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Support Professionals Shouldering Brunt of Layoffs

by Mary Ellen Flannery

What do you think the 500-plus education support professionals who have been laid off in the Clark County School District in Nevada are going to do now? Fold their cards and walk away?

Hardly. With protest rallies planned this week and formal mediation on the horizon, a betting man — and there are plenty in the school district that serves Las Vegas and its surroundings—stays in the game. 

The Clark County Education Support Employees Association has serious questions about the transparency of the “reduction in force” (RIF) process and the district’s rationale for layoffs. They intend to get answers—for their members and for the children that they serve.

“I believe we’re going to prevail. In the long run our folks are going to be put back to work,” promises ESEA President Belinda “Bo” Yealy. “If they’re not, at least we’ll get a fair shake and have the process done the correct way.”

In many school districts across the country, education support professionals are taking the brunt of lay-offs. That's 500-plus in Clark County, plus hundreds in Los Angeles and Tucson both, and dozens more from districts as far-flung as Apple Valley, California, Rochester, Minnesota, and Lee County, Florida.

For some school boards, it’s more politically self-serving to cut support professionals, rather than classroom teachers. That way, class sizes—a hot potato in many districts—are untouched. But ESP layoffs also may be a strategic move to open the door to increased privatization.

In Clark County, for example, 236 food-service people have been laid off. So who’s going to make lunch? School administrators have been eyeing private vendors for years, Yealy says. “Our people took the total brunt of it and I believe that’s by design,” she said.

Yealy also believes that school administrators violated the terms of their employee contract by “RIFing” employees in a way that didn’t follow their seniority in job categories — and that’s the crux of the union’s unfair labor practices complaint, filed with the employee relations management board in Clark County. “It just wasn’t transparent at all.”

Although 500-plus ESPs have lost their jobs, the RIFs affect more than 1,600 employees, including support professionals who have had to transfer to new locations or even new job categories. Take the burly attendance officer who called Yealy the other day. Since all attendance officers have been cut (yes, all of them, which makes you wonder whether Clark County is really serious about improving its dismal graduation rate), he’s been re-assigned as a classroom aide to severely disabled students.

“He told me, ‘How am I going to do that? I don’t even know how to do that!’” Yealy recounts. “As a parent, it says to me that you have no regard for the children when you do that.”
 


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