School district layoffs

As the Clark County School District grapples with its finances, hundreds of local teachers prepare for the worst, their fate in the hands of an arbitrator.

It's an unfortunate situation made worse by union folly and a compliant Legislature.

On Wednesday, the School Board adopted a tentative $2.05 billion budget that reflects Southern Nevada's current economic malaise. The board also gave Superintendent Dwight Jones the authority to "make any reductions in force."

Decisions on layoffs, which could include up to 1,000 teachers, depend upon whether an arbitrator sides with the district or the teachers union. The district seeks to save $63.9 million by imposing a teacher salary freeze this current school year and next. The Clark County Education Association has resisted such concessions, preferring to sacrifice scores and scores of its own rather than recognize fiscal reality.

A decision is expected late this month. It's hard to understand how any third party could side with the union given the way the recession ripped through this valley and the concessions agreed to by other district bargaining groups.

But who knows? Arbitration is inherently unpredictable.

Whatever the arbitrator decides, however, lawmakers need to re-examine the process on at least two fronts.

This matter should be in the hands of the elected School Board, not an unaccountable analyst. There is less incentive to compromise under a bargaining system that uses binding arbitration as a final arbiter. Everyone involved knew exactly where this dispute would eventually land.

Finally, layoffs could be minimized if Mr. Jones were allowed to base decisions on criteria other than seniority.

Lawmakers had ample opportunity in 2011 to make these changes. They punted. Senate Bill 343 -- which would have eliminated binding arbitration, leaving the matter to local elected boards -- never made it out of committee. Meanwhile, the Democratic Assembly -- where education reform goes to die -- watered down a measure, effectively killing it, allowing districts to make staffing calls based on performance rather than longevity.

Both issues should be revisited in 2013.

In the meantime, district officials and teachers await a $64 million decision from an arbitrator who answers to neither the voters nor the taxpayers.