High vacancy rate shows CCSD lagging on hiring teachers

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Steve Marcus

Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara responds to a question during a news conference on school safety at Clark County School District administrative offices Tuesday, March 29, 2022.

Thu, Jun 23, 2022 (2 a.m.)

Matt Kelly Elementary School in the Historic Westside is facing a 41% teacher vacancy rate.

At Lunt Elementary School in the east valley, preparing for the coming school year includes addressing a 20% educator vacancy. And the need for teachers isn’t limited to elementary schools, as the vacancy rate is projected to be 38% at Findlay Middle School near Commerce Street and Tropical Parkway in North Las Vegas.

In a presentation on staffing levels slated for today’s school board meeting, officials will spell out the wide-ranging and complex challenges in hiring. As of this week, CCSD had more than 1,500 teacher job openings posted.

“The significant increase in the number of planned licensed positions over the last seven years is outpacing the number of teachers the district can hire,” chief human resources director Carol Tolx and Assistant Superintendent Greg Manzi say in the presentation.

CCSD is projected to have 299,000 students for the upcoming school year, which begins in early August. However, principals — who control most of the staffing on their campuses — propose needing 15,526 licensed full-time equivalent teachers, an increase of more than 600 from the 2021-’22 school year.

By comparison, the district in 2016-17 had about 321,000 students and 18,649 licensed employees by headcount (some were part-timers), which came out to 13,622 full-time equivalent teachers. Last year, there were just under 305,000 students and 18,593 teachers, or 14,889 licensed full-time equivalents.

In an interview, superintendent Jesus Jara said that principals, “rightfully so,” wanted more teachers on campus and have the authority to pencil them into their individual schools’ budgets.

Jara said schools in the more affluent areas of the district wanted more classroom teachers to bring down class sizes, while schools in the inner cities tended to want more learning strategists, who are certified, nonclassroom teachers who help their classroom colleagues develop lessons and techniques in fundamental academic areas such as reading.

The principals create positions they say their students need, but there aren’t enough candidates to fill them, Jara said.

“The bottom line is that we do not have a supply of educators that are being produced for us to keep up the pace for the needs of our students,” he said.

CCSD last month raised teacher starting pay from $44,000 to $50,000, one major strategy for recruiting early-career educators. Retention of more experienced teachers, however, remains a challenge, along with meeting the needs of CCSD’s students — especially those in the high-needs schools in the inner cities.

The teacher vacancies are not spread evenly across the district, which has more than 350 schools. Sixty-seven schools report no vacancies and 26 schools show at least a 20% vacancy rate, according to district data.

Most of the schools with the highest teacher vacancies are in the east valley or North Las Vegas. With few exceptions, they are one- and two-star schools under the state rating system (five stars being the highest rating). Seventy-nine percent of students at these schools are Black or Hispanic, the district says; state Department of Education demographics show that several have student populations that are at least 90% Black or Hispanic.

Jara said teachers have choices and, after getting trained at inner-city schools, they often transfer to the suburbs.

John Vellardita, executive director of the Clark County Education Association, said teacher retention was a statewide problem, not for CCSD to solve alone, as the state doles out most of CCSD’s funds.

“The discussion moves to Carson City because it takes additional revenue to adjust the salaries of the rest of the educators that work for Clark County School District,” he said. “The School District doesn’t have money in its general fund to give that kind of adjustment.”

Jara and Vellardita said CCSD was seeing normal, not accelerated, attrition this year. But the local educational data analysis firm Data Insight Partners, which is helmed by former CCSD employees, posted a critical Twitter thread Tuesday dissecting the district’s staffing presentation and adding broader data sets, drawn from the teacher separation lists attached to every School Board meeting agenda packet. Their conclusion: that CCSD was being purposely, “extremely misleading.”

By using more recent staffing figures — May 2022 instead of October 2021 — the firm showed that CCSD ended the school year down 546 teachers over the prior year, losing more than 40% more than in a typical year – pointing to a recent, concentrated exodus, not normal attrition, when pulled out overlooking six years, they said.

“CCSD wants you to focus on the small change between Oct 2016 and 2022,” Data Insight Partners posted on Twitter. “They don’t want you looking at the massive and relevant year-over-year drop that’s ~10 TIMES BIGGER.”

Vicki Kreidel, president of the National Education Association of Southern Nevada and a teacher at Heard Elementary School, said she didn’t buy Jara’s explanations and that they don’t make sense. And while “teacher retention is a complex issue no matter where you go,” she said there had been no effort to retain here, and poor leadership and toxic environments at some sites have driven away teachers who don’t know it’s not like that at every campus.

Kreidel listed several retention strategies before even mentioning increased pay: addressing school culture by surveying staff; addressing school safety, which she said was a problem even before last year’s record-setting, high-profile violence; and improving the teachers’ ailing health insurance plan.

She said waiting for legislative action to boost pay across the board was like accepting an IOU that she’s not confident can be fulfilled.

But Jara and Vellardita both noted that CCSD had been here before, and the Legislature stepped in.

CCSD also had 1,500 openings to start the 2014-15 school year, so when the Legislature convened in 2015, lawmakers and then-Gov. Brian Sandoval allocated more money for teacher pay. Starting salaries climbed from about $37,000 to $42,000. The next year, teacher vacancies dropped to 400, Vellardita said.

Vellardita said legislators not only needed to tackle teacher pay, but a pipeline issue — Nevada colleges aren’t graduating enough education majors for the state’s needs.

“You can’t just say we’re going to be able to pay people more if those people don’t exist,” he said.

“This is such a complex issue,” he added. “It’s not simply, oh school district, get your act together and do it. It doesn’t start nor does it end there.”

At the same meeting, the board will consider, for the first time, deeming a “critical labor shortage” of specialty and elective teachers — teachers of the fine and performing arts, physical education and languages, plus counselors, librarians.

The “critical labor shortage” label, in general, is not new. It’s a state designation that allows school districts, among other state agencies, to rehire retired employees. CCSD started declaring critical staffing shortages in 2010. Earlier this year, it renewed the critical shortage status for all core subject teachers, along with bus drivers, substitute teachers and teachers of career and technical education courses.

The meeting is 5 p.m. today at the Greer Education Center, 2832 E. Flamingo Road.

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