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Teachers union director applauds historic contract with CCSD

Updated December 21, 2023 - 4:29 pm

Union officials gathered Thursday to applaud a historic new contract for Clark County School District teachers worth more than $750 million.

“This has never been achieved in this school district ever in its history, with the sum of money that’s three-quarters of a billion dollars,” John Vellardita, the Clark County Education Association’s executive director, said during a news conference.

The negotiated agreement, approved by an arbitrator, was announced Wednesday and came after a long period of negotiations and disputes between the teachers union and the school district.

Sticking points had included teacher compensation, as well as securing resources for special education teachers and staff in high-vacancy schools.

On Thursday, union officials said the new contract’s pay raises for teachers will help with recruitment efforts and make Clark County competitive with other school districts in the western United States.

Vellardita said he hopes the $755 million contract also will prevent more teachers from leaving education, after about 300 teachers have quit since August.

In mid-September, the district declared an impasse in negotiations with the teachers union, which represents more than 16,000 licensed employees. The move came after 11 bargaining sessions were held beginning in late March.

Since September, the union and district have had to decide on an arbitrator to help reach an agreement, a process that took about two weeks once one was found earlier this month, union president Marie Neisess said.

‘This system is broken’

Neisess said Thursday that it was “completely unacceptable” that negotiations had stretched on for months. She reiterated a desire to overturn the state’s longtime ban on public employee strikes, which the union sued over in October.

“This system is broken,” she said. “We cannot continue to do this every two years.”

The school district did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Teachers union members held protests that started over the summer, including at two school board meetings in August and in front of school campuses. Some students also organized walkouts.

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

Retroactive pay dating back to July 1 will be distributed in March paychecks. Vellardita said the union has been told by the district that the retroactive pay will come in the form of one payment to employees.

The contract also includes $5,000 in additional pay for special education teachers, as well as educators at Title I schools — those with a high poverty rate — with vacancy rates of 5 percent or higher. That takes effect in July.

About $640 million for salary increases will come from the state’s general fund, while money designated for special education teachers and Title I teacher raises will come from Senate Bill 231, which created additional funding for schools during the last legislative session. That bill expires in 2025.

The agreement additionally calls for an increase in extra duty pay, as well as reversing a 1.875 percent pay cut that occurred because of an increase in public employee retirement contributions.

Employees also won’t see any increase to their monthly health insurance premiums.

The contract does not include a proposed one-time “lookback” for employees hired after 2016, to potentially increase compensation for veteran teachers.

Vellardita said he believed the district’s emphasis on the lookback during bargaining was disingenuous.

He also said the raises will not result in any jobs being cut. Part of the arbitrator’s job, he said, was to determine that the district had the funds to account for the new contract, which he said contains proposals first presented by the union when the bargaining process began in March.

Bradley Marianno, an associate professor of educational policy and leadership at UNLV, said Thursday that the union got what it wanted.

That raises questions about why the district didn’t offer this outright if it had the financial ability to do so, said Marianno, who’s an expert on teachers unions and collective bargaining.

Marianno also said it’s “extremely unlikely” that the union will succeed in overturning the law, which has been on the books since 1969, that prohibits employee strikes.

That has to go through the state Legislature, he said, and there are solid reasons why public employees are not allowed to strike.

It’s more common for U.S. states to prohibit such strikes than to allow them, Marianno added.

No one at Gov. Joe Lombardo’s office could be reached for comment Thursday on the teacher contract or the union’s efforts to overturn the ban on public employee strikes.

Replace superintendent

In a joint statement, Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro and Assembly Speaker Steve Yeager, both Democrats, congratulated the teachers union and educators on the “historic contract.”

Cannizzaro and Yeager — who have publicly called for Superintendent Jesus Jara’s resignation — also wrote that “there was absolutely no reason for this negotiation to drag on for months.”

They wrote that they have been disappointed that Jara and his senior leadership have “consistently bargained in bad faith, putting their egos above what was best for teachers and students.”

In May, the union’s representative council also passed a resolution calling for Jara’s resignation, and union leaders on Thursday repeated calls for a new superintendent.

Jara released the following statement Wednesday after the settlement was reached:

“The School Board of Trustees and I are pleased that the approved contract gives our teachers the historic pay increases they deserve while aligning with the $637 million budget the District allocated in our budget process for licensed personnel. Teachers can enjoy their holidays knowing that relief is on the way.”

Tam Lester, a union member and teacher at Del Sol Academy, said he expects the upcoming raises to be “life changing.” He said he can now consider buying a home or starting a family.

Lester said he’s seen countless teachers leave the profession because of low pay, and he hopes the new contract will prevent more teacher vacancies.

“I think we’re not only going to see new applications, but we’re going to see a lot of teachers stay because they’re finally getting something they deserve,” he said.

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240. Staff writer Julie Wootton-Greener contributed to this report.

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