An alternative universe: Local teacher union wants more raises

Throughout its contract disputes with the school district, the Clark County Education Association has wanted it both ways. On one hand, the teacher union has demanded pay raises the district can't afford. On the other hand, it has insisted that no teaching jobs be eliminated once the budget-busting raises are handed out.

Two months ago, the union got its pay raises, courtesy of an out-of-state arbitrator. However, those pay raises came at the expense of jobs, just as school district officials had warned. Because the union would not support a pay freeze, more than 1,000 teaching positions were cut through retirements, attrition and about 400 layoffs.

This dose of reality should have reshaped contract negotiations between the district and the union for the 2012-2013 school year. Instead, the union's bargaining position became even more perplexing.

CCEA President Ruben Murillo told the Clark County School Board last month that the union was "willing to fund placing teachers back in the classroom." School district sources told the Review-Journal's Trevon Milliard the union had offered to drain its health insurance trust of $22 million to cover the salaries and benefits of the 400 laid-off teachers for one year. That gesture, by itself, amounted to an admission that the school district's $2 billion budget could not be balanced without job cuts, and that what's left of the teacher workforce cannot be sustained if salaries continue to grow.

But, at the same time, the union has called for another round of pay raises come August, based on seniority and continuing education - raises that likely would require the school district to eliminate the 400 jobs the union says it wants to save, plus hundreds more.

Such facts haven't pulled the union from its alternative universe. It's not budging, and it's stalling. So the school district, wisely, has declared an impasse. Once again, an unelected arbitrator will decide how many Southern Nevada teachers will have jobs and how much they'll make. That decision might not come until the new year, halfway through a school year already impacted by cuts that could have been avoided.

All of this underscores the importance of two simple public-sector collective bargaining reforms. First, bargaining sessions between unions and government representatives should be open to the public, so taxpayers can judge the proceedings. Second, elected bodies should be the ultimate deciders of contract disputes, not arbitrators who live in other states and have no stake in their own decisions.

These issues should be at the top of the legislative agenda for 2013.