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Educators decry COLA delay plan

Local education leaders over the weekend denounced a proposal by legislators to delay paying out cost-of-living increases to state employees, including teachers.

“It seems like teachers are treated like an underclass when it comes to compensation,” Clark County School District Superintendent Walt Rulffes said Sunday.

He said teachers will unfairly shoulder the brunt of cuts if the Legislature delays cost-of-living increases.

“K-12 clearly takes the biggest hit because it has the largest work force,” he said.

Repealing the cost-of-living adjustment would save the state $130 million in lawmakers’ efforts to combat the state’s unprecedented budget shortfall, which is approaching $1 billion.

Clark County Education Association President Mary Ella Holloway, whose union represents more than 13,000 local educators, called the idea “absolutely abominable.”

“I’m afraid of it,” Holloway said Saturday. “It’s going to send a lot of teachers out of Clark County.”

Starting teachers with families already make so little that some could qualify to receive reduced or free lunches, Holloway said, referring to a federal program for low-income students. She said Nevada’s per-pupil spending trails that of most other states.

But there might be some debate over the legality of repealing raises for teachers.

Teachers’ unions negotiate such increases through contracts with school districts, not with the state, Holloway said, asserting that the Legislature lacks the authority to repeal the increase.

“We firmly believe that the law is on our side with these negotiated contracts,” she said.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, said last week he is drafting a bill to repeal the COLAs for state and university employees and schoolteachers because he wants to avoid layoffs.

Sen. Bob Beers, R-Las Vegas, agreed.

“I believe we have no choice but to immediately postpone the COLAs for our state employees,” Beers said Friday. “We are to the point where the choice is to give substantial pay increases, totaling nearly 10 percent for most public employees, or lay some public employees off.”

Raggio said if state revenues start to climb, the Legislature can restore the pay increases when it meets in February.

Rulffes said that the district struggles to keep teachers and that delaying the cost-of-living increases will exacerbate the district’s teacher shortfall.

He said the district is short more than 100 math teachers for the upcoming school year.

“Teachers are very anxious about this,” Rulffes said. “If a teacher is kind of on the bubble with regards to leaving, this would drive them away.”

Rulffes added that about 12,000 district teachers will be eligible for 3 percent to 5 percent pay raises, called step increases, as they gain experience and attain additional educational credentials. Those increases are separate from the cost-of-living raises legislators might delay, Rulffes said.

Gibbons is expected this week to introduce the proclamation calling for a special five-day session of the Legislature to hammer out a solution to the budget crisis.

Reporter Antonio Planas contributed to this report. Contact reporter Lawrence Mower at lmower@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0440.

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