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Freeze alarms teachers

For the past two weeks, Victoria Coon has been in limbo, anxiously awaiting any information about a possible job as a first-grade teacher with the Clark County School District.

Coon said a principal hired her for the new school year, but then district administrators would not allow her to sign her contract until a hold placed on most new hiring is lifted. The freeze does not extend to teachers in critical needs areas such as math, science and special education.

Coon, who is returning to teaching after taking five years off to raise her children, just wants to know whether she has a start date for work.

“I need to know if I’m going to have a job, if I’m going to have health insurance,” Coon said.

Coon said other teachers share her frustration.

“The district is going to lose a lot of qualified people,” she said.

Bill Garis, deputy human resources director for the district, said the hiring freeze was intended to prevent layoffs.

“We don’t want to hire someone, have them move across the country, and then a month later say, ‘Sorry, you don’t have a job,'” Garis said.

Garis would not say when the hold would be lifted, but Superintendent Walt Rulffes said district officials will be reviewing finances and enrollment this week to determine how many additional teachers will be needed. Coon said the district will have to take action soon because teacher training is scheduled to start in mid-August.

Because of the uncertainty, school officials were reluctant to speculate on the number of additional teachers needed for the coming school year. Their rough estimate is 1,000, which is relatively low compared with some previous summers when the district needed as many as 3,000 more teachers.

Clark County, the nation’s fifth-largest school district, employs about 18,000 teachers, Garis said. The School Board recently approved 4 percent cost of living increases for teachers and staff.

While other school districts are laying off teachers, the hiring situation has not worked to Clark County’s advantage, Garis said. All school districts seem to be competing for the same math, science and special-education teachers.

The district recently recruited Katherine Morris, a teacher who helps children with learning disabilities, from Bloomington, Ill. The district offered her a “lot more money” than her old job, she said.

Also, she was motivated to move here to be closer to a sister whose husband is in Iraq.

Morris was picking up information about heath benefits, real estate and fun things to do in Las Vegas at a teacher welcome center on Monday.

She said she was not overly concerned about the school system’s financial condition.

Clark County has announced the elimination of 140 positions for support personnel, such as bus drivers and secretaries. The eliminations were driven by the state’s reduction, during a special session of the Legislature, in planned school funding.

District officials have said financial conditions probably will get worse before they getter better because the district is expecting a reduction of $130 million a year in state funding starting in 2009-10.

Nonetheless, Morris said, “I think they’re always going to need teachers.”

Contact reporter James Haug at jhaug@reviewjournal.com or 702-799-2922.

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