Teachers’ union withholds support for furloughs proposal

Three of four Clark County School District employee unions have offered to take unpaid furloughs to prevent mass layoffs, but the teachers union, the largest bargaining group, is withholding its support for the proposal.

“People are ready to give something up” if the sacrifices mean saving jobs and providing services to schoolchildren, said Stephen Augspurger, executive director of the Clark County Association of School Administrators and Professional-technical Employees.

But Ruben Murillo, president of the teachers union, the Clark County Education Association, said the group will not be rushed into a deal, even if it means hundreds of teachers probably will receive layoff notices.

“We still have a lot of negotiating to do,” said Murillo, who leads the union that bargains on behalf of 18,000 teachers. “I’m not going to capitulate.”

The district is struggling to close a $123 million budget gap for 2010-2011, which was created by a $78 million cut in state funding and an expected $45 million decline in property tax revenues.

Superintendent Walt Rulffes has stressed that small salary cuts for all employees could reduce much of the deficit, but the amount of the across-the-board salary cut has become a moving target.

Two weeks ago, Rulffes used the figure 5 percent. On Friday, in response to a question from Clark County School Board member Chris Garvey, district Chief Financial Officer Jeff Weiler estimated 2 percent, but the discussion was quickly cut off by Rulffes because of the sensitive nature of negotiations.

Also, the size of the pay cut would depend on what other cost-cutting measures the district might take.

For example, 540 teacher jobs would be cut if the district proceeds with a proposal to increase class sizes in grades one to three by two students, a savings of about $30 million.

Murillo said his union will not be party to the offer from unions representing administrators, support staff and school police because teachers “don’t negotiate in public.”

Augspurger said Tuesday that it has been a week since the offer of furloughs was made to the district’s bargaining team. He is still waiting for a response.

Because negotiations remain open, he declined to give specifics of the unions’ proposal but said many “scenarios” were offered, and all involve employees taking unpaid days off.

Augspurger said he is demanding an end to “preferential treatment” for certain employee groups, which he said has killed district morale. He cited the district’s decision to pay $5.2 million this year to cover the cost of a 0.5 percent increase in teachers’ contributions to the Public Employees Retirement System. No other district employee group got that benefit.

Augspurger said workers are willing to pay for PERS increases, “but it has to be equally done.”

Augspurger said any agreement must include concessions from the top five administrators who report to Rulffes. In October, they were awarded controversial perks and benefits worth more than $100,000.

Augspurger questioned whether Rulffes is committed to the negotiations because he is now a “lame duck.” Rulffes has decided not to extend his contract past Aug. 30.

Rulffes did not respond to an e-mail request for comment.

Murillo said the teachers union has declared an impasse in contract negotiations and will go into arbitration, which will start sometime after spring break.

Murillo did not think it was likely that any deal would be reached by April 7, when the School Board is scheduled to vote on a tentative budget for 2010-2011.

The state deadline for submitting next year’s tentative budget is April 15. The final budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1 must be approved by June 8.

Murillo thinks there is plenty of time to reach consensus on the budget cuts.

“It’s not over until the fat lady sings,” Murillo said.

Rulffes has said the district must proceed with plans for a reduction in force because it cannot assume that bargaining units will agree to pay cuts or furlough days. Layoffs are the one tool left to the district to reduce expenses without changing the terms of contracts.

Rulffes has said the district might be forced to cut as many as 1,300 positions. Ninety school-based administrators already have been notified that their jobs might be cut next year. If that happens, they were assured they could return to classroom teaching jobs.

While it has been 20 years since Sunrise Mountain High School Dean Renee Fairless taught social studies, she is glad to have the option of going back to the classroom.

Because of confusion over how the district determines seniority, Fairless had wondered whether her recent promotion to administrator would make her ineligible to return to teaching.

“It’s bittersweet,” said Fairless of the situation now facing the district’s least-senior school administrators. “We jumped the hurdle of saving our jobs, but we’re still being demoted.”

Because of the budget crisis, the district has increased the number of students needed to merit extra staffing at schools.

This year, an elementary school would get an assistant principal if enrollment reached 500 students. Next year, an elementary school must have 650 students to get an assistant principal. That allowed the district to eliminate 50 assistant principals at the elementary school level for 2010-2011.

A middle school must have at least 1,500 students next year to get two deans. The bar was at 1,300 students this year. As a result, the district eliminated 17 positions.

The district still is looking to cut 20 central administrative jobs.

The district’s support staff workers expect to be notified of any reductions in early May. Notifications of teacher layoffs would start the last week of May.

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

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