Teachers union awaits outcome

Clark County Education Association President Ruben Murillo is feeling "feisty" about the Legislature’s special session, which begins today .

"The governor always gets your adrenaline going," said Murillo, who leads the local union that represents Clark County School District teachers.

Much is at stake for public education as Gov. Jim Gibbons and lawmakers decide how to plug an $887 million hole in the state budget.

Gibbons had asked the Legislature to reduce education spending by slightly more than $200 million.

On Monday, he proposed diverting $35 million in federal Medicaid funds to public education, which would reduce that cut. The Medicaid funds would cover the 1.75 percent salary decrease proposed for teachers and other school employees, a spokesman for the governor said.

Even with the additional money, education faces a funding reduction of up to 10 percent.

"I’m glad he’s looking for solutions, but he needs to keep looking for (long-term) solutions and not offer Band-Aids," Murillo said Monday.

The governor, however, has proposed some dramatic shifts in public policy, such as suspending collective bargaining between school districts and education employee unions, which would make it easier for districts to impose salary cuts. Doing away with collective bargaining also would have other consequences, such as ending the seniority system that protects more experienced employees from layoffs, Murillo said.

"We would lose our contract," said Murillo, who believes Gibbons’ agenda is an election year stunt to rev up "his base."

The Clark County School District, which has absorbed $250 million in cuts over the past three years, has set a goal of avoiding additional losses. It’s sending Associate Superintendent for Government Relations Joyce Haldeman and Nicole Rourke, director of intergovernmental relations, to Carson City for the special session.

Faced with the prospect of new cuts, the district has listed several painful options for saving money. It could raise class sizes by six students and eliminate 2,322 teachers, saving $159 million. It could reduce the school year by 17 days, saving $150 million.

Smaller cuts might include eliminating administrative staffing by 10 percent, saving $12.4 million; eliminating all athletic programs, saving $5 million; eliminating extracurricular activities, saving $6 million; extending the distance requirement for high school students to qualify for bus transportation, saving $3 million; and reducing the textbook and school supply budget by 10 percent, saving $7 million.

Superintendent Walt Rulffes has said the district would most likely spread out the cuts so that no single area would be unfairly targeted.

"My hope is for divine intervention so these cuts to education won’t be necessary," said Clark County School Board President Terri Janison.

Lynn Warne, the president of the Nevada State Education Association, has stressed that the state needs to "broaden its discussion" beyond cuts , such as raising taxes on mining and gaming.

Raising taxes was once considered "off the table," but Janison said she is now hearing that lawmakers are at least open to discussing revenue increases.

In a two-week special session, whatever decision is made "will come quickly," said Stephen Augspurger, executive director of the Clark County Association of School Administrators and Professional-technical employees. The administrators’ union is sending Deputy Director Mark Coleman to Carson City.

Murillo welcomes all the support he can get because he recognizes that Gibbons will be a tough negotiator.

"u200Au200Au200A ‘No new taxes’ is his mantra," Murillo said. "He will go to the grave with that mantra."

Murillo expects the governor and Legislature to give the districts some flexibility in making new cuts. In the past, the district’s ability to manage its own budget has worked to the teachers’ advantage, but this year might be different.

"Last year, with the mandated cuts (of $120 million), we were able to work with the district to save teachers’ jobs, to protect our salary and benefits," Murillo said.

Teachers earn between $35,083 and $70,066 annually, according to the district’s salary schedule.

Because of contract provisions, district officials don’t believe they could impose immediate cuts, such as requiring employees to take unpaid days off in the current school year, but salary cuts could be possible at the start of the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

If there is less money for salaries, the district might be forced to require pay cuts or lay off employees.

"I still believe we can work with the district to find areas we can reduce and plan accordingly," Murillo said.

Contact reporter James Haug at jhaug@reviewjournal.com or 702-374-7917.

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