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Cutting deans at Clark County schools poses safety risks, critics say

Updated June 13, 2019 - 10:55 pm

The elimination of deans in Clark County School District middle and high schools will remove employees critical to combating violence and addressing discipline issues, forcing already-overburdened school administrative teams to take up the slack, district employees say.

The plan announced by Superintendent Jesus Jara on Monday will cut all 170 deans from the schools next year to eliminate a deficit of nearly $17 million. It came at the end of a legislative session that pumped more money into public schools. But that was not enough for the district to provide promised raises and balance its budget, prompting the plan to dump the deans.

But some employees — including those directly affected by the move — argue that losing the deans will put student safety at risk, leaving fewer adults on campus to address bullying, suicidal behavior or general discipline matters.

“My job really is school safety,” said one dean, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid any repercussions during the expected upcoming job search. “So anytime a teacher has a behavior issue in a classroom or if there’s any sort of campus disruption … if there’s a fight, I deal with all of the fights. If there’s drugs on campus, I deal with that.”

The cut also means tough decisions for school leaders, who might have to get creative to fund extra support, including using money from vacant teaching positions.

“It becomes a conundrum,” said Dave Wilson, principal at Eldorado High School in Las Vegas, where there will now be three administrators for 2,200 students. “Do you turn around and use that money that (was) meant for teachers to purchase additional support, or do you let things fall apart?”

A dean’s duties

As entry-level administrators, deans are 10-month-a-year employees with starting salaries of $60,760 with a range of responsibilities, everything from confiscating weapons from students to evaluating teachers.

They deal extensively with safety issues, reviewing tips of potential danger that flow to schools through the SafeVoice program or investigating bullying allegations — both of which require an appropriate, immediate response as set forth in state law.

The loss of the deans would come amid an increase in school violence in the district. Just one month into the last school year, a Cheyenne High School student fatally shot a Canyon Springs High School student on school grounds.

The district, which later began randomly searching students, also ended the year with an increase in the number of firearms found on campus.

“Nothing good for schools nor students will happen because of this decision,” Stephen Augspurger, the executive director of the Clark County Association of School Administrators and Professional-Technical Employees, wrote in a letter to members on Tuesday.

“Superintendent Jara recently stated that he would keep any CCSD budgetary cuts that had to be made as far away from the classroom as necessary. Maybe the superintendent does not really understand the important and critical work done by his school-based administrators.”

The union is exploring potential legal action on the matter, Augspurger wrote.

Deans will be placed into available teaching positions if they so choose — which could mean a loss of thousands of dollars in salary.

Meanwhile, administrators wonder how they will deal with misbehaving students and handle major issues such as fights — even with support from campus security monitors, school counselors and social workers.

“I don’t know how you’re expecting all of that to be dealt with without deans there,” the dean told the Review-Journal. “I don’t believe that the kids are going to magically start behaving differently because you don’t have that position.”

The removal of the deans also probably would spill over to affect assistant principals at some schools because some principals have promoted deans to the 11-month-a-year position that comes with higher pay. The administrators’ union estimates roughly 25 secondary assistant principals could be removed.

The district has had to cut over $100 million over the past two years alone — and many of those cuts came from central services, district CFO Jason Goudie said. Even so, officials are continuing to look for additional savings — particularly in central services — to reduce the estimated $17 million deficit for the 2020-21 school year.

“But we did a lot of that over the last two years already,” he said of the central office. “That’s where the vast majority of our cuts came from.”

Union eases on strike threat

Meanwhile, the teacher’s union is not calling off its threat to strike next school year, though it said Tuesday it does not view the loss of the deans as something that will have a direct negative impact on classrooms.

In a statement, the Clark County Education Association noted that the district will use new school safety funding approved by the Legislature to put more resources in middle and high schools.

“We support the decision made by the superintendent and Board of Trustees, and we understand that they do not come easy, but all parties were aware that CCSD had a budget shortfall,” the union said. “No employee will lose their job. School safety will not be compromised.”

But some administrators say the new funding won’t make up for the loss of a dean who connects with students because some of it will go for security improvements to buildings.

Roughly $46 million that the Legislature allocated to school safety will fund grants for licensed mental health workers and police officers in schools. Another roughly $17 million will provide grants for facility improvements.

“You can’t buy social-emotional assistance,” said John Anzalone, principal at Sierra Vista High School, which will lose two deans. “You can’t buy that. That’s a personal thing. That’s a human element.”

Moving those duties to principals and assistant principals also means less support or feedback for teachers, some principals say.

With the loss of his deans, Anzalone said he and his three assistant principals will have to supervise another 50 employees between them.

“Which is doable,” he said. “It just makes it harder to work with struggling teachers that way, and it’s harder to provide quality feedback because we’re stretched so thin.”

This article was updated to correct the amount of money approved by the Legislature for school safety.

^

Contact Amelia Pak-Harvey at apak-harvey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4630. Follow @AmeliaPakharvey on Twitter.

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