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School District workers uneasy because attendance officers might be ‘bumped’

School attendance officers chase after truant kids, knock on strange doors and help police bust house parties.

Their job exposes them to confrontations with gang members, drug dealers, prostitutes and the prostitutes’ patrons or "johns."

It’s so stressful and hazardous that the attendance officers get training from local police departments.

It should come as no surprise, then, that when they were told they would be "bumped" from their jobs by substitute teachers, school secretaries and others without that experience and training, they were more than a bit concerned. And not just about the salary cuts or job downgrades they were being forced to accept.

Chris Sedillos, an attendance officer for 21/2 years, could hardly contemplate a school secretary becoming an attendance officer.

"What about their safety?" said Sedillos, 35.

Sedillos worked as a bouncer at clubs and drove a heavy truck for the Clark County School District’s food service before he became an attendance officer.

Job requirements include a valid driver’s license, a high school diploma and two years of experience working with children in either a school or a community setting. The only physical fitness requirement is being able to exert or push up to 20 pounds.

New employees, of course, get training as with any new job, said Bill Garis, deputy officer of human resources for the School District.

Garis said district employees are more likely to be qualified for an attendance officer than someone hired off the street because school employees have so much experience working with children.

"You have to look at it that way, too," Garis said.

Adam Mauk, an attendance officer, said it was absurd to think that two years experience of working with children was a valid qualification for becoming an attendance officer.

"Ninety percent of School District employees would qualify," he said.

Five attendance officers will be bumped to other jobs next year. The district has 24 attendance officers. A third of them are women.

Some of these officers said the district and their fellow employees don’t appreciate the hazards of the job.

"I had two middle school students who were intoxicated try to fight me," said Mauk, a brawny 30-year-old who has two years experience as an attendance officer and also works as a wrestling coach for Centennial High School.

"I’ve chased kids across backyards and drainage canals, that kind of thing," Mauk said. "People will bring out their guns when they see kids running across their yard. So I’ve had to diffuse those situations as well."

Other district employees said the job is appealing to them, even if it means giving up the classroom for driving a minivan in search of truant kids.

"I wish I could be an attendance officer," said Autumn Tampa, a permanent substitute teacher who is being offered a lesser paying job next year as a special education assistant.

Tampa said the attendance officer job is appealing because "it’s in the same pay range."

Because the district is eliminating 854 positions, it is going through a massive reshuffling of job titles.

By union contract, employees are protected by seniority. So if the job of a senior employee is eliminated, the employee is offered another position in the same "job family" and similar pay grade. As a result, they can displace or "bump" less-senior employees from their jobs.

The move to a lesser-paying job further compounds the 6 percent to 4 percent wage cuts for school employees proposed by the governor and the Legislature, respectively.

Starting pay for an attendance officer, for instance, is between $17.54 and $22.94 an hour or about $25,000 to $33,000 annually based on a nine-month schedule. Some are being bumped to a lesser job such as an instructional assistant, which starts at $10.76 to $14.09 an hour, or about $15,000 to $21,000, based on a nine-month schedule.

Mauk estimated that he might lose half his attendance officer salary next year.

Bumping for support staff was scheduled to wrap up this week since employees are under deadline to accept new positions. The process is just getting started for teachers and is expected to drag out until mid-summer.

Garis, the deputy human resource director, acknowledged that bumping is a "complex process" that can cause a lot of anxiety since no one wants a demotion and loss in salary.

The bumping follows certain parameters, such as job qualifications and pay guidelines. An employee, for instance, cannot be bumped upward to a better paying job. A bus washer cannot be made a pipe fitter.

Because of these guidelines, "no one is being hop-scotched," Garis said.

The process also follows a protocol that was negotiated by the unions, district officials emphasized.

"It’s very regimented," said Jeff Weiler, the chief financial officer for the School District.

Bo Yealy, the president of the Education Support Employees Association of Clark County, has disagreed with how the district has implemented the bumping procedures, especially the job classification system.

She also worries about untrained employees becoming attendance officers.

"I can see them knocking on a door and getting blown away," Yealy said.

As might be expected, employees who are getting bumped are disputing everything from job categories and years of service to work hours per position. They have complained to the media, School Board members and union officials.

Some attendance officers, for instance, have complained to the Review-Journal that permanent substitute teachers are actually getting raises because they’re moving from a 7.2-hour job to an eight-hour job.

But Garis said only permanent subs with 11-month jobs, meaning they work at year-round schools, are taking over the jobs of nine-month attendance officers.

Contact reporter James Haug at jhaug@reviewjournal.com or 702-374-7917.

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