An arbitrator ruled in favor of a union representing school principals and administrators on Friday, saddling the Clark County School District with a $19.5 million expense for retroactive pay increases.
Eric Lindauer, the arbitrator, determined the school district offered “no compelling evidence” that it could not afford the pay increases. The union’s request was roughly $13 million more than what the school district offered.
“The District offered no specific evidence indicating that teachers would be laid off if the Association’s final offer was granted, class sizes would be increased, days in the school year would be curtailed, or the District’s ability to educate children within the District would otherwise be adversely impacted,” Lindauer wrote in his decision.
But Deanna Wright, who serves as president of the Board of Trustees, disagreed with that assessment, arguing the financial burden will fall on schools given the district’s new funding structure. Per the state-mandated reorganization, the district must shift 80 percent of its unrestricted funds to the schools — a move designed to give schools greater budgeting and decision-making authority.
Wright called the situation an “unintended consequence” of the 80-20 funding split. Cuts at the central administration level wouldn’t cover the cost of the arbitrator’s award, she said.
“Even if we were to cut, there’s not enough to cut to come up with this kind of money,” Wright said. “It’s going to have to come from schools, unfortunately. It’s going to hurt.”
The school district and the Clark County Association of School Administrators and Professional-Technical Employees reached an impasse over compensation and benefits when negotiating terms for the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 collective bargaining agreements, so the parties submitted those issues to final and binding arbitration.
After hearings in early December and mid-March, the school district and administrators’ union filed their final written offers with Lindauer.
The union requested that its members receive salary increases of 2 percent for the 2015-2016 academic year and 3 percent for the 2016-2017 school year. The request also included the reinstatement of a prior 1.125 percent pay increase that was taken back because of a mandatory PERS contribution as well as step and longevity increases. The total price tag: $19.5 million.
The school district, meanwhile, asked the arbitrator to award administrators a 1.125 percent salary increase, effective Jan. 1, and an additional 1.125 percent increase, effective April 1. The district’s offer, which also included increases tied to step and longevity pay, was valued at $6.2 million.
Aside from deeming the school district financially capable of the pay increases, the arbitrator also noted that Clark County school administrators earn less than their counterparts in comparable school districts and deserve raises given expanded workloads.
As for funding the increases, Lindauer stated the district could do so “through the use of budgetary cuts, a realignment of priorities, and if necessary, accessing the ending fund balance.”
The latter represents a point of contention between the district and union. Wright said it’s against the law to use the end fund balance for that purpose.
“The union people know that’s against the law,” she said. “That makes me mad they would think to dip into that.”
But the arbitrator pointed out that the district has done so in the past — most recently to fund a contract for the Education Support Employees Association.
“In this proceeding, the evidence established the District has a practice of underestimating its ending fund balance and recently used the ending fund balance as a source of funding to resolve the interest arbitration with the Support Staff,” Lindauer wrote.
Stephen Augspurger, executive director of the of the administrators’ union, released a statement Wednesday acknowledging that it was a “difficult contract negotiation,” but he vowed to continue working with school officials on key issues, such as the reorganization. The union represents principals, assistant principals, deans, administrators and coordinators. That group last received a pay bump in July 2014.
Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky also weighed in Wednesday on the arbitrator’s ruling.
“It’s unfortunate that the Clark County School District has been working with a very limited budget, leading to disagreements over compensation for our valued administrators and other employee associations,” he said in a statement. “However, the Board of Trustees and I very much value the hard work of our site-based and central office administrators, who are critical to the oversight of the day-to-day implementation of the programs we have in place to improve education for every student in every classroom.”
The school district and union must split the cost of the arbitration. Meanwhile, the two entities are engaged in negotiations for the union’s contract for the 2017-2018 academic year.
This story was updated at 6:05 p.m. on May 31, 2017, to include additional information from the union and superintendent.
Feature photo: The Clark County School District administrative offices on Monday, Jan 16, 2016. Photo by Sam Morris.