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VICTOR JOECKS: Jara gets it right in fight with CCEA

The best way to stop a bully is to punch him in the nose. Legally speaking, that’s what Superintendent Jesus Jara has done.

The Clark County School District is seeking a court injunction to prevent the Clark County Education Association from striking. The union, led by Executive Director John Vellardita, recently vowed to consider “work actions” if a contract isn’t in place by Aug. 26. That term may be nebulous, but the implication isn’t. The union was threatening to have teachers walk off the job.

These strong-arm tactics are a repeat of 2019. That year the union also sought raises the district said it couldn’t afford. The union voted to authorize a strike and even set a strike date of Sept. 10. Jara, who had been on the job for just more than a year, caved into the union’s demands. COVID and the subsequent federal largess spared the district the fiscal pain it would have otherwise endured.

Jara let Vellardita bully him in 2019, but he didn’t have to. Public employee strikes are illegal under Nevada law. The law rightly gives public employers ample tools to prevent work stoppages, including going to court and withdrawing recognition from the offending union.

To Jara’s credit, he has done both of these things. The most-immediate consequence of this is a shift in the union’s verbiage. Instead of talking up a strike, it’s now laughably claiming “work actions” meant simply things such as teachers working only as long as their contract day. This is as believable a mobster claiming he was expressing genuine concern when he told a business owner, “It’d be a shame if something happened to your shop.”

Averting a strike is a real accomplishment. Good for Jara. Students need their classroom teachers.

It’s the potential union decertification, however, that would be a foundational change. If successful, CCEA won’t be representing teachers. Right now, collective bargaining gives the union a de facto veto on many potential district policies. Think about the district’s efforts to pay teachers bonuses to work at low-performing schools. The union is blocking that much-needed idea. It also prevented the district from paying teachers more to extend the school day at some schools. Decertification would enable the district to finally replace the frequently failing Teachers Health Trust, too.

Nor is the union necessary to increase teacher pay. The district raised starting teacher pay by more than 16 percent last year outside of contract negotiations. Jara could even experiment with merit pay.

This is why decertification could led to improvements in student achievement, but it’s not a panacea. Jara also needs to make major policy changes in areas such as grading and discipline.

There are major potential ramifications. The district would stop deducting union dues for CCEA. Vellardita has long been one of the biggest political bullies in Nevada. Remember, the union qualified and then withdrew two tax-hiking initiatives in recent years. Decertification would gut his political powerbase. That could improve things statewide.

In seeking decertification, Jara and the School Board have shown leadership and courage. Now they should stay the course and decertify CCEA.

Contact him at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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