Teachers union leaders criticize ex-director's 'excessive salaries'

Leaders of the local teachers union are lashing out at their former executive director and the Clark County School District superintendent in response to Sunday's Review-Journal stories about the huge salaries drawn by union officials and the questionable spending of $2.4 million in taxpayer funds.

"We have no justification for the fact that former Executive Director (John) Jasonek was able to triple dip, earning additional and excessive salaries," Ruben Murillo, president of the Clark County Education Association, wrote on the union's website Monday.

Phone calls to Murillo on Monday and Tuesday were not returned.

Murillo's statement that Jasonek's $632,546 in compensation was "excessive" is something new. He and current union Executive Director John Vellardita claimed the opposite when interviewed in early February. At the time, they defended Jasonek's compensation of $632,546 for running the union and two related organizations in 2009, the last year for which a required Internal Revenue Service report is available.

They asserted that Jasonek's union compensation of $632,546 in 2009 was reasonable because he earned only $208,683 as union executive director. They argued that the additional $423,863 Jasonek earned as executive director of the union's Community Foundation and Center for Teaching Excellence was unrelated and not a problem because the organizations are separate, though union staff ran the foundation until Jasonek resigned in 2010.

Jasonek, who didn't return calls for comment Tuesday, also has said his three salaries shouldn't be lumped together.

Murillo has abandoned his earlier defense of Jasonek, however, writing Monday that "CCEA in no way condones excessive and multiple salaries for any staff or leaders."

He also wrote that a policy has been adopted prohibiting staff from having multiple salaries.

Murillo said that is only the beginning of new union pay policies. Staff salaries have been frozen. The new executive director's salary is 35 percent less than Jasonek's was in 2009. All staff compensations are "under review with imminent changes" on the way, he wrote.

None of those measures or new policies were mentioned by Murillo when he was interviewed in early February, except for the lower salary of the new executive director, Vellardita, which the Review-Journal reported on Sunday.

Murillo continues to argue against the portrayal of union leaders' compensations as excessive, saying that "simply is not the case."

Both Murillo and Vellardita have refused to disclose current compensations for union leaders, information that will have to be reported to the IRS in documents that will be made public.

The figures for 2009 show the teachers union spent 36.3 percent of its $4.1 million budget on nine leaders. Such salaries, ranging from $139,785 to $208,683, 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. The only exception: the Clark County Education Association, which represents teachers of the nation's fifth-largest school district.

Murillo in his website post did not respond to a district request for an accounting of how $2.4 million in taxpayer money was spent.

The district gave the money to the Clark County Education Association's Community Foundation to run continuing education programs for teachers from 2006 to 2011. But Superintendent Dwight Jones said the district hasn't received "reliable accounting" for how that money was used.

It's a matter the district takes seriously. Jones has ordered legal counsel to review the matter.

Union leaders are accusing Jones of attempting to damage the organization's reputation, according to a Feb. 3 letter from Vellardita to Jones.

The letter accuses district officials of providing "information to the news media in an attempt to disparage, defame and damage the reputation of CCEA."

Tension is already high between the union and district, which are deadlocked over the terms of a new teachers contract. The union is fighting to protect pay raises awarded to teachers for continued education and seniority, while the district contends it needs teachers to take a pay freeze, as other employee groups have done.

The district is seeking $78 million in concessions from teachers over two years to balance its budget.

Vellardita contends the district has been feeding information to the Review-Journal with Jones' "full knowledge and complicity." Vellardita requests the district to "cease and desist" and threatens to use "any and all available means including the court of public opinion" to achieve that end.

Jones never responded to Vellardita's letter and for good reason, district spokeswoman Amanda Fulkerson said.

"We are not required to and will not waste time responding to every outlandish and baseless allegation tossed our way by union bosses," she said.

Fulkerson also dismissed Vellardita's allegation that Jones fed information to the Review-Journal. The district was merely responding to the newspaper's public information requests in accordance with public records laws, she said.

"We are a taxpayer-funded entity and must follow the Freedom of Information Act," she said. "Now that the information has been published, it's the hardworking teachers who will decide if they are content with their union bosses."

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