Updated August 24, 2023 - 8:13 pm
Teachers union members protested Thursday outside a school board meeting amid ongoing contract negotiations, and three people were removed from the meeting room.
It was the second protest this month organized by the Clark County Education Association that coincided with a board meeting. Protesters gathered outside the Clark County School District’s Greer Education Center on East Flamingo Road.
The district and the union — which represents about 18,000 licensed employees — began bargaining in late March. The latest two sessions were last week, but no agreement was reached.
Union officials estimated about 5,000 demonstrators protested Thursday at peak attendance. Many were wearing matching blue shirts and signs with CCEA demands.
They chanted slogans such as, “Don’t hide it. Don’t fudge it. There’s money in the budget” and “Educators united will never be divided.”
The meeting inside began shortly after 5 p.m., about an hour after the protest started. Just before public comments on consent items, one person in the audience yelled, “Madam president, why are you starting with so many empty seats?”
Union members began chanting, “CCSD’s on fire. Jara is a liar,” referring to Superintendent Jesus Jara.
Private security personnel talked with a few educators in the room to ask them to be quiet. Police removed three people — including CCEA Vice President Jim Frazee and CCEA executive board member Kristan Nigro — after they were asked to leave but didn’t, and at least one was handcuffed.
Two of the people who were removed received a citation for disturbing a public meeting, a district spokesperson said.
As police were talking to Nigro, union members chanted, “Let her stay.”
Nigro later used a megaphone outside to tell protesters that she was arrested, let go and received a ticket.
Frazee came to the podium, saying there were thousands of educators outside who wanted to talk with trustees. After he was removed by police, the audience chanted, “Shame.”
After that, about half of the union members left, many yelling that it was a joke.
During a presentation about chronic absenteeism, Board President Evelyn Garcia Morales asked security guards to stand in the back of the room as some union members were talking, saying there seemed to be “some echoing” disrupting the meeting.
As the meeting continued, chanting and cheering was audible from outside.
After the meeting, the district said in a statement that throughout every negotiation session it continues to advocate for “increasing pay and benefits for deserving teachers and correcting the old salary schedule with a new equitable schedule.”
“Negotiations with the CCEA will only be resolved at the bargaining table, not by disrupting the business operations of the school district,” the district said. “As stated at Thursday’s board meeting, violating the law by disrupting a public meeting results in consequences. CCSD is charged with educating Clark County’s children, and those who seek to disrupt the District’s business operations will not deter us from fulfilling our mission.”
The district said that once the “most unruly agitators” were removed, the board was able to continue its meeting and finish its business.
‘That money is there’
Some cars honked as they drove by and protesters cheered. School police patrol vehicles blocked off some sections of the parking lot at the Greer Education Center.
Some protesters held homemade signs with messages like, “Teachers just want to have funds,” “Fund our future” and “Contract now.”
One protester had a Dr. Seuss-themed sign that said, “One fish, two fish, Jara is selfish.”
Monica Bryant, an elementary school counselor in her 10th year in the district, said she feels that every time negotiations come around, licensed employees have to fight for what’s fair.
Educators are the boots on the ground and the district wants teachers to come and stay, but they’re not showing they’re doing enough, she said.
Bryant said she hopes the district honors what educators are asking for.
Kenny Belknap, a high school social studies teacher and a CCEA executive board member, said his hope is that school board trustees wake up and smell the coffee.
It’s disappointing that it takes thousands of educators to come out to force the issue, he said.
It’s the “Jara brand” to not pay educators, call them liars and file “frivolous lawsuits,” Belknap said.
State Sen. Rochelle Nguyen, who attended the protest Thursday, said she also went to a rally last week at Rancho High School.
Nguyen, who has two children in the district and is on a state finance committee, said the district is facing “incredible teacher shortages.”
The Legislature passed additional money meant to go to teachers, she said. “That money is there and it needs to go to these teachers,” she said.
Legislators appropriated more than $2 billion in new K-12 public education funding for the next two years, as well as $250 million statewide for school district employee raises.
Collective bargaining underway
The union has set a Saturday deadline to reach a two-year collective bargaining agreement. It’s planning a member meeting that day to consider next steps, including whether to engage in “work actions,” union leaders previously said.
State law prohibits public employees from striking. The district filed a lawsuit July 31 in District Court seeking to prevent a future teacher strike.
District Judge Jessica Peterson said she didn’t have enough information to indicate a strike will occur but that she found CCEA Executive Director John Vellardita’s statements concerning and she could reconvene court with a one-day notice, if needed.
The union’s demands include a 10 percent raise for all educators during the first year and 8 percent in the second.
The district said it can’t support that level of an ongoing pay increase. Its latest proposal includes a 8.5 percent salary increase in the first year and 2 percent in the second, and a new salary schedule.
Union members have held protests since July, including at a school board meeting earlier this month and rallies outside some schools over the last few weeks.
A protest outside the Aug. 10 school board meeting drew thousands of union members. Teachers also packed the meeting room, some chanting and yelling. Trustees left the room three times before taking action on only some agenda items and then adjourning.
During Thursday’s meeting, most of the business items were ones previously on the agenda for Aug. 10 that weren’t considered.
Trustees approved one-year agreements with two police unions — one that represents officers and another for administrators — for a 15 percent increase to the district’s contributions toward health care.
The increases will cost the district $200,000 for police officers and $16,000 for police administrators.
The district has reached two-year collective bargaining agreements for support staff and administrators, but not for police or teachers.
Trustees also voted to authorize a $2 million settlement agreement in a U.S. District Court case. The item was on the consent agenda, so there was no discussion.
Cortney Larson filed a lawsuit in February 2022 against the district, Sandra Thompson Elementary School’s then-Principal Shawn Halland and then-special education teacher Melissa Olszewski.
Larson filed the lawsuit on behalf of her son, who’s identified in court documents as “D.S.”
Her child was 3 years old at the beginning of the 2019-20 school year and was in an autism preschool classroom at Sandra Thompson Elementary in northwest Las Vegas.
The complaint alleges multiple classroom aides reported they regularly saw Olszewski “act aggressively with D.S. and his disabled classmates including spanking, flicking, pinching, ‘popping,’ pulling, yanking, screaming at, striking students in the head with objects and acting out of anger in response to their disabilities.”
Court documents say Larson was informed by phone in February 2020 of an incident where Olszewski “lost her cool” and “and grabbed D.S. by his arm pulling him off the ground and striking his body multiple times in front of eyewitnesses.”
The complaint alleges administrators failed to document or investigate reported incidents and failed to intervene.
Olszewski was charged in 2020 with six counts of felony child abuse related to incidents involving six preschoolers, including D.S., according to the complaint.
Online court records show all six felony counts were dismissed after she completed impulse control counseling and 100 hours of community service. She was sentenced for misdemeanor disorderly conduct.
The district and attorneys for Larson didn’t respond to a request for comment by deadline Thursday.
Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at email@example.com or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on X. Review-Journal photographer Ellen Schmidt contributed to this report.