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Chip Mosher: November in a teacher’s soul

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I had to laugh. Recently, Garth Brooks quit three years into a five-year deal with Wynn Resorts CEO Steve Wynn. Though he cut the gig short, Brooks was allowed to keep a private jet Wynn gave him as “an enticement” to sign up for the lengthy engagement.

“He gets to keep the plane. He did what he was supposed to do. We’re square,” Wynn reportedly said.

Interesting. In the Review-Journal in 2008, Wynn was described as “the driving force behind talks” to broker a room-tax deal with the Nevada teachers’ union, to raise an estimated annual $125 million for public education. This was Wynn’s personal effort to prevent having his (and others’) casino’s gaming tax rate hiked from 6.75 to 9.75 percent, which would have created a projected yearly $400 million for schools. In a smart move, he was, then, agreeing to pass along education revenue increases to tourists, rather than picking up the tab himself. The deal called for the added room-tax money to be donated to the state’s general fund for two years — to help plug the budget deficit — before it would be, in 2011, given over to public education to help fix teachers’ salaries.

“It’s a sure thing,” union leaders promised teachers at the time.

But in 2011, a funny thing happened to teachers on the way to their paychecks. The money never showed up. In fact, the state Legislature switched dice in the middle of the game, to keep all the money promised to teachers. Forever. Thus, teachers have received no cost-of-living pay increases in the past four years.

Now, I’ve been told that I’m a pretty good teacher. Never had a bad evaluation. Perfect attendance for 20 of my 23 years teaching here. I have been credited with raising school-wide test scores about 15 percent in two at-risk high school environments. I’ve also been acknowledged for literally saving the lives of three kids. Plus, I’ve received a Nobel Educator of Distinction Award for classroom excellence. Truth told, though, I am hardly different than most of the colleagues with whom I work daily. Or, in the vernacular of Wynn, I do what I am supposed to do.

Yet, I have no private jet. Nor a salary raise promised by the room-tax deal of 2008. Nothing. For teachers, no deal has been square for more than a decade.

And now, just recently, the new Nevada Superintendent of Public Schools, James Guthrie, has started spouting the status-quo rhetoric of the corporate-based reformists, some mumbo-jumbo borrowed from the failed former Washington, D.C., Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee.

Guthrie, who reportedly makes $125,785 per year, said he wants “the top-performing 10 to 15 percent of teachers” to make the same salaries as doctors and lawyers, while leaving the other 85-90 percent of teachers behind (like paupers?) on the pay scale. This exaggerated, and basically disproven, merit-pay scheme was originally floated by Rhee years ago. And, conceivably, it could cost Nevada’s taxpayers, for starters, between $100 million and $200 million more annually. So why would anyone pay such money to the top 15 percent of teachers, who are already doing an excellent job for much lower wages? Somehow, one wonders if Steve Wynn would approve.

Ah, with apologies to Herman Melville, welcome to the damp, drizzly November in a Nevada teacher’s soul.

CHIP MOSHER is a simple classroom teacher.