District says union tactics stall bargaining

An unusual battle has ignited between the Clark County School District and the teachers union, adding to an already fiery, nine-month war that sides have said will end in either 1,000 teachers layoffs or a pay freeze.

The Clark County Education Association, which bargains for district teachers, has filed two complaints with a state government board in recent months, alleging the school district didn't bargain in good faith for unsettled 2011-13 contracts, as state law requires. Complaints from a labor union aren't unusual. But the district is fighting back with a complaint of its own, which is almost unheard of for a government agency.

To balance its budget, the cash-strapped district needs its 37,000 workers to take a pay freeze for 2011-13. But the teachers union -- the only group to reject the freeze -- is "knowingly and willingly delaying" negotiation meetings for a 2012-13 contract, the district alleges. The assumed motivation, according to the district: Stalling means 18,000 teachers will continue earning pay raises.

The raises keep coming because teachers continue to work under their old contract until a new contract is settled. That is why teachers have gotten raises this school year when administrators, support staff and police have not. The school year is almost over, and still no teachers contract has been signed for 2011-12.

Teachers will continue to receive raises through next school year if the parties don't reach an agreement before it starts, which will cost $40 million that the district can't afford, according to its bad-faith bargaining complaint filed last week with the Nevada Local Government Employee-Management Relations Board. The district wants the state board to order the union to "immediately begin to bargain."

"It's unfortunate that union bosses continue to risk jobs by dragging out the process," said district spokeswoman Amanda Fulkerson, noting that the continuation of teacher raises pushes the district deeper into a financial hole. "That could mean more and more jobs lost."

Union officials didn't respond Tuesday to calls from the Review-Journal.

So, how are union officials "delaying" a 2012-13 contract?

It didn't seem to be an issue on Feb. 22 when union Executive Director John Vellardita sent a letter to school district negotiator Edward Goldman offering 14 possible meeting dates in March and April.

The next day, Goldman wrote back and listed 10 of the 14 days as workable, with 6.5 hours available each day. But Vellardita changed the proposed dates on Feb. 29, asserting that the union could meet only on March 30 and April 27, with only seven hours total for negotiations.

"I do not see how a comprehensive contract can be seriously negotiated by putting off negotiations for a month ... for a half day and then wait almost another month for another half day of negotiations," Goldman wrote in a response.

Vellardita wouldn't explain why the union was no longer available on days previously listed as available.

"Much has changed since Feb. 22, 2012," Vellardita wrote back on March 2. He didn't detail what has changed and hasn't responded to Goldman's follow-up email sent that same day.

On the same day that Vellardita wrote he could meet only on March 30 and April 27, the union also suspended its joint ventures with the Clark County School District.

"You have chosen this path," union President Ruben Murillo wrote to Superintendent Dwight Jones at the time.

Murillo's letters were sent after the Review-Journal published stories on Feb. 26 about substantial salary increases drawn by union officials and the union's questionable spending of $2.4 million in taxpayer funds.

Murillo wrote that Jones has "embarked on a calculated campaign to smear the Clark County Education Association's reputation and bargain through the media in order to force teachers to accept concessionary demands."

In 2009, the most current information available, the teachers union spent 36.3 percent of its $4.1 million budget on nine leaders. Such expenditures aren't business as usual.

Five teachers unions for the country's six largest school districts spent 3 percent to 7 percent of their budgets to compensate their leaders in 2009, according to their reports.

That same year, then-Executive Director John Jasonek earned $632,546 in compensation for running the union and two related organizations. The district also gave $2.4 million to the Clark County Education Association's Community Foundation to run continuing education programs for teachers from 2006 to 2011. But Jones said the district hasn't received "reliable accounting" for how that money was used. Jones has ordered legal counsel to review the matter.

Murillo has deflected questions about this money by claiming the district has the funds to continue teacher pay raises and calling for the district's finances to be audited.

"Union bosses telling a taxpayer-funded entity what we should do with our money is like Al Capone trying to tell the IRS how to run audits," district spokeswoman Fulkerson said. "Our budget is public. In fact, it's in black and white for all to see."

Contact reporter Trevon Milliard at tmilliard@review journal.com or 702-383-0279.