Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2012 | 9:54 p.m.
About 100 teachers rallied in front of the Clark County School District administration building Wednesday afternoon, protesting proposed pay freezes and potential layoffs.
Hoisting signs that read “Honk for Teachers” and yelling slogans such as “Hey, ho. Don’t let our teachers go,” members of the local teachers union again sought attention to their prolonged contract fight with the district, now going on seven months.
In recent weeks, the Clark County Education Association has packed School Board meetings at the Edward Greer Education Center, near East Flamingo Road and McLeod Drive, to air teachers’ grievances to School Board members and district officials.
On Wednesday, the union gathered its members for the first time this school year at the School District’s main administration building on West Sahara Avenue, which houses the offices of the superintendent and other top school officials.
The union wanted to take its message straight to the top, union President Ruben Murillo said.
“We want the public to know there’s a disconnect in what the district sees and what our teachers see,” he said. “Our teachers are drowning in work, and now they’re threatened with layoffs and increased class sizes. This has got to stop.”
The teachers’ chants and calls would fall on deaf ears however, as Clark County Schools Superintendent Dwight Jones was off-site, according to a district spokeswoman.
Nevertheless, teachers rallied in front of the administration building for about an hour and a half, eliciting honks from passing cars. About five School District police officers guarded the gleaming building, which some teachers took to calling the “Pink Palace.” Formally the headquarters of Harrah’s Entertainment, the district administration building now stands as a remnant of Las Vegas’ gilded age.
The cash-strapped School District and its beleaguered teachers union are undergoing arbitration after contract negotiations failed in August. To plug a $39 million budget gap this year, and another $39 million next year, the School District is seeking concessions from its teachers.
Proposed concessions include freezing salary and step increases, lowering salaries to pay for pension cost increases and changing the teachers’ health insurance provider from the nonprofit Teachers Health Trust to a private insurer.
Without the concessions, officials say the School District will be forced to find cuts elsewhere. Jones warned school principals in December that 1,000 teacher jobs could be shed if the union prevails in arbitration. The layoffs may increase class sizes by three or four students, school and union officials said.
“Everything we’ve been doing is trying to keep teachers in classrooms,” School District spokeswoman Amanda Fulkerson said, eyeing the crowd of chanting teachers. “We want to hold pay where it is, and keep teachers in classrooms. The union wants raises, and force us to cut teachers.”
As the ongoing arbitration fight rages on, teachers like Kelly Kelley, 33, say they are fed up. The Hyde Park Middle School math teacher rallied Wednesday with her 5-month-old son and 14-year-old daughter, a Rancho High School freshman.
Kelley, a 1996 Bonanza High School graduate, said she is concerned about the ramifications of teacher layoffs on already-expanding class sizes. Her daughter’s geometry class is currently pushing upwards of 50 students — the teachers won’t be able to handle additional students, she said.
With looming layoffs, Kelley is worried. How is she to pay off $92,000 in student debt with a $42,000 salary? How will she provide adequate health insurance for her family? Morale is low, stress is high among teachers, she said.
“I teach because I love my students,” she said. “I shouldn’t have to constantly wonder if I have a job.”