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Feud erupts between Nevada teachers union, Clark County local

Updated June 26, 2017 - 9:58 pm

A widening rift between state teachers union and its Clark County local — exacerbated by competing priorities during the just-concluded 2017 legislative session — has gone public.

The executive board of the Clark County Education Association, which represents teachers in the state’s most populous county, approved a motion expressing no confidence in its parent organization, the Nevada State Education Association, on June 10, shortly after the legislative session ended. It also authorized distribution of information about the “ineffectiveness and misinformation of the state union during the legislative session.”

That process apparently began earlier this month, when officials of the local union released a 30-second video titled “Why are we funding NSEA?” questioning the state’s practices and priorities.

Union conflicts are frequent, but the local union’s size gives it heavy clout, an expert who studies union relationships said.

“To begin with, friction between a state and local union is not uncommon, though it rarely rises to the level we’re seeing in Nevada,” said Mike Antonucci, director of the Education Intelligence Agency. “But Nevada is unique because one local — CCEA — may by itself hold a majority of the state’s members. So it has a level of power within NSEA that is unheard of” in other states.

“It’s highly unusual for this kind of stuff to play out in public, so it’s significant,” added Antonucci, who describes himself as a one-man contract research firm studying the inner workings of unions nationwide.

The animosity, so far expressed publicly only by the Clark County local, flared this spring when leaders of both organizations came down on opposite sides on a number of education issues, including controversial school choice measures.

“It’s so difficult. We really all are one family and so it’s like gosh, with the squabbles it gets tough sometimes,” said Natha Anderson, president of Washoe Education Association, the teacher’s union in Washoe County. “It’s so important that we’re a united voice.”

Legislative proposals to change how teachers are graded offer one example of the differences between the two organizations.

The state teachers union initially supported a bill calling for all student test data to be excluded from a teacher’s evaluation. The Clark County local supported another bill, which called for using local test data in the evaluation process.

When the first bill died in committee, the state union threw its support behind the second bill, which the governor signed into law toward the end of the session.

CCEA Executive Director John Vellardita said examples like that show that although the state union is funded largely by local union members’ dues, those members don’t feel the union is advocating on their behalf.

“That’s what we are increasingly experiencing,” he said.

NSEA President Ruben Murrillo doesn’t see it that way.

“We may have different strategies for achieving the same goals. At the end, the majority of our members support what we were able to get out of this legislative session,” he said.

Vellardita also criticized the state union for celebrating the defeat of Education Savings Accounts, a type of school voucher, during the session. Instead, the Legislature injected an additional $20 million into a smaller school choice program, Opportunity Scholarships.

“We don’t have a problem with the compromise that was reached,” Vellardita said. “But for NSEA to declare that a victory … we just don’t play that kind of political grandstanding.”

It’s unclear what the local union’s leadership aims to accomplish through its campaign, but Antonucci speculated that it could be the start of a campaign to remove Murillo from office or a push to secede.

Such a break wouldn’t likely harm the local union, because it’s so large, he said. It could, however, be devastating to the state union, which relies on the local union for money through member dues.

“CCEA could conceivably secede and become an independent union and most CCEA members wouldn’t notice the difference,” he said.

Union officials are tight-lipped.

“I think the board’s motion speaks for itself,” Vellardita said, declining to comment on whether it could lead to a move to withdraw from the larger organization, which would have to be approved by the local membership.

Murillo said he isn’t concerned about a move to break away.

“It’s not even on my radar,” Murrillo said. “I have a lot of teachers saying we support NSEA. For us, that’s not an issue.”

Contact Meghin Delaney at 702-383-0281 or mdelaney@reviewjournal.com. Follow @MeghinDelaney on Twitter.

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