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Nevada’s teachers advocate for more pay

 A large group of people holding umbrellas and facing the camera stand in front of a podium, while two people, one in white and one in black, talk with their back to the camera.
Jose Davila IV
KUNR Public Radio
Educators and supporters hold umbrellas while they wait for speakers to start at a teachers' union rally in Carson City, Nev. on May 17, 2023.

During the recent Nevada legislative session, teacher pay was a hot topic for lawmakers and educators making their voices heard.

Sierra Gil used to work at the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno on weekends. It was one of four jobs she held while teaching math full-time in the Washoe County School District. She also worked as a part-time instructor at Truckee Meadows Community College and as a tutor.

“I was teaching all day stressing about that, just constantly going and going, rarely had time for lunch,” she said. “Then, I would, after school, go and teach some more because I needed the other job. Then after that, I would go and tutor. I was probably pulling 15-hour days at least, just working straight because I needed all those jobs in order to sustain my life.”

After five years of that grind and a pandemic that forced widespread changes in teaching, she decided to leave. She now works at a science curriculum company full-time, but still teaches as an instructor at TMCC.

Gil has found more balance between her work and personal life. She no longer gets home from work only to worry about the next day’s lesson or a parent email she has just received.

Former and current teachers that KUNR spoke to for this story echoed experiences of burnout, high stress, and low pay.

MJ Ubando spent ten years as a teacher at Wooster and Sparks High Schools. But she left teaching in June 2022 partially because she wanted to start a family and was unsure if she could do that on a teacher’s salary and hours.

“When I decided to leave, I really wanted a job that felt like it, at the very least, paid me enough to start a family and that was a huge factor, too,” she said. “I wasn’t quite sure how to balance having a family with all of the hours I was working.”

As an English teacher, Ubando noticed how much extra, unpaid time it took for her to grade all the essays of her roughly 150 students. That extra time and stress made her physically sick. The year before she quit, when she was only 32, she got Shingles.

Lindsay Anderson teaches fourth grade at Agnes Risley Elementary School in Sparks. But during a union rally for 20 percent raises and other changes for educators in front of the Legislative Building in May, she said she might not be staying much longer.

“If we do not get 20 percent, I’m giving it one more year and there’s a very big chance I will leave Washoe County,” Anderson said. “And what sucks is that I moved back to Reno to be near my mom and I love that. And I love teaching.”

Anderson came back to Nevada with five years of teaching under her belt. Now, five years later and armed with a Master’s degree and a national board certification, she still makes thousands less than starting teachers in her last district.

Anderson doesn’t just quibble with the pay. She also wants districts to cut down on class sizes to make instruction better, less stressful, and less time-consuming.

The Nevada State Education Association and the Washoe Education Association (WEA), the statewide and local teachers’ unions, respectively, lobbied for higher pay and lower class sizes all session. The rally in front of the Legislative Building was a part of that. On average, Nevada public school teachers make $7,500 less than their counterparts nationwide.

One bill trying to address that gap is Senate Bill 231. Signed by Governor Joe Lombardo, it makes a $250 million appropriation to the Interim Finance Committee to provide matching grants to districts that approve raises.

WEA president Calen Evans shared some concerns, though.

“We just want to make sure again that this isn’t just one-time money. That it’s sustainable,” he said. “So, whether it’s matching or whether it’s the ability to take this money and write into legislation that this goes towards salaries directly and then we can just put that back into the Pupil-Centered Funding formula however that looks.”

Because the money is coming from the state’s general fund, lawmakers cannot tie the hands of future legislatures. So, this matching grant program will only exist for the next two years unless legislators re-authorize it in the 2025 session. Evans said that this might mean school districts won’t use the grants for fear of creating a fiscal cliff.

The Nevada Legislature cannot set teacher salaries in the state. Each district negotiates with its bargaining units individually.

Evans suggested inserting a clause into the state’s new Pupil-Centered Funding Plan that would set aside funds for salaries.

But, Assemblywoman and North Valleys High teacher Selena La Rue Hatch said carving out portions of the total money districts receive unnecessarily restricted the use of funds under the old Nevada Plan.

The WEA’s current contract runs out at the end of the month.

Instead, she points to the 26 percent jump in state education funding as a way to boost salaries, especially in WCSD.

“I think our superintendent recognizes and has said on the record we can not open school without staff and so they’ve made that the priority of getting back to basics,” La Rue Hatch said. “We are making sure we have high-quality individuals so that every student has a teacher in their classroom.”

Jose Davila IV is a corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project.

Jose Davila IV reports on K-12 education with a focus on Latino students and families in Northern Nevada and the Eastern Sierra. He is also a first-year Report for America corps member. Es bilingüe, su familia es de Puerto Rico, y ama los tostones de su padre más que nada.
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