As a new school year begins, teachers throughout the Clark County School District are working to establish their authority in the classroom. If students don’t respect the teacher, after all, the environment is rarely conducive to learning.
That’s the problem Superintendent Jesus Jara has had in his interactions with the Clark County Education Association. For the past several months, the union has behaved like a spoiled child. Mr. Jara and district officials have the ability to control this tantrum but haven’t yet done so.
All summer, union leaders threatened to strike at the start of the school year if they didn’t get the pay raises promised — but not fully funded — by Gov. Steve Sisolak. Paying for those raises will leave the district with a $17 million hole. To close that deficit, Mr. Jara announced in June that he was eliminating school deans. The strike threat was certainly a factor in Mr. Jara’s ill-fated and short-lived decision.
After he reversed himself last month, Mr. Jara told principals to find savings from their school budgets to make up the deficit. The teachers union again threatened to strike if the budget reductions touched the classroom. Mr. Jara backed down and told principals they couldn’t eliminate classroom positions. Once again, it appeared that Mr. Jara had ceded his authority to the union.
For its part, the Clark County Association of School Administrators and Professional-Technical Employees contends Mr. Jara’s directive was illegal. The law, they argue, gives budgetary authority to school principals, not the superintendent. The administrators union is considering suing Mr. Jara — again. A previous lawsuit involving the dean cuts contributed to Mr. Jara reconsidering the move.
The teachers union still doesn’t have a contract, so it’s wielding its strike threat again. Enough.
Public employee strikes are illegal in Nevada. State law allows the school district to decertify a union that disavows its pledge not to strike and to seek a court injunction if a union prepares to strike. A judge can fine the union $50,000 a day and even jail union leaders during a work stoppage.
Mr. Jara has made perfunctory statements about his commitment to keeping the schools open in the event of a teacher walkout. He needs to be more specific and label the strike talk for what it is — illegal. He should pledge to use every one of the district’s ample legal options to stop a strike if the union ever called one.
The union’s low membership levels — only about half the district teachers are members — would mitigate any strike, but such an action would still be against the law and cause intolerable disruptions for both students and parents.
Just like a teacher on the first day of school, Mr. Jara needs to establish his authority.