No teachers union left behind

The state’s education establishment wasn’t bashful about turning the 2009 Legislature into a hostage crisis. Nevada’s schoolchildren might as well have been bound, gagged, blindfolded and booby-trapped with explosives. Without massive tax increases, the teacher unions warned lawmakers and taxpayers, “the children” would face a horrible fate.

The Legislature responded with $1 billion in tax hikes over the next two years, imposing new burdens on scarce tourists and hurting businesses to save these children from certain doom.

Lawmakers passed a public schools budget that preserved the classes, resources and positions deemed essential to campuses. In exchange, they urged school districts to rescind the 4 percent cost-of-living pay raise teachers were awarded last July (on top of their step and longevity pay raises) and never should have received in the first place.

But as with most hostage situations, the deal was negotiated in bad faith. The education establishment never had any intention of cutting the ropes and disabling the bombs. They had their moles on all the local school boards, in all the superintendent offices and throughout the administrations. The money was theirs. “The children”? Political collateral.

The Clark County School District is finalizing a deal that goes ahead with cuts that will affect every student, from kindergarten through the 12th grade, while ensuring that not only are teacher salaries preserved, but that two-thirds of them get “step” and longevity pay raises, and all get sweetened retirement benefits.

Kaboom.

“There will be a lot of places where people are hurt,” Clark County Education Association Executive Director John Jasonek said this week. “There’s suffering along the way.”

Just not among his membership. Private-sector workers are being laid off in droves — the state’s unemployment rate just hit a record 11.3 percent — and tens of thousands of those fortunate enough to still have jobs have seen their hours, income and benefits reduced. Now they and their employers will pay higher taxes so school employees can take home even more money in a recession (while they enjoy their summer off, no less).

Remember, it’s all for “the children.”

The union’s proposed one-year deal almost certainly means class sizes will be increased across the Clark County School District. Class-size reduction had been one of the union’s hills to die for, a policy educators claimed resulted in exponential improvement to student achievement while, conveniently, also guaranteeing the continued expansion of the union’s membership.

But preserving teacher-to-student ratios, especially in early grades, would have required teachers to accept salary freezes or — gasp! — to pay a little out of their own pockets to preserve their generous, guaranteed pensions. While out in the real world, workers have seen their retirement savings halved and company matching contributions to 401(k) accounts suspended.

That was a no-brainer for the union. They’ll take the money. Stuff those classrooms and cancel those electives and field trips!

But it’s all “for the children.”

The Clark County School Board could ratify the contract in less than two weeks. That’s another slam-dunk. Last fall, voters were given the option of replacing union-controlled drones with reform-minded newcomers. Across the board, voters went with those endorsed by the teachers union — the same union that installed its loyalist, Walt Rulffes, as Clark County superintendent.

The fix is in. This entire ruse lays bare the priorities of the Clark County School Board, the body charged with being stewards of the public’s treasure and trust.

Trustees’ first and only priority is making sure employee compensation grows regardless of the condition of the economy, whether the tax revenue exists to support it, whether workers deserve it, or not.

Indeed, Mr. Rulffes said that he does not know of a single Nevada school district that is cutting teacher salaries in the coming academic year. Never mind a year’s worth of caterwauling from all corners of the state about cuts, cuts, cuts.

Nevada’s teachers unions will always take care of themselves first. “The children”? Not so much.

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