Support staff deal

Clark County's teachers union could learn something from the school district's support staff. While the teachers union has taken a no-compromise position with the district -- risking massive midyear layoffs -- support staff just approved a three-year contract that gives both employees and the district what they wanted while saving taxpayers money.

To help cover a $78 million revenue shortfall for 2011-13, the school district had been open to outsourcing a few thousand janitorial and bus driving positions. A consultant's report said absent support staff compensation concessions, outsourcing those jobs could save the district up to $18 million per year. The Education Support Employees Association, meanwhile, was determined to find a way to preserve staff salaries and positions.

So a bargain was struck. The union agreed to use reserve funds from its defunct health trust to restore seniority-based pay raises for a year and a half and cover workers' share of increased pension contributions. In exchange, the district agreed to not outsource support staff positions before 2014. The deal saves the district $34.7 million over three years.

The contract, adopted following a Saturday vote by support staff, clearly buys time for both sides with the hope that the economy improves. The ESEA's reserve funds will be depleted at the end of the 2012-13 school year. We certainly hope the school district constructed language that does not obligate taxpayers to cover those pay raises and pension contributions come 2013-14. As it is, the district took a big risk by tying its own hands on the outsourcing issue.

Quite simply, if outsourcing can save taxpayers money and deliver identical or better results, governments should be leaping to transfer positions to private-sector contractors.

Other local governments have made the mistake of writing into employee contracts moratoriums on outsourcing, language that will have to be negotiated out of future pacts -- with unions expecting something in return.

That the school district was able to achieve significant savings on this contract is encouraging, however. The teachers union must stop playing Russian roulette with up to 1,000 jobs and return to the bargaining table with similar results in mind.