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Strike threat reprised as Clark County schools await budget figures

The threat of a teacher strike next year in the Clark County School District continued to loom large on Friday as officials awaited final budget numbers from the state just three days before the end of the legislative session.

While Superintendent Jesus Jara said at a midday news briefing that he was optimistic that the final funding figures would be increased, leaders of the Clark County Education Association held fast to their threat to walk out in the fall if the Legislature fails to supply enough money for a raise.

And if there are any spending cuts in the district, the union vowed to call for a special legislative session to reconsider funding levels.

“Educators are not going to start next school year with one single cut in these classrooms,” John Vellardita, executive director of the teachers union, said at a separate news conference in front of Durango High School.

At issue is an extra $111 million that the district says it needs in order to pay for a 3 percent raise for employees, a 2 percent increase for advancements on the salary schedule and rising health care costs. A bill to funnel the state’s 10-percent retail marijuana tax to education, if passed, would increase the district’s final allocation from the state.

Gov. Steve Sisolak, who campaigned heavily on supporting educators, proposed the raise in his budget. Yet the district later said that the additional funding it had been promised was still not enough to pay for raises.

‘I’m more hopeful today’

However, Jara indicated Friday that he’s not anticipating any spending cuts from last year’s levels unless he is somehow forced to pay for the raises without additional state funding.

“I’m more hopeful today than I was before,” Jara said.

The union has threatened to strike — an illegal action in Nevada — over the state’s budget priorities.

“If we can give a billion-dollar handout to a football team, then we can put dollars in the classroom,” Vellardita said Friday .

Centennial High School teacher Jim Frazee, who has taught in the district since 1999, said teachers are tired of pay freezes and budget cuts even as the economy has improved. The district is the fifth-largest in the country, he added, but it is funded “like one of the worst.”

“I go back to our beloved governor, who I believe has (our) best interests at heart, but interests don’t pay the bills,” Frazee said. “And I have to sit and teach high-schoolers with 12-year-old books without any covers.”

Even extra money for raises, however, won’t make a significant improvement in the state of Nevada’s education funding. The state needs an additional infusion of over $1 billion annually to adequately fund education, according to an Applied Analysis report.

Jara vows to keep schools running

If teachers strike, Jara said he would make sure the district obeys the law.

“My reaction is that our children are to be in school 180 days,” he said. “I will file and do what I need to do to make sure that our children come to school 180 days.”

Education has been a central topic of this legislative session, with the introduction of a bill to rework Nevada’s 52-year-old funding formula. While the Clark County School District supports the bill, it has drawn concern from rural districts who would be frozen at fiscal year 2020 funding levels for an undetermined amount of time.

Another bill funnels the 10-percent retail tax on marijuana toward the state’s education fund, boosting it by a total of $120 million for anticipated average increases of $120 and $124 to the current average per-pupil amounts of $6,052 in 2020 and $6,116 in 2021.

In a bid to underscore his support for education, Sisolak also has vowed to donate his salary to the state’s high-poverty schools.

Contact Amelia Pak-Harvey at apak-harvey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4630. Contact Rory Appleton at rappleton@reviewjournal.comor 702-383-0276.

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