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School Board OKs contracts with cost-of-living increases

After Gov. Jim Gibbons announced his support for cost-of-living increases for public school teachers, Clark County School District trustees approved final contracts for teachers and administrators after holding a closed session Thursday.

School Board members reappeared after 20 minutes behind closed doors and unanimously voted for the contracts without any public debate. All School Board members present — Mary Beth Scow, Terri Janison, Carolyn Edwards, Ruth Johnson, Larry Mason and Sheila Moulton — voted. School Board member Shirley Barber was absent.

Scow, the board president, said the executive session was a normal procedure to inform School Board members of negotiations before they took their final vote.

But the district had concluded negotiations. The contracts before the board already had been approved by the employee groups.

In response to a Review-Journal objection to the closed session as a violation of the state’s open meeting law, district general counsel Bill Hoffman said the School Board had a right to meet in executive session because the contract was still a “standing issue.”

When told of the Review-Journal’s intent to file a complaint with the attorney general, Hoffman said the appeal “will be an easy one” to defend.

Because of the state’s budget crisis, the 4 percent cost-of-living increases originally were expected to be on the table when state lawmakers meet in a special session today to start slashing the state budget.

Legislators need to make up for a shortfall of as much as $275 million. District cost-of-living pay raises are worth about $62 million.

Scow said she was relieved when Gibbons affirmed his support for teacher raises and teacher signing bonuses. “Oh, yes,” she said.

The School Board took time out of their seven-hour meeting to watch the governor’s televised speech. He gave the board “the confidence” it needed, said Superintendent Walt Rulffes, who said he is not accepting the 4 percent pay raise for himself.

The governor said other cuts would be necessary, but Rulffes said he needed more information before he could comment. He said that a cut to textbook funding was a “lesser of the evils.”

During the meeting, Jeff Weiler, district chief financial officer, identified some immediate cuts such as eliminating out-of-state travel and delaying hires for administrative vacancies.

Contact reporter James Haug at jhaug@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4686.

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