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‘CCSD is on fire’: Teachers pack school board meeting in protest

Updated August 10, 2023 - 10:00 pm

Thousands of teachers union members protested Thursday outside a Clark County School Board meeting, and trustees adjourned without considering all agenda items.

Trustees and top district administrators — including Superintendent Jesus Jara — left a crowded meeting room three times as Clark County Education Association members chanted phrases such as, “CCSD is on fire. Jara is a liar.”

Contract negotiations have been underway since late March between the district and union, which have sparked teacher protests and a district lawsuit seeking to prevent a possible future teacher strike.

After the majority of meeting attendees left Thursday, trustees voted on the consent agenda, heard public comments and adjourned about one-and-a-half hours after the meeting began.

CCEA members began protesting outside about an hour before the meeting was scheduled to start at a district office on Flamingo Road. They gathered in the parking lot and on nearby sidewalks.

Greta Blunt Johnson, a special education English teacher at Canyon Springs High School, stood along Flamingo Road outside the district’s office.

“I never expected so many people,” she said about the protest. “It’s beautiful.”

The union — which represents about 18,000 licensed employees — originally estimated the crowd size at about 2,000 but later said numbers had grown to around 4,000.

Police weren’t allowing anyone else to enter the building where the meeting took place after they said the room was at capacity.

Many protestors were wearing matching blue CCEA shirts and holding signs with messages like “Clark County educators demand a contract now!”

Some protestors brought their children. Others had homemade signs with messages such as “Jara can you see me,” “licensed and leaving,” “you get what you pay for” and “teachers need to pay bills too.”

District calls out ‘bad-faith efforts’

Angie Joye, a second grade teacher who is chair of the union’s negotiating committee, said that it’s disheartening to see the lies Jara put out in the media and that teachers can see through the small numbers the district is proposing.

The cost of living has risen, and it’s impossible for teachers to survive, said Joye, who has taught in the district for six years.

Jara and administrators got a raise, she said, asking how the district can take care of everyone else except the “foot soldiers” in classrooms.

Blunt Johnson said she believes in fighting for workers, noting the district’s proposal that was summarized in a Wednesday email to licensed employees was 100 percent not fair.

She said it’s degrading and disrespectful to teachers.

The district gave administrators a 10 percent raise during the first year of their contract, Blunt Johnson said, which is what the teachers union is asking for.

Teachers, she said, are “the backbone of the district.”

Blunt Johnson also said there are special education teachers who are upset about the district’s proposal to offer additional pay for certain special education teachers but not others, noting “you can’t split the department.”

In a statement Thursday night after the meeting adjourned, the district wrote: “Everyone has the right to express themselves peacefully, but they do not have the right to block traffic, disrupt the business proceedings of a public body, or prevent public agency operations through ‘work actions.’”

The district said that union leadership has continued its “bad-faith efforts to bully the school district into accepting their financially questionable proposals that would put District finances into a deficit.”

“As stewards of the public trust and dollars, we cannot agree to put the District in financial jeopardy which will ultimately hurt our students and adults,” it said.

The district said that educators deserve a raise and an equitable salary schedule and will continue advocating for those as long as talks continue.

“CCSD stands ready to negotiate,” the district said. “CCEA should do its members’ business and join us at the table.”

The next bargaining sessions between the district and teachers union are scheduled for Aug. 17 and 18.

What the district is proposing

The Clark County School District is proposing a salary increase for all licensed employees, Jara said in an email Wednesday to employees.

The district is proposing a nearly 7 percent salary adjustment for licensed employees this school year and 1 percent during the second year of the contract.

Jara wrote that he was sharing information about the district’s proposal, which was made July 27, because “we believe it is important for you to know — despite what you’ve been told — that the District is committed to your success and well-being and ensuring that you receive truthful and factual information.”

The union is asking for a 10 percent salary increase during the first year and 8 percent in the second. The district previously said it can’t sustain that level of an ongoing increase.

The state Legislature appropriated more than $2 billion in additional K-12 public education funding over two years and $250 million for school districts for employee raises.

Since the beginning of contract negotiations with CCEA, the district has “sought to correct” the salary schedule that was implemented in 2015, Jara wrote.

“CCEA has mischaracterized CCSD’s proposed rightsizing of the salary schedule and has rejected our offer to allocate funds for this needed fix in the upcoming contract,” he wrote.

The district’s proposal also includes requiring classroom teachers to have work days up to 7 hours, 30 minutes — an additional 19 minutes compared to what’s in place now.

And it calls for raising starting teacher pay to $52,556 this year and $53,082 the following year. It’s currently at $50,115.

The district said it wants to allocate $45 million annually for the next two years for placing employees in a new salary schedule.

It’s also proposing one column advancement for teachers in autism and self-contained classrooms — equating to $6,000 — and for hard-to-fill positions.

For health insurance, the district suggests increasing its contribution to THT Health by 10 percent this year and 5 percent the next.

Related to Senate Bill 231 — the $250 million for school districts statewide for employee raises — the district said it has proposed entering into a memorandum of agreement to allocate 66 percent of its share of that money to raises for licensed employees.

The district said there will be a sunset date of June 30, 2025.

In his email Wednesday to employees, Jara wrote: “It has been a wonderful first few days of the school year. It was encouraging to see that despite the continued misinformation being presented by CCEA leadership online and through the media, our educators are in the classroom with our students. Thank you for your continued commitment to our students and families.”

Inside the meeting room

Around 5:20 p.m. Thursday — about 20 minutes after the School Board meeting started — CCEA Executive Director John Vellardita announced to members inside that he was told the board was in recess, saying he didn’t know if trustees were coming back. Trustees returned to the room just after 5:30 p.m.

Some CCEA members were chanting, “shame” and “no contract, no peace.” Other members were telling fellow educators to let the meeting proceed.

Board President Evelyn Garcia Morales told union members that the board was “really looking forward to hearing from you.”

CCEA Vice President and high school teacher Jim Frazee stood up and yelled that thousands of their colleagues want to talk with trustees.

Garcia Morales told Frazee that he has been to plenty of meetings. Frazee responded, saying he has been laughed at.

Garcia Morales told the crowd that it’s a business meeting. She continued to talk, but her words were inaudible over chanting.

A couple other union members stood up and yelled at the board, including one woman who told the board that educators teach children and “this is not a business meeting.”

Garcia Morales asked her to have a seat, saying she’d have to leave the meeting if she didn’t.

After about five minutes, the trustees left the room again. They returned just before 6 p.m.

Board President Evelyn Garcia Morales told the audience she wanted to remind everyone that the board was making an effort to hear everyone.

She said they would have to start asking people to leave if they’re disruptive. Chanting continued and she banged her gavel.

The audience booed when police officers came to the front of the room. Police escorted one man out of the meeting.

The trustees left the room for a third time. Police began walking around the room asking attendees to leave and some did.

Around 6:15 p.m., an announcement was made by a union representative saying they were being directed by union leadership to leave the room but to continue protesting outside. A handful of people stayed in the meeting room.

Trustees returned about five minutes later and said they were resuming the meeting.

Trustee Linda Cavazos, who was attending the meeting by phone, said she wanted to clarify if everyone had been cleared from the room.

“There are individuals in this room,” Garcia Morales said.

District employee Nichole Beer said during a public comment period that she’s concerned about the optics of how people were let into the meeting room.

She said it’s a “really bad look” when administrators and news reporters are let in, but teachers weren’t.

Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at jgreener@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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