Teachers approve contract now up for Clark County School Board consideration

Clark County teachers’ system of automatic pay raises have been frozen for a year, but they’re about to thaw out, not to mention grow, according to the Clark County Education Association.

After months of negotiating with the Clark County School District, it and the teachers union have reached an agreement on something that deadlocked the parties in the two previous school years – a contract for the 18,000 teachers. Previously, negotiations were stymied by the topic of teachers’ salaries, which the district said it couldn’t afford. Arbitrators were called in to render decisions that led to pink slips, pay freezes and then re-hires over the past two years.

For the 2013-14 school year , a contract is now one step from official without the need for an arbitrator. Union officials announced that members voted Wednesday night to approve the negotiated terms, leaving just the Clark County School Board to do the same at a Sept. 26 meeting. The union didn’t release how many of its members were present for the vote in the closed-door meeting at Western High School, but reported 93 percent cast votes in favor.

“We are excited to have an agreement with our teachers that provides them with advancement on the salary schedule,” said School Board President Carolyn Edwards in a statement Thursday. “We look forward to moving on together and focusing on the academic success of every student.”

The major contract changes, according to the union, are:

—A restoration of the two forms of automatic pay raises, which are awarded for seniority in the district or completing advanced degrees and professional development courses.

—Seniority pay raises will also be increased.

—All teachers will receive a 1 percent salary increase to cover the correlating increase in cost to the state retirement system.

—Teachers will have more days for personal leave.

—Both the district and teachers will pay less into the Retiree Health Trust. The employee contribution will be $1 per pay period, saving $28 per month for employees. The district’s contribution will be reduced to $100,000 annually.

—Licensed nurses will jump one step on the pay scale because of new dual license and degree requirements.

Clark County School District spokeswoman Kirsten Searer confirmed that those were terms.

However, one large issue remains unresolved — what to do with the floundering Teachers Health Trust? Union Executive Director John Vellardita told members in a closed meeting in February that the union-operated health insurance provider, which has an annual revenue stream averaging $148 million, is in dire financial straits.

Vellardita showed a spreadsheet showing that the trust had lost more than $3.6 million since the fiscal year began July 1, 2012, because the cost of claims exceeds the trust’s revenue.

“The Teachers Health Trust has drawn down its reserves to very critical levels,” Vellardita wrote in his report to members.

Trust CEO Peter Alpert, who retired this summer amid word of the trust’s short future, denied that the situation was as bad as Vellardita claimed, but still said the trust needs more money from the district. In addition to what teachers pay for health insurance through salary deductions, the district gives the trust $546 per teacher per month, according to the contract. That amount hasn’t increased since 2008.

If no agreement is reached concerning the health trust by Oct. 12, the parties may go into arbitration over the issue.

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