Commentary

Party like it’s 1994

March 2, 2022 5:54 am

(CCSD photo)

Supt. Jesus Jara demonstrated my favorite word again at the CCSD Trustees meeting last week when he tried to argue that it wasn’t his fault so many teachers are leaving the district.

At the beginning of the discussion about his performance evaluation, he noted, “the last time the Clark County School District opened fully staffed was 1994.”

Well, that’s specious.

Nineteen ninety-four was wholly different than 2022. 

In 1994, the population of Clark County was 938,611. Today, the population is 2.39 million.

In 1994, there were 188 schools. Today there are 357 schools.

In 1994, we had an average enrollment of 145,621. As of count day in September 2021, we had 309,866 students. This is down from almost 320,000 students in the 2019 school year,  though there are a few thousand students who have come back since count day in September.

In 1994, there were 8,050 licensed teachers. Today there are roughly 18,500 licensed teachers. And we have more than 1,375 teacher openings. That’s 7.5 percent of total teaching slots. Many of those who have given their notice, I’m told, are gone from buildings, but are still listed as employed as they collect their sick leave.

Let’s look at these numbers in context. In the 10 years between 1984 and 1994, the total population of the Las Vegas valley grew by 40 percent: from 544,893 to 938,611. Then, between 1994 and 2004, we grew at a 43 percent average yearly pace, with a population of 1.62 million when today’s seniors were born. That’s almost double the population in one decade.

These were the years when Las Vegas had year-round schools, and some schools had double sessions.

According to this Clark County Library District archive of the Review Journal, the district hired 775 teachers to start the ’94/95 school year. The RJ said at the time, “Nearly half of the new teachers were hired to keep up with enrollment.”

So… let’s see… half of 775 teachers, accounting for the odd number ending, giving, say, 27 teachers in service to the word “nearly,” would land us at around 374 people hired to keep up with growth. Which leaves about 401 people who left for regular attrition.

That’s… carry the one, stick out your tongue, turn around three times… 5 percent of teachers who left for retirement or to get another job.

Meanwhile, the district, from 1994 to 2007, was recruiting teachers all over the country. Good teachers. Teachers with experience. Top students at teachers’ colleges. They were offering them a low cost of living. They were offering them signing bonuses and a fast track to getting tenure toward retirement. They were offering them 90 percent of their salary after retirement. They were offering one of the best health plans in the country.

Today… the district can offer none of that.

To be fair, most of what I laid out above is not Jara’s fault. Although the $431,500 that went to Jara’s cabinet could certainly have made a dent toward recruitment incentives, or training for psychologists and social workers. The federal relief money could have gone to that, too. And we’re still waiting to see how much – if any – Jara gets of his $2.6 million demand for “unfair treatment” when he was fired, before that firing was just erased.

The difference between 1994 and 2022 is that now no one wants to come here to teach. CCSD is coming apart at the seams, and people are jumping off fast. The 1,375 number is just the people who have given their notice or already left. It will be a lot more – and a lot more than 7.5 percent – by summer.

In 1994, Las Vegas was going through growing pains. Too many people were moving here too fast, and the schools employed innovative strategies to keep up.

In 2022, CCSD enrollment is contracting. And the few dozen teachers I have spoken with, along with ones who speak up at public meetings and events, aren’t leaving because they can’t get housing or they don’t get enough bonuses or their PERS was cut. They are leaving because they are not allowed to teach. They are leaving because all of the out-of-the-box curriculum we’re buying is not only costing the district money, but it’s sucking the souls out of teachers. They are leaving because they aren’t allowed to do what’s necessary for their students – especially their special ed students. They are leaving because a teacher who starts at CCSD will make less after 10 years than a teacher who taught for 10 years in another, better paying, district and then moves to Vegas. They are leaving because they are afraid of retaliation and micromanagement. They are leaving because they have chronic medical conditions and have to choose between their health and their career. All of this, except the health insurance, are operational issues. They fall at the feet of the superintendent.

Jara made the comment about 1994 to justify the fact that his performance evaluation will not rate him on how many teachers the district retains. It will only rate him on new hires. I honestly think he’ll fall flat on that, but it fits. Jara sees teachers as robots, easily replaceable. An army of new recruits to teach canned, off-the-shelf, Betsy Devos-approved curriculum. While teachers weep for the end of the world they once knew.

Subs

There’s a companion story to this that I think deserves attention: qualified people are stepping up to the plate to sign on as substitute teachers, and they’re being turned down. Without any explanation.

Maddie White covered this well in her FOX5 report. At least she gives a good explanation of what the qualified people she highlights – a former ER doctor; a military vet and retired commercial pilot; a woman with two masters degrees, including one in teaching, and a Nevada teachers license – have told her. The last woman, Mary Marshall-Lang, has been told – and she confirmed this to me – that she has no classroom experience, therefore they can’t hire her as a teacher.

Huh?

So, when someone graduates from a teaching program, they can’t be hired as a teacher? That’s… crazy. Or it’s just the excuse HR gave to her in the moment.

White does a great job of detailing the multiple times she reached out to HR director Nadine Jones to get clarity on the hiring policies, only to hear nothing back.

Kamilah Bywaters can be added to the list of people being denied sub placement. Bywaters – who is the president of Las Vegas Black School Educators (LVABSE) – told the Board of Trustees on January 13 that she has been turned down twice to be a sub. Bywaters used to teach in the district. She has a teaching license for special education and a sub license. She is in a PhD program. She also has previous classroom experience in Washington D.C.

Bywaters applied to substitute teach twice. The first time, she said in a phone call, the district “just straight up told me I wasn’t qualified.” They gave her no other explanation. The second time, she says she was told by someone in HR that she was denied because one of her past supervisors in D.C. didn’t get back to CCSD. That supervisor doesn’t work in the same school anymore, Bywaters said. 

“When they’re not able to contact a past employer, they’ll deny you,” Bywaters said.

I told a CCSD Trustee about this and she said she’ll check into it. She also noted that it’s completely possible Bywaters was denied because she has been critical of the district and Jara. Such is the retributive atmosphere at CCSD that the trustee just said this as if it was a given that this was the answer. 

There are two possible explanations here, and I can only speculate because no one at the district will talk to me, either. One is that they are so afraid of throwing a teacher in who might cross a line that they are being extra careful. Except there are plenty of teachers walked out of schools every month for sexual misconduct. The second is that the district doesn’t want to hire people. If you break something, you can rebuild it the way you want to. Which explains why Jara would not want to be judged on retention. If you want a robot army, the first thing you do is get rid of the humans.

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Carrie Kaufman
Carrie Kaufman

Broadcast, digital and print journalist Carrie Kaufman writes the You're Overthinking It newsletter on Substack. She has covered the Clark County School District for public radio and The Nevada Voice since 2015.

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