School unions out of touch

Clark County School District employees have proven themselves powerless to stop their union leaders from marching hundreds of members off a fiscal cliff into unemployment.

The groundwork is being laid for layoffs, and those in charge of bargaining on behalf of teachers, administrators and support workers either don't get it or don't give a damn.

For the better part of two decades, educators' contract negotiations focused on the size of annual pay and benefit increases. The money was always there for more, more, more.

The tax money is disappearing quickly now, so quickly in this recession that payrolls must be cut. The Legislature already tried raising taxes to preserve the status quo, with disastrous results for the economy. Now the school district has to make $123 million in cuts for the next academic year.

Superintendent Walt Rulffes wants all school district employees to take 5 percent pay cuts through a combination of salary reductions and furloughs. Mr. Rulffes also wants to suspend the seniority-based "step" raises most district employees receive simply for putting in another year of service, while preserving the raises they get for pursuing advanced college degrees. Those raises are typically between 4 and 5 percent.

It's a reasonable approach, given that all school district employees received 4 percent cost-of-living pay raises in July 2008, even as layoffs and income reductions were beginning to ravage the private sector. In addition, more than 60 percent of school district workers received "step" raises to go along with that COLA in 2008, as well as another "step" in 2009. And they're in line to get at least one more "step" in July.

The average school district worker has seen his or her pay grow more than 12 percent since the recession began.

If you talk to your child's teacher or principal about the issue you'll hear support for measures that avert layoffs and allow schools to keep their existing staffs intact. If the school district has to go ahead with layoffs, it won't affect just those who lose their jobs. Once the most recently hired staff are let go, thousands of retained teachers, specialists and administrators could be transferred to different campuses to fill in the gaps in a massive, seniority-based exercise in bumping and job grabbing "musical chairs" that will leave no campus unchanged.

But the leaders of the Clark County Education Association (the teachers union) and the Clark County Association of School Administrators aren't listening.

The administrators union, in particular, has covered their eyes and ears to the new fiscal realities. They're currently in arbitration with the district because they want taxpayers to pick up a half-percentage-point increase in their pension contributions, rather than have it come out of their ample paychecks. (Taxpayers already pick up the other 21 percent). And their offer of a "concession" for next fiscal year amounts to a reduced pay raise, rather than an actual cut. They know that even if administrative positions are eliminated, their accrued seniority means most will be able to return to a teaching position -- bumping another, younger teacher out of work.

This is the outfit that represents school "leaders." Principals and deans everywhere should be ashamed.

Unionized public education embraces seniority over merit, more's the pity. There are plenty of district employees in central administration -- many paid with federal dollars -- who make almost no difference in the lives of children. And it's unfortunate that Mr. Rulffes wants merely to delay, rather than cancel outright, longevity-based step raises for educators. But the rest of Mr. Rulffes' plan is the right way to go.

The School Board is scheduled to vote April 7 to initiate the layoffs. Teachers and administrators should be taking immediate steps to decertify their unions.

In the meantime, the public can tell heir unions to wake up and get real. Stephen Augspurger, executive director of the administrators union, can be reached at 796-9602, and Ruben Murillo, president of the local teachers union, at 733-3063.

Tell them what you think about their idea of "concessions."