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Union offers pay concessions

Bus drivers, cafeteria workers and other school support staff may give up pay raises based on experience next year to help save the struggling Clark County School District about $10 million.

The Education Support Employees Association is the first of four employee unions to reach a tentative agreement with the district, which has a budget shortfall of $145 million for 2010-11 because of state budget cuts and declining revenue from property taxes.

“The saga of budget cuts this year has been like a (John) Steinbeck novel — those who have the least have been the first to share,” Superintendent Walt Rulffes said of support employees.

Many of them start at $11 an hour or less and will be taking additional pay cuts next year because of the conversion of 76 elementary schools to nine-month calendars.

Because the district is close to an agreement with the teachers union, the Clark County Education Association, Rulffes said he is becoming more hopeful that the School Board will be able to pass a balanced budget on May 19 without having to resort to more job cuts.

“We believe we can actually avoid layoffs, but there’s no guarantee because we’re cutting it so close,” Rulffes said Tuesday.

While the district already has announced the elimination of 540 teaching jobs and 110 administrative jobs for 2010-11, those job losses are thought to be soft cuts because the displaced workers could find other work in the school system.

Ruben Murillo, president of the Clark County Education Association, confirmed that the teachers union has been making progress with the district and said arbitration might not be needed after all.

Murillo said one of the “options on the table” is to freeze teachers’ pay raises based on experience but preserve teachers’ step increases based on their education.

Murillo said his union is surveying its membership for feedback.

If the support staff and teachers agree to terms, the district will save $25 million of the remaining $28 million that still needs be cut from next year’s budget, Rulffes said.

Support staff and teachers represent 95 percent of 38,500 district employees.

Rulffes said the district has not come to terms with the administrators or the union that represents school police.

Negotiations between the police union and district have been contentious because the groups are in litigation over police officers’ arbitration rights.

The relationship between the district and the administrators union is tense because the union has opposed perks given to top district executives and the district’s decision to cover a pension increase for teachers.

The superintendent said negotiations with the support staff and teachers unions “have been full of issues but free of hostility, which has led to productive results,” Rulffes said.

Bo Yealy, the president of ESEA, did not return calls for comment. On the esea.org Web site, Yealy emphasized to her membership that the tentative agreements means there will be “no salary cuts or furlough days! The only cost to you is the freezing of the step increases for a short time.”

The short time is only for next year. Support staff will give up pay increases of 2 percent to 5 percent based on their years in the district and job classification.

Many bus drivers, secretaries, custodians and cafeteria workers will be taking further pay cuts next year because the district will be converting all of its 12-month schools to nine-month calendars to save money.

Some support employees will be losing 15 percent to 20 percent of their pay, Rulffes said.

As part the support staff’s tentative three-year agreement, which still must be ratified by the union membership, the support staff will use its medical contribution fund to pay for increases in medical costs and a half-percent increase in their contribution cost to the Public Employees Retirement System.

Because the district contributes more to the medical insurance fund than the cost of the insurance, the fund is like an “internal rainy day trust fund for paying for benefits,” Rulffes said.

Murillo said the teachers union will not be sacrificing its PERS coverage because the district covered its half-percent increase last year.

“The district is obligated to pay because it’s in our contract,” he said.

That is one of the more contentious issues because Stephen Augspurger, the executive director of the Clark County Association of Administrators and Professional-technical Employees, notes that state law requires increases in the costs of PERS contributions be shared equally by employees and employers alike.

Augspurger has said it is unfair for other district employees to make sacrifices to pay for the $9 million cost of covering the teachers’ PERS increase over two years.

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

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