Leaders of Clark County teachers union see big jump in pay

While leaders of the local teachers union have criticized the Clark County School District for overpaying administrators and underpaying educators, they have a recent history of paying themselves huge salaries.

In 2009, the last year for which a required Internal Revenue Service report is available, more than a third of the union’s $4.1 million budget went to pay just nine leaders. Each earned between $139,785 and $208,683 for a total of $1.5 million, according to the Clark County Education Association’s report to the IRS.

John Jasonek, then executive director, got $208,683 for running the union but also received $423,863 from two affiliated organizations — the union’s Community Foundation and Center for Teaching Excellence — making his total pay $632,546.

In addition, union-created Teachers Health Trust CEO Peter Alpert was paid $546,133.

Current union officials refused a Las Vegas Review-Journal request for more recent figures. The nine workers are singled out in the report because the IRS requires the union to list officers, key employees and anyone making at least $100,000 a year.

It’s unclear whether the union still dedicates a third of its budget to a handful of top earners. That eventually will become public in its annual IRS reports, but there’s a three-year lag.

Jasonek, who retired in 2010 and whose total compensation tripled from 2003 to 2009, defended the expenditures: "Unions are basically a service industry, and most of the capital we put into people."

But such salaries aren’t business as usual for other large teachers unions.

Five teachers unions for the nation’s six largest school districts spent 3 to 7 percent of their budgets to compensate their leaders in 2009, according to their reports. The only exception: The Clark County Education Association dedicated 36.3 percent of its budget to these salaries.

"We believe that the salary/compensations of CCEA staff is standard," said current union Executive Director John Vellardita, who objected to being compared to other teachers unions: "You’re not comparing apples to apples."

He contended that spending practices differ based on a union’s number of members, employees, revenue and location.

But all of the country’s largest teachers unions are unique, from the sixth-largest Broward Teachers Union in Florida, which represents 3,000 fewer teachers than Clark County’s 18,000, to the largest, United Federation of Teachers in New York City, which represents four times as many teachers as the Clark County union.

Those unions’ spending practices meet the standards for nonprofit groups, union or not, according to an annual analysis of nonprofit executives’ salaries by The Non-Profit Times.

While Vellardita deems the comparison to other large unions irrelevant, the IRS might have a different opinion, said Sandra Miniutti, vice president of Charity Navigator, a watchdog group that evaluates the country’s 5,000 largest nonprofits for responsible spending.

The IRS cannot comment on the finances of a specific organization, spokesman Raphael Tulino said. But it can fine a nonprofit if compensations are beyond reasonable.

To define reasonableness, the IRS adds all forms of pay, including salary, bonuses and deferred noncash compensation, according to information provided by Tulino. To set the bar for what’s reasonable, it then looks at "like services by like enterprises under like circumstances."

Such a comparison could lead the IRS to look at the country’s largest teachers unions, Miniutti said, and "looking at one through six, Clark County’s out of the ballpark."

That could spell trouble for the union, said Terrie Temkin, a Miami-based consultant and writer with 30 years’ experience in nonprofit management. Her column, "On nonprofits," now appears in the Philanthropy Journal.

"The IRS is looking very closely at this right now. A lot of people are looking at the nonprofit sector with a lot of skepticism."

PAY HIKES FOR UNION LEADERS

Even though teachers have a history of modest cost-of-living increases and may soon face a pay freeze or layoffs, union and health trust leaders have fared much better.

For years, the Clark County union’s IRS report listed only three key workers earning $100,000 or more — the executive director, president and vice president. Their compensation constituted 10 percent of annual expenses, closer but still higher than the 3 to 7 percent range typical for the country’s other large teachers unions.

That changed in 2008, when the union added a pair of associate executive directors, two deputy executive directors, a director and a business manager to the high-earners list on its IRS report. What was a $400,000 budget allocation from 2003 to 2007, more than tripled to $1.4 million.

"I don’t see an issue with this," said Jasonek, union executive director at the time.

He offered two explanations for the sudden leap in high-paid positions, neither of which mesh with the information reported to the IRS.

He first claimed that most of the high earners must be Uniserv directors, which means a majority of their salaries was reimbursed by the National Education Association, the local union’s parent organization. Uniserv directors are NEA-trained staff. But only one person on the report — John Smith, who earned $126,600 in 2008 — was listed as a Uniserv director. Jasonek looked over the names and confirmed that Smith was the only Uniserv director.

"I’m telling you that can’t be right," said Jasonek, claiming that just because it’s the union’s official financial report to the IRS "doesn’t necessarily mean everybody got it right."

Vellardita — who didn’t work for the Clark County union in 2008 — and teachers union President Ruben Murillo also reviewed the names. Both said the National Education Association significantly reimbursed the union for five of the nine positions, not just one, but would not provide any documentation.

"We won’t give you any financial documents," Vellardita said, also refusing to say how much the NEA reimbursed the local union, only that it was a significant amount.

Jasonek later said that top salaries had gradually approached the $100,000 threshold and crossed over at the same time: "Everybody was probably just bumping that number and went over that year."

His explanation would mean that salaries alone jumped by 20 to 60 percent in a year from just under $100,000 to between $120,000 and $160,000.

"Let me just say this instead of trying to make explanations," Jasonek finally said. "I have never made apologies for trying to have well-skilled, talented workers and awarding them within reasonable means."

Information about the union’s top earners wasn’t the only surprise on its IRS reports.

In 2009, the union paid Brendolyn Black $30,000 for one hour of work per week at the Clark County Education Association Community Foundation. Jasonek said Black went to schools and monitored tutoring programs, and that her hours seem incorrect.

He said she likely worked an hour a day, even though the 2008 IRS report also shows one hour a week for $30,000. If he’s right about the error, that means Black worked five hours a week to earn $30,000 a year.

JASONEK’S SALARY

Jasonek dramatically increased his total earnings over recent years by creating new positions with separate salaries. His total compensation more than tripled from $188,282 in 2003 to $632,546 in 2009.

In contrast, the top leader of the nation’s five other largest teachers unions averaged about $175,000.

Even the largest, New York City, only paid its executive director $284,739. That’s less than half of Jasonek’s total reported compensation even though the New York union’s budget alone is 13 times that of the Clark County Education Association, its community foundation and Center for Teaching Excellence, all of which Jasonek led as executive director.

New York City nonprofit directors are among the most highly paid in the nation, according to Charity Navigators’ database of the country’s 5,000 largest nonprofits.

Miniutti noted that executive directors’ salaries rarely break the $500,000 mark, passing that point only in the country’s largest nonprofit organizations.

"We’re talking about massive, complex organizations like Red Cross America" with a $3.5 billion operating budget, she said.

The National Education Association also fits in that top tier with a $360 million annual budget. However, the executive director of NEA, the national affiliate for the Clark County union, earned $89,000 less than Jasonek, who took in $632,546 from all his local union roles.

The salary of Clark County School District Superintendent Dwight Jones is $270,000. He also receives $4,000 a year for professional development, $700 a month in car allowance and $660 a month to defray job-related expenses. Nonprofit industry standards suggest Jasonek should have earned closer to $160,000 a year, Miniutti said.

But while she said that standard usually applies to nonprofit charities, not unions, it seems to stand for teachers unions as well.

The Clark County union serves teachers in a district sandwiched by Broward County and Miami-Dade public schools in Florida. The unions in the three districts have operating budgets ranging from $10 million in Broward to $13.1 million in Miami-Dade. The Clark County union with its two related organizations sit right in the middle with a combined budget of $11.2 million.

Jasonek’s total compensation, however, was three times that of Broward’s and Dade’s top leaders.

Vellardita said that comparing Jasonek’s total compensation to that of other union leaders "isn’t apples to apples." Jasonek concurs.

They said Jasonek’s earnings from the union’s related organizations can’t be lumped together with his union earnings, and should be considered separately.

In 2009, Jasonek earned $208,683 from the union and $423,863 from the union’s community foundation and Center for Teaching Excellence. Jasonek created the foundation and the center to provide continuing education for Clark County teachers. He said he worked an average of 85 hours a week at the three organizations, according to the union’s IRS reports.

Both Jasonek and Vellardita said the salaries should be viewed separately because the foundation and center weren’t part of the union.

"All the organizations were totally separate," Jasonek claimed.

Vellardita, who wasn’t a part of the union or even in Nevada at the time, agreed.

But were the organizations separate and unrelated under Jasonek’s leadership?

Their operations indicate otherwise.

A quarter of all 2009 foundation expenditures was spent in a $450,000 check written to the teachers union, according to the IRS report.

Jasonek said the check was re­imbursement for using union staff. Union employees had been running the foundation for years, according to the foundation’s 2005 IRS report.

"All functions of the Silver State Learning Alliance (another name for the foundation) are carried out by CCEA employees at the CCEA facility," it said.

In addition, union leader Jasonek negotiated teacher contract terms that committed the district to pay annually to the foundation for projects in 2006-07. Some of that money went to the Center for Teaching Excellence, where Jasonek was also executive director, according to checks from the district to the foundation but endorsed to the center. In the IRS reports for the foundation and center, both list their addresses as the union office at 4230 McLeod Drive.

While Vellardita defended Jasonek, he also attempted to distance the union from the former executive director: "Whatever occurred with Jasonek and this organization is the past."

Vellardita and CCEA president Murillo said that when Jasonek retired in 2010, any ties between the union and its arms — the community foundation and Center for Teaching Excellence — were severed. Vellardita is executive director only for the union, he said, and no union staff is currently helping the foundation.

"We have absolutely no ties to the community foundation," he said.

Vellardita said his salary is less than Jasonek’s 2003 union pay of $160,000, but refused to provide exact numbers or documentation.

That figure would put him in line with the salaries of his peers running the country’s largest teachers unions.

THE HEALTH TRUST’S TOP EARNER

Cost-of-living adjustments have been very kind to Peter Alpert, chief executive officer of the Teachers Health Trust, which provides insurance to teachers.

Since he was hired in 2000, "all (pay) increases have been cost-of-living adjustments" approved by the board, according to the trust’s financial statements. If that’s the case, the cost of living increased dramatically from 2004 to 2009, since Alpert’s salary climbed by 57 percent, from $175,000 to $275,148.

On top of that, he received a $270,985 payment as the health trust’s subrogation lawyer. He said that he’s always been paid for those duties on top of his earnings as CEO, but his subrogation earnings weren’t listed on the trust’s statements from 2000 to 2008. Subrogation involves claims from people whose injuries were caused by a third party.

Alpert said his base salary of $275,148 hasn’t changed since 2009 but he wouldn’t provide documentation. School district officials also have requested verification of Alpert’s earnings, but haven’t received it.

Three letters from the district to the Teachers Health Trust in August requested all salaries, audited financial statements and records of board meetings, resolutions and written consents for the past three years.

Ron Lopez, the union’s associate executive director, responded to the district, claiming that salaries are "confidential and proprietary and are not relevant to the issues in these proceedings."

Salaries earned by trust officials are relevant because the district pays $546 per teacher into the trust every month, regardless of whether teachers participate in the trust. With almost 18,000 teachers, that equates to more than $115 million a year — about 6 percent of the district’s $2 billion operating budget.

Lopez also claimed that health trust board minutes, resolutions and written consents are "confidential and proprietary and are not relevant to the issues in these proceedings."

Contact reporter Trevon Milliard at tmilliard@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0279.

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