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EDITORIAL: CCSD pay hikes will likely result in future budget shortfall

The Clark County School District, for a variety of reasons, has a chronic teacher shortage. Thus the announcement this week that it will boost starting salaries for educators by 16 percent and pay bonuses to employees.

One problem: The district has a history of handing out lavish pay hikes that led to budget shortfalls.

The decision came amid contract negotiations with unions representing teachers and support staff, providing another reason why collective bargaining for public employees is an awful idea. Who sits at the table safeguarding the interests of the taxpayers? Certainly not district officials. These long-term commitments will eventually force state taxpayers to make up the difference.

Under the plan, starting teacher salaries will jump from $43,011 to $50,115. Current teachers making below the latter will receive the new minimum. Members of support staff will take home $4,500 “retention” bonuses while administrators, school police officers and more experienced teachers will pocket $5,000 bonuses.

The new wage policy will cost more than $100 million annually, with the raises permanently built into the district’s baseline budget. Yet Superintendent Jesus Jara will cover the initial costs in part with federal pandemic money. District officials argue that the one-time COVID cash from Washington will cover the bonuses, while existing funds will be directed to the raises.

This is the same district that claimed a $38 million budget shortfall for the 2020-21 school year.

A hot labor market has prompted private employers to increase pay, a decision based on factors including projected revenue and customer tolerance on pricing. But the district enjoys a quasi-monopoly and operates under no such calculation. The salary boost will require shifting money from other endeavors, laying the groundwork for district officials to put on their biennial tin cup show at the Legislature.

They’ll also now be under pressure to boost salaries for experienced teachers, even though John Vellardita, executive director of the Clark County Education Association said the district now has “one of the highest salary schedules in the western United States.” In fact, the complaints have already started.

“It’s clearly geared toward trying to get new teachers,” a 10-year veteran at Las Vegas High School told the Review-Journal about the pay hikes. “It does not address issues that veteran teachers are facing.”

There’s nothing wrong with providing raises or bonuses as part of the budgeting debate in Carson City. Instead, the district’s move circumvents that process and will be presented to lawmakers as a fait accompli that will require additional taxpayer resources.

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