashamed of you."

Union members began to cheer. Young tried to bring the meeting back to order. Teachers began to leave, chanting "We'll remember in November." (The seats of School Board members John Cole, Chris Garvey, Deanna Wright and Linda Young are up for re-election.)

Teachers were just expressing their frustrations, Murillo said after the meeting, explaining his members' reactions. They were disappointed in the School District's decision to lay off teachers, he said.

"We're tired of being the brunt of a negative campaign against teachers," he said. "The School District has no idea what teachers are going through with their demands and threats of layoffs. Our teachers are fed up."

A number of School Board members retorted they were fed up and disappointed with the union's tactics.

"We didn't want one person to get a pink slip … or to be without insurance or a paycheck because we know how devastating it is," Wright said. "But we got shut down (by the union)."

School Board member John Cole agreed. "This shouldn't be a surprise to anybody," he said. "At the end of the day, the district needs to balance its budget."

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