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At This Hour

Teacher And Bus Driver Shortages Impact New School Year; U.S. Imposes Water Cuts As Colorado River Hits Dangerous Low; Germany, Israel Condemn Abbas' Holocaust Comments. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired August 17, 2022 - 11:30   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: The new school year is getting underway, but districts across the country are facing major staffing shortages of teachers and even bus drivers right now. It's so bad in St. Louis that schools are now being forced to offer parents gas cards because the district needs them to help drive their kids to school. CNN's Alexandra Field is joining me now with much more on this. Alex, it's a problem -- it's not just in St. Louis. It's across the country. What does it look like?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is absolutely across the country.


FIELD: And it's not even a new problem, but it is a compounding problem that didn't start during the pandemic but was certainly exacerbated by it. And now we're seeing it stretching really coast to coast, the problem in terms of teacher shortages. Really from Delaware to Nevada, we're seeing tens of thousands of vacancies in school districts across the country. And now as kids get back to the classroom, districts are scrambling to come up with stop-gap measures in order to have enough teachers to keep those classes going.

So for example, in Florida, you've got a plan to put military veterans in the classroom. They may not have the traditional teaching background, but certainly, people there feel that they have valuable experience that they could share in the classroom. In Arizona, they're changing licensing requirements, which means that teachers will be able to get in the classroom even before they have a college degree. And in some rural schools in Texas, they're actually going to a four- day school week in order to accommodate the problem. That might be a popular solution among some students.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Students are going to love it.

FIELD: But look, there are systemic issues --

BOLDUAN: But in fairness or not, yes.

FIELD: Exactly. Systemic issues that these districts have to deal with. You know, you've heard teachers talk about low pay, you've heard them talk about burnout and stress, not just the teachers, it's also the bus drivers across the country. Connecticut starting 1000 bus drivers down, Georgia starting 200 bus drivers down, in St. Louis, they're giving money to families for gas, they're giving money to older students for Metro cards. In places like Alaska, they're only serving a third of the students, for now, so really scrambling here.

BOLDUAN: Everyone is scrambling to come up with their own kind of -- yes, their own ways of trying to fix it in the short term. It's good to see you, Alex.

FIELD: A lot of it has been in chaos for years now.

BOLDUAN: For -- yes, I just add it to the list. Thank you.

Well, let's talk about this. Joining me right now is Jesus Jara. He is the superintendent of Clark County Schools in Nevada, the nation's fifth-largest public school district. Thank you so much for being here. Just before school started August 8, I believe, you had said to CNN that you had 1300 vacancies for teachers. What does that number translate to in terms of the impact on students, teachers, and the school environment?

JESUS JARA, SUPERINTENDENT, CLARK COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT: Yes. No, Kate, thank you for having me, and thank you for doing this story. This is pretty critical for our children. The impact here with 92 percent of our classrooms filled with teachers is that in our most underserved communities, where we have our neediest children, is where we may not have a certified licensed educator.

You know, as I continue to say, is really, we need to address this crisis and inequities and inequalities here for our children. You know, our principals are really raising -- you know, trying to find ways to make sure that we have educators in the classroom, you know, doubling up classrooms which increases the class size, teachers selling their prep, adding an extra workload. So it's just really forcing us to find ways to provide a support system for our students.


One of the things that, you know, we need to continue to have a conversation around is really the pipeline, and how do we continue to get more students, you know, out of the higher ed institutions to go into the classroom to go into education.


JARA: Because we -- I don't see this problem going away in the -- in the short time.

BOLDUAN: I was going to ask about that because the Secretary of Education was on CNN yesterday talking about this teacher shortage. And what he said is we're at the doorstep of a crisis. And I was wondering, in your perspective, would you say you're at the doorstep of a crisis or are you already there? JARA: I believe we're there. You know, here in Nevada, in Southern Nevada, we've -- we need 2000 teachers just to keep up with attrition. And our higher ed institutions here in Nevada, I've produced 900. And we haven't had a fully-staffed classroom in NAC since 1994 because --

BOLDUAN: Wow. Yes, that's the thing -- that's the thing I think I want to get to is, this is not a new problem. But what really is the root cause now? Something is different now. Is it teacher pay it? Is it more? What is it?

JARA: I think it's a combination. I think our teachers did an amazing job through the pandemic. When you really think about our educators when we went through COVID, you know, businesses closed, our educators flipped from face-to-face instruction to really providing online instruction that we were not trained for. So in a matter of a weekend, our educators did amazing work. Not perfect, but did the best they could and spent two years. I think it's a national rhetoric, I think it's the conversation we need to have about this profession.

When we really look at the working conditions, we are addressing some things. I have a great relationship and partnership with our teachers' union. As we are -- we were able to raise pay, we collapse some columns, and were able to bring our teacher starting salary to, you know, over 50,000, and raise it at the end also, as well for retention. And use some of the federal dollars to get some retention bonuses, very, very innovative and strategic thinking here, but we didn't have enough for the -- money to be able to raise all salaries. So I think that's where a component, but then working conditions.

Our parents got into -- you know, during the pandemic, were able to go into the classroom where educators were doing so. I think they were able to experience and see that. And now we need to address class size, we need to address the working conditions, we need to address pay, and I think this is a national discussion that we need to have. What do we -- what value do we place on K-12 education in this nation? What value do we place it in the state up? And I know that we in the local school district, we are really looking to do what we can with the money that we have to really support our neediest children.

BOLDUAN: Yes. But if not addressed, I see no signs that it's going to get better on its own.

JARA: Yes.

BOLDUAN: Jesus, thank you for coming on. We'll stay in touch -- we'll stay in close touch. Thank you. Good luck with the school year.

JARA: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us. Here's a quote for you. "If you don't take this seriously now, you're insane." That is the warning today as the federal government is ordering new water cuts from the West -- for the western portion of the United States. A live report from Lake Mead next.


BOLDUAN: The U.S. government is ordering Western states to slash their water usage after a new projection shows the Colorado River Basin is facing dire drought conditions, so dire it could collapse the region's water supply. CNN's Bill Weir, live at Lake Mead for us with more on this. Bill, what does this mean?

BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: Oh, it means so much for 40 million people across the southwest and their crops and their animals. You can see the bathtub ring which is now taller than the Statue of Liberty there. This Marina would have been maybe a quarter mile up 20 years ago, but it's just as receding. And just this week, the fifth set of human remains was found. If that's not a grim metaphor, a warning for the future, these secrets from the past are not popping up in this 23-year megadrought. The warning yesterday is that thirstier days are yet to come.


WEIR (voiceover): Whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting. That's supposed Mark Twain quote has been a Western slogan since the first settlers, but now the worst drought in 1200 years as water managers in seven states, 30 tribal nations, and Mexico fighting over every precious drop.

CAMILE TOUTON, COMMISSIONER, BUREAU OF RECLAMATION (voiceover): But to date, the states collectively have not identified and adopted specific actions of sufficient magnitude that would stabilize the system.

WEIR: That was the commissioner in charge of dams and reservoirs, admitting that upper and lower basin states have failed to agree on ways to cut their water use by up to 25 percent.

PAT MULROY, FORMER COMMISSIONER, SOUTH NEVADA WATER AUTHORITY: I think ultimately the states are going to realize they're playing Russian roulette and they're going to have to come to their senses.

WEIR: For almost 30 years, Pat Mulroy was in charge of Southern Nevada's water and led an aggressive conservation campaign to tear up lawns, reuse wastewater, and scold water wasters.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can't water in the middle of the day, ma'am. You'll be fine if you don't change your water and clock.

WEIR: All measures you'd like to see happen downstream.

MULROY: I think they're kind of kicking the can down the road past the election if you want to -- want me to be very frank about it. I don't think anybody wants to make great public announcements about measures they may have to take prior to the election.

WEIR: Rather than to force new action, the feds will let the states keep talking while the next round of automatic cuts will lower water delivery by 7 percent to Mexico, 8 percent in Nevada, and 21 percent to Arizona.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You can hear this crunching, it's just starting to dry up.

WEIR: Here alfalfa farmers are already being paid to let their fields go fallow. While some are switching to crops like guayule, a rubber plant that grows in the desert.

KEVIN MORAN, SENIOR DIRECTOR, ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENSE FUND: Crop switching. Looking at lower water use crops like guayule is one of the solutions we need to be looking at in a drier future to allow communities to sustain themselves.

WEIR: Thanks to some creative water accounting, California will not face mandatory cuts next year, but their governor is already warming of a future with a lot more people and a lot less water.

GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM, (D-CA): Science and the data lead us to now understand that we will lose 10 percent of our water supply by 2040. If all things are equal, we will lose an additional 10 percent of our supply by 2040.

MULROY: We have the very real possibility this coming year, if we have another lousy winter, all things being equal, that we will drive this lake down to elevation 1000. That is 100 feet above the dead pool, and you're at the bottom of the martini glass. So it doesn't take much to tip that over and get to the point where nothing can go downstream. And if you don't take it seriously now, if you think that you're going to avoid this, do a rain dance, go pray, do whatever, that we have a great winter, you're insane.


BOLDUAN: I mean, the way she speaks is -- I just love the way she's putting this because it really grabs your attention, Bill. I mean, so, Bill, how do you refill Lake Mead?

WEIR (on camera): Well, Pat Mulroy who knows better than most how to do this says the only way in the short term is to pay ranchers and farmers downstream not to take their allotment of water. They're basically trying to save the system from crashing in the next couple of years. And then think about the long-term plans for how to support 40 million people living in this arid climate.

BOLDUAN: Yes, but -- I mean, but this is money, money, and more money. I mean, how expensive are any of these fixes going to be?

WEIR: It's funny. Gavin Newsom, mayor -- governor of California last week didn't really spend a lot of time talking about cutting back on water but was preaching this message of abundance through desalination plants, there's only 13 in California right now. They take a tremendous amount of energy to run and decades to build.

There's also the infrastructure that can be used to catch stormwater in the winters as those atmospheric rivers get harsher, and then pump that water back into aquifers. Again, big bold ideas, connect the Gulf of California with the Salton Sea and desalinate there. Hugely expensive takes a lot of time. In the meantime, whether it's a state leader or federal leader, nobody seems to know what to do on how to divvy up the fair cuts among all the stakeholders.

BOLDUAN: Bill, thank you for being here. I really appreciate it.

WEIR: You bet.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, a major Children's Hospital on high alert right now after being targeted by misinformation and conspiracy theories. Details next.



BOLDUAN: New this morning, the leaders of Germany and Israel are condemning Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas after he accused Israel of committing "50 holocausts against Palestinians." CNN's Hadas Gold is live in Jerusalem for us on this. Hadas, Abbas has a history of comments about the Holocaust. What is this about?

HADAS GOLD, CNN JERUSALEM CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is far from the first time that Abbas has made or written controversial comments about the Holocaust that have drawn harsh condemnation. I mean, in the past, he said things before, like the Jews in Europe essentially brought the Holocaust upon him -- upon themselves. But the fact that he made these comments in Germany next to the German chancellor, of course, was Germany being so sensitive about its role in the Holocaust and its relationship with Israel, well, this struck a new nerve. Take a listen to what he had to say.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From 1947 to the present day, Israel has committed 50 massacres in Palestinian villages and cities, in Deir Yassin, Tantura, Kafr Qasim, and many others. 50 Massacres, 50 Holocausts. And until today, and every day, there are casualties killed by the Israeli military. A request to say enough, come towards peace.


GOLD: Now, Abbas said the word Holocaust in English, and according to reporters in the room, Scholz, the German Chancellor physically grimace, but he didn't actually issue any sort of statement or reaction on stage. He's come under some criticism for that. But later, he did issue a tweet. I want to read it to you.


He said I am disgusted by the outrageous remarks made by Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas. For us, Germans, in particular, any relativization of the singularity of the Holocaust is intolerable and unacceptable. The Israeli prime minister also issued a condemnation of those statements. And then Mahmoud Abbas's office did earlier today issued a statement they said clarifying his remarks recognizing the Holocaust as a heinous crime, saying that what they meant is that they want people to recognize that what they say are massacres caused against the Palestinian people, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Hadas, thank you for that. I'm going to turn now to another disturbing story. Boston Children's Hospital says its staff is being threatened and harassed now after far-right activists on social media posted misinformation, claiming they perform gender-affirming hysterectomy procedures on young girls. The hospital says it's not true. They do not perform those procedures for anyone under the age of 18. The Boston Children's Hospital says it is proud though to be home to the first pediatric and adolescent transgender health program in the United States. The hospital though now is working with law enforcement to try to better protect its staff in the face of these lies.

Thank you so much for being here everyone, I'm Kate Bolduan. "INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts after this break.