I-Team: Teachers Up Against Odds in Classroom - 8 News NOW

Investigative Reporter Colleen McCarty and Photojournalist Kyle Zuelke

I-Team: Teachers Up Against Odds in Classroom

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LAS VEGAS -- When students succeed, their teachers get most of the credit. And when students fail, those same teachers shoulder most of the blame. So, it comes as no surprise that political platforms targeting education reform focus heavily on the classroom educator. But should they?

The teachers the I-Team spoke to know they can have a profound impact on their students. That's why they say they got into teaching. But more and more they find outside forces -- like a lack of resources, legislative requirements, even language barriers -- interfere with the learning process. And they want the candidates to put the classroom first.

"When we're talking 48th, 49th, 50th in spending as a state, it's really pathetic that we can't talk about an increase in education funding rather than more cuts," said band director Gene Howley, Garside Middle School.

Howley, kindergarten teacher Terri Veach and fourth grade teacher Kerri Soper are three educators with more than three decades of combined experience working to make a difference in a district with dwindling revenue.

Cuts of more than $140 million closed the budget gap for this school year to the detriment of students, the teachers say.

"It'll be increased class size which means that there's going to be less attention spent on each child because the more children you have the more difficult it is to get to each one. Especially those children that have needs," said Veach, Hollingsworth Elementary School.

"I have 33 kids in my classroom and I know that's roughly the average for fourth and fifth grade and it's a lot to work with. First of all, the classrooms aren't that large. You're working with big desks, the kids are growing so they're bigger. There's just not a lot of room in there to create the perfect classroom," said Soper, Forbuss Elementary School.

Teachers often pay for staples like copy paper, pencils and notepads out of their own pockets. Even textbooks, provided by the district only in class sets, aren't available to every student.

"Most publishers, they sell them in sets of 25, so we're like we obviously don't have 25 kids in the classroom. So we have always been short. And this year I was like we need more books but it is a class set and we can't afford monetarily for the kids to take them home," said Soper.

"In New York state, the law says each child has to have a book and there's a separate fund for that. It's not a classroom set, it's a book for every kid. I can't understand what's going on in this state why we can't accomplish something like that," said Howley.

Education plans by gubernatorial candidates Rory Reid and Brian Sandoval call for largely revenue neutral reforms. Each proposes an end to teacher tenure and to existing longevity pay in favor of pay for performance incentives.

Reporter Colleen McCarty: "How should you be evaluated? What is the fair way to do it?"

Teacher Terri Veach: "Growth over time for a student and that can be accomplished through portfolios and on-going assessments for students."

Teachers who don't make the proverbial grade may be subject to removal or termination under the proposals. And students at failing schools will have the option to transfer regardless of zoning restrictions. Moves designed to encourage performance the teachers fear may instead slow improvement.

"You should be building up the entire educational system. You know a great public quality education for all students. Not if you go here, you're going to get a great education and if you're sadly left behind at this school, you're not. And that's where I have issue with the choice system, I think you need to build schools up," said Soper.

The teachers tell the I-Team that they like the empowerment school model suggested by both candidates which allows individual schools local control over their budgets and curriculum.

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