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Clark County School District fights teacher pay raise ruling

Updated April 10, 2018 - 4:14 pm

The Clark County School District is appealing an arbitration ruling giving teachers a pay raise, a move that the teachers union is vowing to fight.

The district announced Tuesday that it had filed a motion to vacate the arbitrator’s decision — estimated to cost $13 million in fiscal year 2018 and $38.5 million the next year.

The March 30 decision allowed educators to move up a step in the salary schedule as of June 1, 2018. It also increased the district’s contributions to health care through the Teachers Health Trust from $538 to $583 per month, effective July 1 of last year.

But School Board President Deanna Wright said in a statement Tuesday that it would force the district to cut positions and programs for students.

‘Cutting and cutting and cutting’

“The Board of School Trustees would have liked to provide a raise for all employees. Unfortunately, we have been grappling with budget crises for several years in a row — cutting and cutting and cutting our budget,” she said in a statement.

The Clark County Education Association says it will challenge the district’s filing.

John Vellardita, the union’s executive director, said the association will seek damages from the district for every day it doesn’t pay the award.

“This has gotten to the point where they leave us little recourse but to entertain other options,” he said. “These guys don’t want to invest in educators. The Legislature gave them more money, they gave the roll-up cost of teacher salaries and benefits, they ignored that.”

The union incorporated a veiled threat to take additional action in a letter to members sent Tuesday, referencing recent job actions by teacher in Oklahoma and West Virginia.

“Should we follow in the steps of our sisters and brothers and take action with our feet?” the email read. “Stay tuned.”

Vellardita would not use the word “strike” but said numerous union members are asking what will happen next.

“Everything’s on the table,” he said.

The district said in a statement, however, that the arbitration decision fails to comply with state law that protects its ending fund balances, the district’s only reserve in case of financial emergency.

It also argued that the Teachers Health Trust is in “financial shambles” and failing to pay its bills — leaving some teachers turned over to collections.

“Multiple lawsuits have been filed against the THT, and it has been reported to CCSD that some health care providers are declining to provide medical services to THT members,” the statement said. “The arbitration decision would require CCSD to pay an additional $20 million to the THT in the next two years, which is not in the best interest of our teachers in the long term.”

Healthcare contributions flat

Educators have pointed out that the district has not increased contributions for health care since 2008, aside from a one-time payment in 2016. The district has countered that the union has chosen to put newly available funds toward teacher salaries rather than health care coverage in contract talks.

Nevada Administrative Code states that an ending fund balance that is 8.3 percent or less of total budgeted expenditures is not subject to negotiations.

But the arbitrator ruled that the district still had an ability to pay for the union’s demands, citing the $18 million it had in its unassigned ending fund balance for fiscal year 2018.

Ruben Garcia, a law professor at UNLV’s Boyd School of Law, noted that the code protecting the ending fund balance from negotiations and the district’s ability to pay are two separate sections of code that can coexist.

On the face of it, Garcia said he couldn’t see how one can conclude that the arbitrator was obviously wrong.

“I think again it’s going to be, as it usually is, an uphill battle to get an arbitration award overturned,” he said.

Contact Amelia Pak-Harvey at apak-harvey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4630. Follow @AmeliaPakHarvey on Twitter.

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