Teachers irate over school district’s about-face on pay raise formula

When the Clark County School District agreed to an innovative new salary structure last year, it offered educators a number of additional ways to increase their pay.

For reasons that remain unclear, it later offered teachers a more generous formula to qualify for raises that was not in line with the previously negotiated teachers’ contract. Then, after months of educating teachers on the new system, the district admitted it erred and reversed course.

The reason, according to an unfair labor complaint filed by the union: Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky did not have authority to make the formula changes without approval from the School Board. As a result, the district presented teachers with a new pay system that offered more than it was willing to give.

The back-and-forth has angered and demoralized teachers who learned that the professional development activities they’ve paid for will not earn them enough credit for the pay increases they planned on.

“Not only does it impact my current salary, but it impacts the rest of my life, because it impacts my retirement,” said Sandy Pontillas, a peer assistance and review teacher. “The school district … said to us, ‘Earn the 225 (credits), impact student learning and we will reward you by giving you a bump, a pay increase.’ And they’re going back on their word.”

Changes to the salary system

The system outlined in two agreements and the 2015-2017 teachers contract approved in January 2016 offered educators the opportunity to earn pay raises by earning 225 “contact units” at a rate of five units for every semester credit of college coursework. Teachers who met the threshold could advance in salary only once every three years, with one exception: those working in certain high-poverty Title I schools could move up once every two years.

But in August 2016, the district and union jointly issued a reference guide for teachers spelling out more-generous rules. Teachers would receive eight units per semester credit, and special education teachers in self-contained classrooms also could qualify for salary increases every two years.

The district reneged on these offers earlier this year, citing inconsistencies between the reference guide and the original agreement. That’s when the Clark County Education Association filed its complaint with the state Employee-Management Relations Board.

“A year later, the district is claiming human error or mistake,” said Michelle Kim, the union’s attorney. “I found that the timing was a little bit suspect, because obviously we’re in bargaining (for the upcoming contract) again.”

The district also changed other aspects of the system spelled out in the reference guide that weren’t included in the two agreements or the contract — including credits for online coursework known as Massive Open Online Courses.

Although the district cooperated with the union for a year to develop the system, Chief Human Resources Officer Andre Long informed the union in January that it was rolling back those changes, according to the union’s pre-hearing statement filed with the labor board.

The reason: the district’s chief negotiator, Edward Goldman, told Long that the superintendent did not have authority to approve changes that were beyond the scope of the contract and were not approved by the School Board, according to the statement.

Union officials say that is not their problem.

“It was CCEA’s full and reasonable understanding that Skorkowsky, as superintendent, had the authority to speak on behalf of … the CCSD Board of Trustees, and had done so with their approval,” the union wrote in its statement.

They also noted that the district educated teachers for months on the system, only to take back parts of it.

“Whatever issues they have in terms of communication, that’s not my business,” Kim said. “He had approved (the system) over a year ago, and for one whole year they were printing these guides, they were distributing these guides, they were putting out memos to all staff.”

Skorkowsky and district officials declined to comment due to the pending labor board complaint. The district does not typically comment on ongoing legal matters.

In its response filed with the labor board, the district argues that provisions in the reference guide were never ratified by the union membership or the School Board and said it did not act in bad faith in rolling them back.

“To the contrary, CCSD acted in good faith toward (the union), its membership and all CCSD licensed employees by candidly acknowledging that the additional provisions had not been officially ratified or approved,” the response reads. “It was an unfortunate oversight but a fact that cannot be ignored.”

Teachers upset

Elementary school teacher Jill Kotas was hustling hard to earn the credits needed for a salary increase before her retirement, which would in turn increase her benefits.

Kotas said she took courses at UNLV and did other activities that earned her 227 credits, enough to bump her up to the next pay grade.

But when the district announced the switch to five credits per semester course, things changed. She now has 160 credits, well short of the 225 threshold for a raise.

“That just dropped the floor out from under me because now I can’t get done in a year,” she said. “And now I have to invest not only the $200 I’ve already paid, but now it’s potentially another $1,000 if I have to make up the credits for the differences that they’re not saying there is.”

For many teachers, the changes can alter the calculation on whether additional college coursework is worth it.

Gayle Moore, a Title I facilitator who is a teachers’ union member, also had a detailed plan to earn a salary increase. She was hustling hard to earn her doctorate, which she said would have eventually given her two salary bumps.

“Those of us in central office, there aren’t a lot of opportunities for us to get 225 contact units, which is what we need to get like every other teacher,” she said.

But now she is $4,000 in the hole for her doctorate, she said, and has to figure out how to get other credits to earn the second step.

“I have to spend $20,000 to get my doctorate degree,” she said, “and I’ll only get one step out of it.”

Contact Amelia Pak-Harvey at apak-harvey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4630. Follow @AmeliaPakHarvey on Twitter.

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