Nevada education chief seeks federal funds to reduce teacher layoffs

CARSON CITY - The new state schools superintendent said Tuesday he is seeking federal permission to allow the Clark County School District to use millions of dollars in existing No Child Left Behind funds to reduce the number of teacher layoffs this fall.

"We can seek added flexibility in the use of federal funds," Superintendent of Public Instruction James Guthrie said in a phone interview.

"We have people working on it. I don't want to leave the impression that all 1,000 teachers will be rehired, but we will get as many back as we can."

The school district now uses the federal money to hire outside tutors to provide after-school and weekend help for students, district spokeswoman Amanda Fulkerson said.

Federal rules prohibit the funds from being used on anything but supplemental education service, meaning it can't cover teacher salaries. But under the proposal, the plan would be to take $15 million to $17 million of the tutoring money and instead use it to rehire teachers for the regular school days.

Guthrie said he is working with Clark County Deputy Superintendent Pedro Martinez on a plan to get federal permission to use the funds to hire teachers back in low-income areas.

The reason for the plea is simple.

Last week, Clark County Superintendent Dwight Jones said he would have to lay off as many as 1,000 teachers because of an arbitrator's decision requiring the district to spend $63 million on teacher salaries. Because of retirements and teachers moving away, layoffs could be as few as 300 or 400.

In discussing his effort, Guthrie said he was not speaking for the school district, which has the actual decision on how to use the funds, but wanted to give the district the flexibility to use the money to hire back teachers who will be given pink slips this month.

He did not give an indication on his chances of getting approval for a waiver on the use of these No Child Left Behind funds, although waivers have been granted in the past.

Despite their optimism, Nevada education officials failed in 2010 when they filed an application seeking $175 million in Race to the Top federal education funds.

Gov. Brian Sandoval had directed Guthrie to see whether any money is available to reduce the threatened layoffs.

Sandoval said Tuesday there is "no state money" that could be used to help in Clark County.

An arbitrator's decision released May 2 requires the district to give raises to teachers for both seniority and continuing education credits for 2011-13, which Jones said will force the district to initiate layoffs. The district had sought to freeze all employee salaries to remedy a severe budget shortfall.

Jones was reluctant to say how many positions will be cut or how much class sizes will increase. That will be determined in part by how many teachers retire or resign at the end of the school year. Typically, resignations and retirements create 600-800 teacher vacancies.

"While some teachers will receive raises, other teachers will receive pink slips, and that's not what's best for our students," said Jones, who said the notices will go out between May 16 and 31. "That's not what's best for our students."

The decision on keeping or setting aside raises was left to an arbitrator because the Clark County Education Association, which represents teachers, and the district couldn't reach agreement on the 2011-12 and 2012-13 contract terms.

Union officials refused to have teachers take a pay freeze - as the district's 19,000 other employees have done - and argued it wasn't necessary because the district has the money in its reserve.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at or 775-687-3901. Contact Review-Journal reporter Trevon Milliard at 702-383-0279.