Several bilingual education teachers learn mistakes can happen

Within the past few school years, five bilingual education teachers made the choice to relocate to the Clark County School District, on the promise of a special stipend that would boost their salary by 16 percent to 19 percent.

They were hired for area middle schools, such as Bridger and Von Tobel middle schools, and were paid at the level promised by district recruiters. But earlier this month, the district found they had made a mistake _ as middle school teachers, the five weren’t eligible for the bilingual program placement money, which is reserved for bilingual teachers in grades K-3. That mistake, which has cost the district tens of thousands of dollars, now could result in pay cuts of almost 20 percent for affected teachers. District officials could not be reached Friday to provide the exact amount that teachers were overpaid.

In Clark County, bilingual education is offered to elementary students. Older students are served by the English Language Learner Program, in which Spanish is used less intensively.

‘It’s a bad situation for all of us,’ said Paulette Lollar, who left El Paso, Texas, in 1996 to teach at Bridger. ‘I bought a house based on what my income would be.’

The teachers are facing three choices: transfer to elementary schools, if positions are available, to keep their full salaries; stay at their middle school positions and take the pay cut; or give up their preparatory period to teach an extra class, which would still not cover the majority of the loss in pay.

‘My concern is that the district never gave me an opportunity to transfer before the beginning of the school year, as other teachers had the opportunity to do,’ wrote Von Tobel bilingual teacher Sharon Madrid in a letter to the school board. ‘Had I the opportunity to apply for, and interview at a bilingual site before the new school year began, I am certain that I would be currently teaching at a bilingual site and would not be working at Von Tobel.’

The letters notifying teachers of the district’s error were sent out in late August and September. The pay cuts for those who remained at the middle schools was immediate. According to the letter Madrid received _ written by George Ann Rice, assistant superintendent of human resources _ the mistakes were discovered during an internal audit of the English Language Learner Program.

‘Because the classes you are teaching are not part of the bilingual program offered by Clark County School District, we are contractually prohibited from giving you the bilingual program placement on the negotiated salary schedule,’ wrote Rice, who could not be reached for comment Friday.

The teachers brought their issue to the Board of Trustees on Thursday, asking for fairness and consideration. Several parents also came to the board meeting to show moral support, carrying signs to bolster Selena Williams, a bilingual Von Tobel teacher.

A group of those affected by the district’s mistake will meet with Superintendent Brian Cram on Monday to discuss a resolution. The Clark County Education Association is involved with individual cases and is awaiting the district’s decision.

John Jasonek, executive director for the teachers union, said there are three things to consider: how the district’s decision will affect the current contract; the affect on teachers in similar positions who don’t receive the additional monies if these teachers continue at their previous pay; and the personal difficulty of those standing to lose almost one-fifth of their annual income.

‘Payroll mistakes happen all the time,’ Jasonek said. ‘But this is a little different.’

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