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November 26, 2015

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Back to school: CCSD to hire 2,000 new teachers


Mona Shield Payne

Kindergarten teacher Julie Cohen teaches her students how to ask questions with a raise of hands on their first day of class Monday, August 27, 2012, at Cambeiro Elementary School in Las Vegas.

Updated Thursday, March 7, 2013 | 6:30 p.m.

Attracting educators

Attracting 2,000 new teachers to the Clark County School District is no easy task.

That's why the School District is kickstarting a new recruiting campaign called "Teach Vegas: Teach, Live Grow." The initiative will use a mix of online and traditional recruiting methods to get the word out about job openings and entice quality teachers to Southern Nevada, said chief human resources officer Staci Vesneske.

"Our human resources department is already working to attract applicants so we can recruit the best teachers into our classrooms and reduce our class sizes, which are among the highest in the nation," Deputy Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky said in a statement.

As part of its campaign, the district's HR department launched new Facebook and Twitter pages and is in the process of streamlining its online application process to make it easier for candidates to apply online.

Realizing it will take a personal touch to persuade candidates to relocate, Vesneske hopes to offer current teachers additional pay to call potential candidates, cultivating relationships that could translate to actual hires.

The district also hopes to establish a hiring presence at teaching colleges around the nation, sending principals and recruiters to campus job fairs. The district will target cities with quality teaching colleges and those with school systems that are currently laying off teachers.

It wasn't too long ago that Clark County was considering layoffs of its own. The School District's ability to hire more teachers — partially as a result of an arbitration decision — is a welcome change that bodes well for Southern Nevada, Vesneske said.

"It's a sign of our recovery," she said. "(Las Vegas) is turning around."

Over the next several months, the Clark County School District plans to hire about 2,000 new teachers, bringing average class sizes down by an estimated one to two students next school year.

The additional hires would boost the total number of teachers in the nation's fifth-largest school district to a record 18,868 licensed personnel.

The hiring announcement comes exactly a month after an arbitrator ruled in favor of the School District in a bitter contract dispute with the local teachers union — a decision that saved the district about $38.6 million over the next two years.

All of that money will be used to hire 700 teachers from across the nation to fill new positions in all subject areas and grade levels. There will be a focus on hiring elementary schoolteachers and those specializing in science, technology, math and special education.

In addition, the School District plans to replace about 1,000 teachers anticipated to retire or resign from the district this school year.

Pending legislative approval, the district also anticipates hiring about 300 teachers to expand preschool and full-day kindergarten programs.

Counting the 1,300 new teachers hired since August, this hiring season will be the largest in School District history, said Staci Vesneske, the district's chief human resources officer.

"It's a really exciting time for us," Vesneske said. "If we hire right, it will have a great impact on student achievement."

During the boom years, the School District hired thousands of new teachers annually to keep up with skyrocketing student enrollment. However, when the recession hit, the district was forced to slash hundreds of millions of dollars from its budget, resulting in program cuts and staff reductions.

To stop the hemorrhaging, Superintendent Dwight Jones sought a salary freeze from the district’s four employee unions representing administrators, police officers, support staff and teachers. The teachers union refused.

Contract talks soon broke down, and the two sides went to arbitration.

Last year, an arbitrator ruled in favor of the teachers union. Jones said the decision forced the district to not replace about 1,015 teachers who left the district last year because of attrition.

As a result, the district's teacher pool dropped to 17,568, causing average class sizes to jump by three students.

(Currently, middle and high schools have average class sizes of 34 and 35 students. Elementary schools have average class sizes of 20 to 21 in the first to third grades, and average class sizes of 33 and 34 in the fourth and fifth grades.)

This year, however, the School District prevailed in arbitration. On Feb. 25, the district began lowering salaries for nearly 9,000 teachers to 2011-12 levels.

In its arbitration testimony, the district promised it would use any award money to hire new teachers.

"The district's top priority has consistently been to lower class sizes and hire additional teachers," Deputy Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky said in a statement.

Teachers union president Ruben Murillo welcomed the district's announcement to hire more educators.

However, the hiring announcement is a "double-edged sword," because the lower class sizes were achieved on the backs of hardworking teachers, many of whom recently took a pay cut, he said.

"(The hiring) masks the problem that led to the situation in the first place: the lack of funding for education," Murillo said. "As long as Nevada underfunds these schools, it will be a challenge to attract teachers here."

It will be difficult for the district to recruit candidates given the low teacher morale and higher-than-average class sizes, Murillo added. The recent departure of Superintendent Jones might not help either.

Vesneske said she is confident in the district's ability to attract high quality candidates despite these challenges. The district is launching a new recruiting campaign called "Teach Vegas," to market the district to potential hires.

"Teachers want to work in a place where reforms are taking place, the community believes in schools and the graduation rate is going up," Vesneske said. "Whether it's a young new teacher or a more experienced teacher, they want to go somewhere where they can make a difference."

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