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‘It was intense’: Jara relieved by new teacher contract

Updated January 9, 2024 - 8:55 am

Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara said Monday that he’s relieved that a new teacher contract agreement has been reached.

In his first interview since the agreement was announced, Jara told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that his reaction to reaching it was “relief that it was over. It was intense.”

He noted that not all of his and the school board’s priorities were settled. But Jara said there was excitement for the teachers to know something was coming right before the holidays.

A two-year agreement between the school district and the Clark County Education Association — approved by an arbitrator — was announced Dec. 20.

Negotiations began in late March 2023. After 11 bargaining sessions, the district declared an impasse in September.

Members of the CCEA, a teachers union that represents more than 16,000 licensed employees, held protests throughout the summer, including in front of school campuses and at school board meetings.

The new contract includes a 10 percent salary increase during the first year and 8 percent in the second.

It also includes $5,000 in additional pay for special education teachers and educators at Title I schools with vacancy rates of 5 percent or higher. Both take effect in July.

Additionally, the agreement boosts teacher starting pay to $53,000 — up from $50,115. The salary schedule tops out at more than $131,000.

Addressing a question Monday about a CCEA lawsuit aiming to overturn the state’s ban on public employee strikes, Jara said he started thinking about the bargaining process, which spanned about nine months.

“I think there’s a lot of changes that need to happen,” he said. “We need to update laws.”

Jara said he’s coming from a state — Florida — where collective bargaining is done in public. In Nevada, it’s done behind closed doors.

When collective bargaining proposals are “in the sunshine,” then some true reform and potential changes can be seen, Jara said.

“As far as the strike law, that’s up to the labor unions to address,” he said.

In response to a question about the union and state Democratic legislative leaders calling for his resignation, Jara said he stays focused on the children and coming to work every day.

He also cited priorities such as veteran educators and addressing inequalities in the salary schedule.

“You can have comments from the peanut gallery,” Jara said. “(They’re) not in it every single day.”

It’s up to them to make their decisions of who to support, he said.

In 2021, the School Board decided in a split vote to terminate Jara’s contract, but reversed course the following month.

Memo to employees

In a Friday memo to employees, Stacy Smith, the district’s director of licensed contracting services, provided details about the agreement.

The district released a copy of the memo to the Review-Journal in response to an inquiry.

“We are pleased to announce a new negotiated agreement between Clark County School District and Clark County Education Association has been approved,” Smith wrote in the memo.

Licensed employees will see the 10 percent salary increase for this year beginning with their first paycheck in February, according to the memo.

Employees will receive retroactive pay dating back to July 1 on their first paycheck in March.

A new salary schedule for licensed employees will be implemented Feb. 1, according to the memo. Those hired after Jan. 31 will be placed on it.

The new agreement doesn’t include a one-time lookback for current employees to properly place them based on their education and years of experience — a proposal floated during negotiations.

Through negotiations, it was later limited to the start of the 2016-17 school year. But it didn’t make it into the agreement.

CCEA reaction

CCEA Executive Director John Vellardita said Monday that he didn’t know what the “so-called lookback” was that was proposed by the school district.

“It was very elusive,” he said.

Vellardita said that CCEA firmly believes there was no real intention on the district’s part to move that issue.

There was more information disseminated in emails to employees about the lookback promising a big payday than what was ever formally produced at the negotiating table, he said.

Vellardita said he thinks it was nothing but a “wedge issue” to create disunity in the ranks.

The contract is settled, but Jara is fanning the flames of discontent by putting out more misinformation and being a revisionist about what took place at the bargaining table in a self-serving way, Vellardita said, adding the superintendent “lost big” and it was nine months of hell for teachers.

No lookback for current teachers

One of the district’s priorities going into negotiations was to address the inequities in the salary schedule, Jara said, so that teachers would be placed based on education and years of experience.

“And I held back as long as I could in the hope that we would get to a spot where our veteran teachers who have been giving their life to our children would be compensated,” he said.

Jara said that after the 11th bargaining session when he was seeing there wasn’t going to be any movement, the strategy was to identify an arbitrator “to address the needs of our educators.”

Selecting an arbitrator, he said, was a “very comprehensive process.”

Conceptually, the district and union agreed on Title I and special education teachers getting more money, and an increase in the hourly rate for extra duty pay, Jara said.

The biggest issue in the district’s first offer was to address the lookback, he said, noting there was an opportunity with the governor’s budget and state Legislature’s approval of “historic money” for K-12 education.

“It was the only time we could do this,” Jara said.

The district changed and modified its offer, but the lookback was an essential piece, he said.

Jara also referenced “attacks” and protests across the community — including protesters outside of his house — during the bargaining process and after “all of the tactics that were used, I held out as long as I could.”

Addressing the absence of a one-time lookback in the agreement, Jara said that what he’d say to veteran teachers is “I’m sorry.”

In negotiations, two parties have to agree to reach an agreement, he said, noting he couldn’t get the other side to come to an agreement on that point.

“I feel bad,” Jara said, adding he knows the value that educators bring to students.

Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at jgreener@reviewjournal.com. Follow @julieswootton on X.

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