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CCSD, teachers union begin contract talks amid high tensions

Updated June 23, 2023 - 8:32 am

Amid tensions and stalled talks over contract negotiations between the nation’s fifth-largest school district and the teachers union, the Clark County School District will pay an outside legal firm up to $595 per hour to assist with employee contract negotiations that are underway.

The School Board voted 6-0 Thursday on the compensation rate for the firm Fisher & Phillips LLP, which has extensive experience with collective bargaining, according to online meeting materials.

The item was part of the consent agenda, where multiple items were approved in one vote, so there wasn’t any discussion.

Contract negotiations cover topics such as pay, benefits and working conditions for licensed employees.

But Superintendent Jesus Jara told the Review-Journal’s editorial board that the Clark County Education Association’s demands would put the district in the red, referring to a budget deficit.

“Their current ask is astronomical,” he said.

Among the demands, CCEA — which represents more than 18,000 licensed employees — wants a 10 percent salary adjustment in the first year and 8 percent in the second year for all educators, according to the union.

CCEA Executive Director John Vellardita said Thursday that he doesn’t buy the argument that the district doesn’t have the money. He cited the $2 billion in additional state funding for public education over the next two years.

“They have more than enough money,” he said. “It’s just a question of priorities.”

The current negotiated agreement between the district and union runs until June 30.

Vellardita said there’s a desire to have a contract in place before a new school year begins in early August or issues may emerge, but he didn’t specify what those might be.

For the district, “the biggest goal for us is to really address the salary schedule” during negotiations, Jara said.

He said he thinks the district is losing too many teachers due to the salary schedule and professional growth system.

Vellardita said the current salary schedule isn’t competitive to recruit and retain employees. The district is facing a teacher shortage, with more than 1,300 licensed positions listed on its hiring website as of Thursday.

Vellardita also said the law firm Fisher & Phillips represented the district during a few past contract arbitrations, noting the union prevailed.

The only thing the district can show from the longstanding history with the law firm, he said, is a significant bill.

During a public comment period Thursday, Jim Frazee, a high school teacher and vice president of CCEA, told trustees there has only been one bargaining session that was substantial since April and “your one employee” is preparing for arbitration.

It wastes time and taxpayer money, Frazee said, noting the agenda item is also way too early if there’s an honest intent to work together.

He encouraged the district to come back to the bargaining table and do everything possible to try to solve the issue.

After parental engagement, the most important factor in student success is a licensed teacher, Frazee said.

There could be an estimated 2,500-teacher shortage when a new school year begins, leaving nearly 35,000 students without a licensed educator, he said. “That should never be allowed.”

Labor disputes don’t inspire educators to come or stay in the district, Frazee said.

Board President Evelyn Garcia Morales said the district is following a schedule for negotiations, continues to follow laws and has every intention of negotiating in good faith.

Later, she said the purpose of negotiations, by law, is bargaining through discussions in closed session with the district — not in an open meeting in this case, she said, referring to several public commenters from CCEA talking about negotiations.

“Please do better,” she said.

CCSD’s initial offer

In a Friday email to licensed employees, the district outlined the proposals it has made to date to CCEA.

The district’s initial offer calls for completely restructuring the pay schedule, leading to a salary increase for 78 percent of teachers.

The offer would “adopt a compensation philosophy that we value employees based on their years of experience and education,” the district wrote.

The district raised its starting teacher pay to $50,115 — a more than $7,000 increase that took effect last year — a move that led to salary compression issues.

“While we do not know the outcome of these negotiations, these are the initial offers that the Board and staff have proposed in the hope of providing you for your commitment to our student’s academic success and safety,” the district wrote.

Vellardita said Thursday the district’s initial offer was a “half-baked proposal” that led to more questions than answers.

Dispute over canceled negotiations

The district’s Friday email to employees also noted that CCEA requested to cancel previous negotiation sessions, “despite representations made at the most recent board of trustees meeting.”

Vellardita said that was a “very misleading and false narrative.”

In late March, CCEA came prepared to a meeting with the district with a document that included 20 items for negotiation, he said, noting the district didn’t come with anything to exchange.

Rather than providing anything to the district, the union got the district to commit to exchanging proposals in early April, Vellardita said.

The district had a one-page letter with only a few items to talk about, including a new salary schedule and a marginal increase for health insurance premiums, he said.

“From the beginning, we came prepared and they were not prepared,” Vellardita said.

He said CCEA only canceled one negotiation session because his team was affected by COVID-19 exposure and illness.

The district and CCEA met June 9, Vellardita said, and then the district requested to reschedule June 13 and 15 meetings. Now, two sessions are slated for next week.

Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at jgreener@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on Twitter.

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