Class sizes could rise if teacher layoffs go through

Any outcome in the pending arbitration between the Clark County School District and the Clark County Education Association could be devastating.

If the district wins, teachers will have to pay back thousands in raises. If the teachers win, they keep the money, but the district warns that about 1,000 of them will need to be laid off in order to balance the budget. The valley’s largest high schools could lose up to seven teachers. Class sizes also would be raised for the second time this school year.

About 17,500 of the district’s 37,000 employees are teachers. There are nearly 310,000 students. The public may debate the effect class sizes have on learning, but students do not.

“If class sizes were going to increase at all, it would become chaotic,” said Michael Demasi, a student at Palo Verde High School, 333 S. Pavilion Center Drive. He said he has classes with nearly 40 students in them.

“There would not be too much productivity,” he said. “It would affect my concentration (and) the ability to focus in class. There would be an impact on the amount being learned and taught. All my teachers are quite fantastic at controlling the environment, but any teacher would have an issue controlling that many high schoolers.”

Milaci Bishop, a freshman at Las Vegas Academy, 315 S. Seventh St., said some classes did not have enough desks for students at the beginning of the year and students had to sit on tables or the floor.

“I’m really concerned about the class sizes getting bigger and bigger,” Milaci said. “It’s really hard to learn as much when that happens. Kids get rowdy and things happen. It’s easier to learn in a small class because you get more attention from the teacher, instead of the teacher going around trying to teach all these kids smashed together in a tiny classroom.”

If layoffs were to occur, the newest teachers would be the first to go. Students are not happy about that, either.

“A lot of times when you do layoffs, they do the seniority thing,” said Shane Haddad, a student at Advanced Technologies Academy, 2501 Vegas Drive. “They lay off the new teachers who might just be better teachers. A lot of these teachers have become comfortable because they’ve been working so long. They feel secure. They’re not going to lose their job.”

Milaci’s father, Joe Strahl, also said he dislikes the process and fears the outcome could negatively impact his daughter’s education.

“They should have merit pay for teachers,” Strahl said. “They should figure out how to get rid of teachers that aren’t effective.”

Strahl likened the process to a salesperson who receives a steady raise regardless of his sales.

“What’s their incentive to sell?” he asked. “Same with teachers. What’s their incentive?”

No teacher wants to give up a raise, though some think it’s a better alternative than seeing a colleague fired.

Fifteen-year teaching veteran Patty Ellsworth, a teacher at Del Sol High School, 3100 E. Patrick Lane, said the recent news of possible layoffs has been a damper on her school.

“The options are taking a pay cut or cutting teachers,” Ellsworth said. “Me, personally, I’m willing to take the cut because I have safety nets. I’m not going to lose the house, the car. I can still buy groceries. There are a lot of teachers living right on the edge. A thousand (dollars) is going to be the difference of making it or not.

“The morale of teachers is so low right now. Teachers pretty much overall are willing to give. We didn’t go into teaching for the money, but there has to be enough money to pay rent or meet the bills at the end of the day.”

Ellsworth said the district’s plan to eliminate the Teachers Health Trust in favor of a private insurance company is equally important because teachers might not have access to their current doctors.

“I think it’s important people understand, I realize it’s the taxpayers who are paying my salary,” Ellsworth said. “It comes to a point when you have to be fair both ways. Teachers are willing to put in extra hours and our own money. We put a lot of extra time in. If you want the teachers, you’re going to have to pay for them. We’re not out to rip anybody off.”

One teacher, who asked not to be named, also is a parent of two children in the district. He said he favors the teachers’ position even if it could potentially hurt his children’s education.

“If we give ground now, I don’t think we’ll never get it back,” he said. “Teachers are always treated worse than most state employees. We’re always at the bottom of the barrel. It seems like we’re always getting hit.”

He said it would be easier to hire more teachers in the future and decrease class sizes because parents would be involved with such a cause.

“I think it’s pretty sad either way,” he said. “I wouldn’t feel good about losing a colleague. I wouldn’t feel good about having higher class sizes, either. I don’t think there’s a win-win. Nobody is going to win.”

He also said teachers at his school have not had conversations about the issue and are focused on teaching.

Teacher salaries begin at $34,688 and go up to $69,272 for those with a doctorate degree and 14 years in the district. The average teacher salary was $53,238 last school year, according to the district.

Raises range between $1,000 to $2,000 per year and end after 14 years.

Ruben Murillo, president of the teachers union, said there’s still an opportunity for discussions with the district. Arbitration likely would not be settled before March, he said.

Murillo also said the district continues to hire new teachers, with more than 50 scheduled for new employee orientation this month. He said potential increases in state funding next year could negate some of the shortfall in funding.

“I believe the district doesn’t have to lay off teachers,” Murillo said. “It’s all about investing in the classroom. Teachers are an important resource.”

Contact View education reporter Jeff Mosier at jmosier@viewnews.com or 224-5524.

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