Teacher seniority reform bill to have little impact in near future


Gov. Brian Sandoval and prominent education reformers pushed hard to change the "last in, first out" rules governing teacher layoffs in Nevada.

In the end, the Republican governor won legislative support to end the policy, which protects veteran teachers during layoffs while younger and sometimes better teachers are let go. But the legislation is not expected to have much of an immediate effect in the Clark County School District.

District officials don't expect teacher layoffs will be necessary in the near future because the school system is getting about $250 million more in state funding than was anticipated for 2011-12.

The seniority reform bill, which still must be signed by Sandoval, wouldn't go into effect until Oct. 1.

Ruben Murillo, president of the Clark County Education Association, which represents district teachers, said the public should not be under the impression that seniority is at death's door.

"It's alive and well," Murillo said. "It will play a part in the reduction in force process. The only thing that has changed is how we do business."

The legislation mandates that seniority can't be the only factor in determining layoffs. Other factors, such as performance, the teacher's subject area, and criminal and disciplinary records, must be taken into consideration.

Creating new procedures for layoffs will be subject to negotiations between district and union officials.

The Clark County Association of School Administrators and Professional-technical Employees already has agreed that reductions affecting administrators that can't be made through attrition or resignations will be decided by merit. Those with unsatisfactory job evaluations would be among the first to go.

Murillo wouldn't comment on how layoffs for teachers should be organized. "That's for the negotiating table," he said.

Superintendent Dwight Jones has stressed holding teachers and schools accountable, but district officials would not comment on the new procedures, except to say that teacher performance will play a role.

There are 1,000 teachers waiting for job assignments for the coming school year. They're expected to be placed once the district restores class sizes to current levels and more job openings are created by retirements and turnover.

Teachers are not quite out of harm's way because the district still must close a $150 million shortfall in its 2011-12 budget caused by declining local revenues. Job cuts might be necessary if agreement on employee concessions, such as pay raise freezes, can't be reached by July 1, the start of the new fiscal year.

If layoffs become necessary, Bill Garis, the district's acting director of human resources, said the district would follow the current contract, which bases a reduction in force on seniority.

Victor Joecks, communications director for the conservative Nevada Policy Research Institute, thinks the reform is relatively minor. He criticized it for maintaining seniority as a factor and subjecting the procedures for layoffs to collective bargaining.

"A more substantive reform would be putting all teachers on one-year contracts," Joecks said. "Then it's not even an issue of having budget cuts and whether you should fire bad teachers. The issue should be if you have a bad teacher in the classroom, who's failing the students, that teacher needs to find another line of work."

Contact reporter James Haug at jhaug@reviewjournal.com or 702-374-7917.

 

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