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Drop in enrollment leaves some CCSD schools reshuffling staff, classes

Updated October 5, 2020 - 7:30 am

When Taylor Martin explained to her fourth graders on Thursday why she’d have to leave them, the kids had two questions: Why can’t the school get more money to keep her? And if not, could they go with her instead?

Martin is one of 65 Clark County School District teachers as of Thursday to be facing surplus — the district’s practice of tallying student enrollment and reallocating funds for staff to schools based on classroom ratios.

This fall, a drop in enrollment tied to families leaving the district during the COVID-19 pandemic has left the district nearly 10,000 students and $61 million short of projections — and has hit Tyrone Thompson Elementary, where Martin teaches, particularly hard.

The district’s zoning office expected 606 students to show up as Thompson opened its doors for the first time for the 2020-21 school year, but just 408 actually enrolled — about 66 percent of the projection. At the close-knit campus where many staffers also have children attending the school, that means five teachers will have to look for work elsewhere, the remaining staffers will be reshuffled, a quarter of the student body will transition to new classes six weeks into the school year and every classroom will grow in size.

“It affects everyone,” said Principal Robert Hinchliffe at a meeting of the School Organizational Team. “Ultimately every classroom gets more kids.”

How enrollment ties to funding

And what if the missing students come back after schools reopen, one parent at the meeting asked, after their teachers have already moved to other schools? It’s likely the school will have to deal with larger class sizes, Hinchliffe said, just as it is expected to institute social distancing within the classroom. Staffing levels will be adjusted again in the spring for the following school year.

It’s a common misconception that the district is funded based on the tally of its students on a so-called Count Day, said Chief Financial Officer Jason Goudie in a recent video. While that was true years ago, the district now receives monthly and quarterly payments from the state based on average daily attendance calculations. The internal Count Day instead is used to determine staffing at each school for the year.

Enrollment is down this year, Goudie said, but the corresponding costs are down as well.

“Because we have less students, we therefore need less resources to service those students as well as the cost of supplies, we need less supplies,” Goudie said. “All of those pieces go in and offset some of those lost revenues.”

The district did not respond to questions about why Thompson’s projection was much higher than its actual enrollment, nor about low enrollment trends district-wide.

According to data obtained by the Review-Journal, 75 schools have enrolled fewer than 90 percent of the students they were expecting this year, compared with just 22 schools last year. In 2019-20, there were 140 schools with 100 percent of their projected enrollment; this year, there are 82. The Nevada Learning Academy, the district’s all-online school, is at 178 percent of its projected enrollment.

Only the North Las Vegas area didn’t have an enrollment drop of more than 1,000 students, losing about 112 students compared with last year. The Henderson and Summerlin areas had the greatest total drops in enrollment, at 1,794 and 1,771 students, respectively, and the rapidly developing southwest area that includes Thompson saw a drop of 1,456 students.

The two other elementary schools bordering Thompson, whose boundaries were adjusted this year for the new school, also saw drops in enrollment: Blackhurst Elementary saw 100 fewer students than projected this year, at 89 percent of enrollment, and Wright Elementary enrolled 80 fewer students than projected, at 88 percent of enrollment.

As of Thursday, there were 65 licensed professionals facing surplus in the district, according to Clark County Education Association Executive Director John Vellardita, and 387 vacancies district-wide. He said the union hasn’t seen a fall surplus on this scale, but that it’s likely an aberration for this school year only.

If the school doesn’t have the students to justify the positions, there’s little recourse to save them, Vellardita said. A school facing surplus will initially look for volunteers, he said, and then consider who’s licensed and available for what position, before finally considering seniority.

The teachers who are leaving will then see all the vacancies for which they’re qualified, with the positions filled based on seniority.

But issues have come up in the process, Vellardita said, like schools rejecting qualified candidates whose salary may be on the higher end of the spectrum. It also doesn’t affect all schools equally: those with larger pots of carryover money from the previous year — some in the hundreds of thousands of dollars — can sometimes save positions.

Thompson, a new school, did not have carryover funds. Hinchliffe said the school was told by the zoning office that it would open with about 500 students and then grow.

But as he realized over the summer that the school would face cuts, Hinchliffe said, he put off hiring a music teacher and a counselor to mitigate the impact. Some positions have to be filled, however, even at the expense of saving teachers, he added.

After the budget came into focus, Hinchliffe said, he appealed the cuts to Superintendent Jesus Jara and district leadership but was denied.

The effects

Taylor Martin said she began decorating her classroom in early July, as soon as Hinchliffe allowed his staff into the building. She spent countless hours by her estimate reviewing the content standards and the curriculum, as well as the last six weeks building trust with her students.

“I feel like it was going pretty well,” she said. “I was getting into a groove with my students and getting positive feedback from my families. It was a very positive experience for the circumstances we’re in.”

But as a first-year teacher, she said, she had been bracing for the surplus process. While she’ll have to start over in another classroom, she said her primary concern is for the students, who have to learn a new virtual learning schedule, new classmates and a new teacher.

“I just hope that this process can be evaluated, because it’s not right for the students to be put in a class for two months, to build a relationship with the teacher, and start to trust this teacher, especially this year during virtual learning,” she said. “For the rug to be pulled underneath them and to have to start over, it’s not right any year, but especially this year.”

Thompson kindergarten teacher Dannielle Carrion will also be moved from her kindergarten class to a new first grade class as part of the reshuffling of the surplus process. In the next week, she needs to replicate all the work she did for her class over the summer, including creating lesson plans, converting her Google classroom, scanning and making copies of the material and getting to know the new kids and families.

“I can deal with it; I will take on the challenge and do my job, but it’s the kids,” she said. “Basically what’s gonna happen with these kids is they’re going to lose another two weeks of instruction because of the transition.”

Of particular concern are her shyest 5-year-olds, she said, including students with autism, who will be going from a smaller kindergarten class to one with 24 students, all during distance learning.

Nathalie Pormentira, a parent of a student with autism in Carrion’s class, said the district can’t guarantee her son will flourish under a new teacher like he did these past six weeks.

“It’s like hitting the jackpot in our case to get a teacher who can work with our child,” she said. “We have all worked hard to get in rhythm here and get familiar with routines and now they will change that? Do they know how devastating changing routines is for kids on the spectrum?”

Some students have their teachers taken away or shuffled multiple years in a row, said Tabitha Hugdahl, a parent and teacher at Thompson. Her own child is going from a class of 15 to a class of 25, she said. And with the addition of four more children to her classroom, she’ll likely not have the time to do one-on-one sessions with students.

The surplus process is stressful for all involved, Hugdahl said, and needs an exception for new schools like Thompson, as well as accountability from the top for the calculations that are made.

A grace period for a new school would be appropriate, said Bronwen Mellinger, a learning strategist, especially considering that the school doesn’t yet have a star rating that determines additional funds.

“We have a lot of young teachers at the school,” Mellinger said. “As a district, we do not have a strong track record of supporting young teachers, and maybe it’s because we hire people and let them pour their hearts into it before making them go somewhere else.”

Contact Aleksandra Appleton at 702-383-0218 or aappleton@reviewjournal.com. Follow @aleksappleton on Twitter.

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