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Mobster or mentor?:

Amid uncertainty, Vegas teachers taking unlikely jobs

Educator Daniel Avellino says without income from side job, ‘I’d be starving’

Daniel Avellino

Leila Navidi

Local second-grade teacher Daniel Avellino works his second job as an actor in the Las Vegas Mob Experience at the Tropicana on Wednesday, June 8, 2011.

Updated Thursday, June 9, 2011 | 6:54 p.m.

Daniel Avellino

Local second grade teacher Daniel Avellino works his second job as an actor in the Las Vegas Mob Experience inside the Tropicana in Las Vegas Wednesday, June 8, 2011. Launch slideshow »

Map of Aggie Roberts

Aggie Roberts

227 Charter Oak St., Henderson

By day, Daniel Avellino teaches math and reading to 20 students in his second-grade class at Roberts Elementary School in Henderson.

By night, the 31-year-old is an actor at the Las Vegas Mob Experience, playing the role of a casino security guard who “beats up” alleged card cheaters in front of hundreds of tourists.

Avellino is one of a number of Clark County School District teachers who have taken up second jobs to make ends meet as the district tries to figure out how to plug a projected $150 million budget deficit next year.

“Last year, pay freeze. This year, a cut in pay. I don’t want to stick around to see what happens next year,” he said as the nine-month school year winds to an end today.

Armed with a master’s degree in elementary education, the Buffalo, N.Y., native moved to the Las Vegas Valley five years ago to pursue his teaching career. Then, Las Vegas was a boomtown, and like many institutions, the School District was experiencing growing pains.

The influx of thousands of new students necessitated more classrooms and staff, so the School District built more schools and hired young, passionate teachers such as Avellino.

“I love teaching,” he said. “I like to keep it fun and creative, so I get a little silly in the classroom … When (students) see you care about them, they’ll do all the assignments, anything.”

But the economy tanked, and Avellino became one of more than 1,000 School District teachers who were “surplused” in March to plug a projected $407 million budget deficit. Teachers whose positions were eliminated at schools where there was an excess might be hired at other schools in the district, however “it’s basically the luck of the draw,” he said.

“I knew there were massive cuts on their way, but I thought I was in jeopardy of getting a pay cut, not losing my position. I thought I was safe from harm,” he said. “I’m completely in limbo, which makes it very difficult to stay motivated to teach.”

Although additional state funding allocated last weekend staved off teacher layoffs, Avellino was still worried about proposed teacher concessions to fill the budget gap, including a 2.5 percent pay cut, freezing salary increases and passing along pension costs.

It couldn’t have come at a worse time. Avellino has $50,000 in student loans to pay back and more than $10,000 in credit card debt.

“Any disposable income I may have had has completely evaporated, and now they want to cut my pay,” said Avellino, who makes a little less than $45,000 a year as a teacher. “You can see my dilemma here: Do I stay here and do what I love to do and end up $500 in the negative each month, or do I quit and move back home?”

In December, Avellino applied to the Mob Experience at the Tropicana, working the ticket counter and acting out various roles such as an FBI agent, Irish cop, Big Leo’s soldier and warehouse gangster.

“I thought it would be an interesting job,” Avellino said. “I didn’t want to work at Wal-Mart, bar tend or anything like that. I wanted to do something that was more Vegas-esque … and have fun doing it.”

The gig brings in about $1,000 to $1,500 each month — enough to give Avellino “some breathing room,” he said.

“Without this job, I’d be starving,” he said.

Over time, Avellino hopes to turn his second job into a full-time career. He recently took another acting job playing Tony in “Tony ’n Tina’s Wedding” at Planet Hollywood, and is starting to look for an agent.

“I definitely don’t see myself in the classroom two years from now,” he said. “I chose to teach because I’m good at it, and I love it. But it’s like any job. If you’re not being treated right, you go somewhere else where they would appreciate you.”

Holding down three jobs and working more than 80 hours, six days a week comes at a price. The stress from “basically performing from 9 in the morning to 10 at night” and the lack of sleep has exacerbated Avellino’s headaches stemming from his sports-related concussions as a child, he said.

However, acting is fast becoming his second passion.

“It’s almost to the point where when people ask me what I do, I don’t say teacher anymore,” he said. “You’re embarrassed to say you’re a teacher.

“It’s heartbreaking. I feel like I’m being forced out of this position, but you can only take so much. You have to say enough is enough.”

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