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School Board, teachers union clash over job cuts

Wednesday night’s School Board meeting started out ugly, and it got worse from there.

In the end, Clark County School Board members voted to do what everybody knew they were going to do: adopt a proposed $2.062 billion budget for 2012-13 with almost $60 million in cuts and 1,015 jobs eliminated.

“We are not here to hurt anyone,” Board President Linda Young said just before the unanimous vote. “We did not want one teacher, one support staff, one administrator, not one to lose their job.”

No one would say how many of the lost jobs are already vacant, nor how many people will be laid off. Pink slips will start going out in mid-June.

Ruben Murillo, president of the Clark County Education Association, the teachers union, said he did not believe district officials were being honest. There are hundreds of jobs open within the district, he said before the meeting.

“They’re using their voodoo math,” Murillo said.

The clash followed months of failed negotiations between the district and the union. District officials had pushed their unions for pay concessions, notably a pay freeze. Unions representing school police, administrators and support staff agreed, but the teachers union balked and pushed back, ultimately sending the case to an arbitrator.

The teachers union won, meaning pay raises will continue.

District officials say they now have no choice but to proceed with layoffs because 90 percent of the district’s general fund is used for salaries and benefits.

The average district teacher’s salary is $58,000, not including benefits, a spokeswoman said.

That is close to the national average, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

As Murillo spoke, perhaps more than 100 teachers union members in matching red T-shirts chanted and waved signs on the sidewalk outside the Edward A. Greer Education Center on Flamingo Road.

“Stop blaming teachers,” a sign read.

“Jones is the problem, teachers are the solution,” went a chant, referencing Superintendent Dwight Jones.

“Class size matters,” another sign said.

District officials said class sizes will increase by two or three students across the district because of the job eliminations.

Once the meeting began, teachers union members filled the auditorium to capacity.

Soon, they began to chant. “Save our teachers! Save our kids!”

Young finally had enough.

“We are here to save our teachers and save our schools,” she responded.

There was a collective groan. The chant resumed. It grew louder. Board members, one by one, rose from their seats and left the room, not returning for about five minutes.

“I guess we know who the cowards are,” an audience member said, while someone else snickered.

The district is expecting $27.6 million less in revenue this school year and must, for the third year, tap its emergency reserve, taking out $20 million to cover teacher raises, which leaves just $40 million.

None of that mattered to protesters in the meeting room Wednesday night. They were angry, clearly.

Murillo tried to calm the crowd after board members walked out, but some booed him as well.

Several speakers lashed out at the board. Then came Steve Augspurger, executive director of the Clark County Association of School Administrators and Professional-technical Employees.

He said he understood what the board was doing, and that trustees had no choice. He noted that his union agreed to concessions, while the teachers union did not.

“There is not enough money,” he said.

Someone in the audience coughed and added an expletive. Many more people groaned.

In arbitration, the teachers union set the rules for who is laid off first. Those teachers meeting the union’s definition of “unsatisfactory” are cut before seniority is taken into account.

However, the union’s requirements for being “unsatisfactory” are so narrow that they apply to only 32 of the district’s nearly 18,000 teachers, district officials said.

To meet the union’s unsatisfactory definition, a teacher must have had a pair of five-day suspensions in the last two years. A teacher with a suspension this year and another three years ago would be safe. Also, teachers earning two unsatisfactory reviews would be laid off, but the reviews must be at least six months apart, in two different years and after June 8 of this year, meaning no teachers meet this criteria.

This means that, generally, the last hired will still be the first fired.

Board member John Cole noted that none of this should have been a surprise to anyone.

“We have talked about this,” he said. “We’ve been talking about this since last summer.”

Jeff Weiler, the district’s chief financial officer, explained some of the numbers to board members. He said the deficit that must be eliminated is $59.1 million. He said the layoffs will leave schools with 93 percent of the staff they should have.

Someone way in the back of the room screamed at him.

“I’m ashamed of you,” the woman shouted. “I’m a parent, and I’m ashamed of you.”

Young compared unruly audience members to misbehaving children. She said those teachers would not allow children in their classrooms to behave in such a way.

People began to yell. Those who were not already standing stood up. The room became a sea of red T-shirts.

Most of them stormed from the room. Someone loudly noted that it is an election year.

“We’ll remember,” they chanted, “in November.”

Contact reporter Richard Lake at rlake@reviewjournal
.com or 702-383-0307 or reporter Trevon Milliard at tmilliard@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0279.

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