Thousands of teachers filled a Rio convention center Saturday as the Clark County Education Association decided to consider walkouts at certain schools if the district administration fails to approve pay raises in a new union contract by Aug. 26.
The CCEA and the Clark County School District, following meetings on Friday, remain unable to agree on salary hikes sought by the union, said John Vellardita, the union’s executive director and chief negotiator.
As the gridlock continues, the start of the new school year is a little more than a week away.
“We had two negotiation sessions yesterday, and I can tell you we are far apart,” Vellardita said at Saturday’s news conference after about 3,000 CCEA members met at the convention center.
Union members resolved during Saturday’s gathering that should no new pact with pay raises emerge from planned bargaining meetings with the school district on Aug. 16 and 17, the CCEA will meet again about whether to approve teacher work stoppages in protest, Vellardita said.
“So this is where we’re at, and this is (what) our membership decided today,” he said. “If we do not have an agreement with the school (district) by Aug. 26, our organization and our members will be taking a vote to engage in work actions.”
The potential teacher walkouts would not be districtwide, but starting at schools within selected districts represented by the Clark County School Board, perhaps beginning with those in District C, held by School Board Chair Evelyn Garcia Morales, Vellardita said to cheers from CCEA members.
The union’s key demands include a 10 percent bump in pay for teachers the first year of the contract, then another 8 percent raise the second year, plus $5,000 extra for special education teachers and $5,000 for teachers at Title 1 schools, which have a high percentage of students in low-income families.
The assistance to special education and Title 1 teachers is based on the union’s concerns over high vacancy rates of those teachers at CCSD, which the district says totals about 1,027 open positions but the union believes is more like 2,000, because so many are leaving over inadequate pay levels compared with pay in other states.
The CCEA argues that under Senate Bill 261, passed by the Nevada Legislature and signed by Gov. Joe Lombardo in June, the state agreed to set aside $250 million in matching funds to school districts for public school teacher pay raises, but the money has not yet been used by CCSD.
Starting pay for CCSD teachers is now $50,000, but other districts are luring away Clark County teachers with higher salaries, such as $62,000 for new educators in Los Angeles County, Vellardita said.
The pay problem is worse among special education and Title 1 teachers who face students who are more challenging to instruct and so deserve better compensation, Vellardita said.
Last year, the district saw 469 special education teachers quit their jobs, and there are 260 vacancies for those spots, according to Vellardita.
In a statement, the district said that it was “encouraged” that the union “agrees with our philosophy to reward educators for their experience and education with a one-time look back to update” the salary increases approved for teachers in 2015.
‘We will all show up for our kids’
The school district took issue with the CCEA’s statements about potential “work actions” if the union’s salary demands are not met.
“With the governor’s and Legislature’s historic increase in education funding, we will compensate teachers with the available ongoing funds allocated for those purposes,” the district said.
“School starts on Aug. 7, and as we have said before, we will all show up for our kids,” the district said in the statement. “We expect CCEA to honor the progress made in negotiations this week and not encourage sick-outs, ‘work actions,’ stoppages, or any other label that amounts to a strike.”
“Second only to their parents, teachers are the most crucial influence on a child’s education and academic success, and we are committed to honoring educators for their dedication and commitment to educating Southern Nevada’s children,” the officials said. “We look forward to continuing negotiations on Aug. 17 and 18 as agreed upon this week.”
‘Squeezing pennies together’
Chris Percy, a teacher at Fremont Middle School in Las Vegas, said that he and his wife, who teaches kindergarten, still struggle with their two CCSD salaries and two children to support.
“Between the two of us every pay period, it’s you’re squeezing pennies together to try to make it last through the next paycheck,” Percy said.
Assemblyman Reuben D’Silva, D-Las Vegas, who is a history and government teacher at Rancho High School with 10 years of service, said his salary of $51,000, even though he has two graduate degrees from Ivy League colleges, is just too low to meet basic expenses.
“I hear over and over again from my colleagues that they are leaving education because they are not getting paid enough,” D’Silva said.
“I mean you’re talking about educated professionals, many of whom have master’s degrees who can make a lot more in a different sector than they do in public education,” he said.