School district, teachers union at impasse over budget

Stalled negotiations between the cash-strapped Clark County School District and its teachers union might put 800 jobs at risk.

The two sides have reached an impasse in bargaining unlikely to be resolved by Aug. 29, the first day of school, the district announced Thursday. The stalemate isn't expected to impede the launch of the new year, but it makes clear that the union is unwilling to grant the monetary concessions sought by the district, which needs to close a $56 million hole in its 2011-12 budget.

"Teachers will still teach," said Ruben Murillo, president of Clark County Educators Association, which bargains for district teachers.

Their jobs are safe -- for now. A district spokesman said no action will be taken until the teachers' contract is resolved. That could take anywhere from one month to four, Murillo said.

Under state law, declaring impasse puts the dispute in the hands of a judge who will arbitrate the contract terms. An impasse means that negotiations have failed after four meetings.

The district, hit hard by declining local revenues such as property taxes, maintains that it needs $56 million in concessions from employee groups to balance its budget for the fiscal year that began July 1. About $37 million of those concessions would have to come from educators, Murillo said. If teachers don't accept these sacrifices, the district has warned that 800 layoffs might be necessary to make up the difference.

"We are very disappointed CCSD is seeking to balance their budget at the expense of those who spend their lives educating the children of Nevada," Murillo said. He also said teachers are telling him to "hold the line."

On July 1, the district cut 600 administrator and support staff positions.

The teachers union has said it will not agree to the district's following positions: a salary freeze for step-ups in pay based on experience and education of teachers, making workers contribute half of the increase in payments to the Public Employees Retirement System, and replacing the Teachers Health Trust and Retiree Health Trust (not-for-profit and teacher-governed) with a for-profit carrier.

The district's 18,000 teachers make up the district's largest employee group. The district also employs 11,000 support workers, 1,000 administrators and 160 police officers, all of which also have unions.

"These others should not be forgotten, said district spokesman David Roddy, who added that the administrators union has reached an agreement with the district. Support staff and police unions are still negotiating.

Impasse and arbitration are imminent for support staff negotiations too, said John Carr, president and chief negotiator for the Education Support Employees Association. The union is holding its third meeting with the district today .

Support staff are asking for five things, and the district has said no to each, Carr said. That's just the beginning. Carr started hearing from union members Tuesday that their paychecks were smaller than usual, sometimes by as much as 43 cents an hour. If true, the deductions were made before contract negotiations were concluded, he said.

Carr is meeting with district officials today to get an explanation of what exactly the new deductions may be.

"I feel like I was betrayed," said Carr, who contended the district has said in negotiations that it wants to reduce support staff salaries. "The district's saying, 'We agree to disagree, but we're going to do it anyway.' "

The district seems to have foreseen the stalled negotiations, hiring $360-an-hour labor attorney Mark Ricciardi on July 28 in case of arbitration.

There is little concern over the police contract, said Phil Gervasi, president of the Police Officers' Association of Clark County School District. Nothing financial is being discussed in their negotiations. Just language changes. "We realize that the district is in financial straits," he said.