The Nevada Independent

Your state. Your news. Your voice.

The Nevada Independent

Arbitrator sides with Clark County teachers' union in lengthy contract battle

Jackie Valley
Jackie Valley

The Clark County Education Association has won a nine-month arbitration battle with the Clark County School District, paving the way for increases to both teacher salaries and contributions toward their health-care premiums.

Arbitrator Mario Bognanno ruled in favor of the local teachers’ union Friday and accepted its final offer for the 2017-2018 school year contract. Through his ruling, the arbitrator essentially determined the school district has the ability to pay the estimated $13.2 million cost of the package.

The union’s final offer included a step-pay increase for licensed educators, effective June 1, as well as a $50 increase per month toward each employee’s health insurance premium. The step-pay increase will not be retroactive.

The arbitrator’s decision — outlined in a 64-page opinion — capped an end to a process that began with hearings in June and continued through the summer and fall. After 15 evidentiary hearings and three conference calls, the school district and teachers’ union sent their arguments and final offers to the arbitrator in February.

“I’m hoping that this decision has a sobering effect on the district to re-evaluate the way it not only bargains but to prioritize their employees, and, in this case, the educators that we represent,” CCEA’s executive director John Vellardita said. “This just can’t go on.”

A statement released Tuesday by the school district largely focused on the financial difficulties officials say the arbitrator’s decision may trigger. The school district had wanted to impose a salary freeze and dismantle the Teachers Health Trust and move licensed professionals to a fully insured, private health plan similar to the ones provided for support staff and school police.

“The Board of Trustees and district leadership recognize the need to compensate our employees for their hard work and to keep up with their own rising costs,” district officials wrote. “Unfortunately, the district is currently unable to provide raises to our employees, though we did offer to put teachers on the district health care plan in order to provide them with reliable and stable health care coverage. We will consult with our counsel and the Trustees to determine our next course of action.”

But the arbitrator determined the proposed health-care change was “too much, too fast.”

Bognanno also noted that the Teachers Health Trust — the nonprofit organization that oversees health care for roughly 18,000 Clark County educators and their dependents — has made strides to repair its financial footing. Money struggles and insurance hassles have besieged the trust in recent years, giving the school district ammunition in its quest to move teachers onto a new health plan.

As for the step-pay increase, Bognanno wrote that it may help teacher recruitment, retention and staffing at at-risk schools. Because CCEA’s request was not retroactive, the step-pay increase would only be in effect one month of educators’ 2017-2018 contract, resulting in an amount of $146 .25 per teacher.

“Clearly, a $146.25 increase in annual income is not ill-advised because it is excessive relative to the inter-year increase in living costs, which is a criterion often cited by arbitrators to evaluate competing wage and salary proposals,” Bognanno wrote in his opinion.

District officials said the cost of carrying the salary and health-care increases into fiscal year 2019 is at least $38.5 million. The step increase alone would saddle the district with a $28.5 million bill if given to all teachers from September 2018 through June 2019.

The district is expecting an additional $34 million in funds for fiscal year 2019, but that money must cover everything from opening new schools to contracts without employee unions. Negotiations are ongoing between the district and other bargaining groups for contracts for the current school year.

“Further arbitration rulings could plunge the district into additional shortfalls,” district officials said in a statement.

School Board Trustee Carolyn Edwards said she’s happy teachers will be receiving a pay boost but worried about the long-term financial implications of the decision. The arbitrator only has to consider the district’s ability to pay for the contract in question — not future contracts that would include the same provisions.

“I really think there needs to be a change in bargaining law and arbitration law that say the arbitrator has to take into consideration whether it’s sustainable,” she said.

The district must now decide whether it wants to accept or appeal the decision, Edwards said, but she didn’t venture to guess which route it will take.

“There’s just no way to judge,” she said. “I can’t presume to know what my fellow trustees think.”

Vellardita, however, said he considered CCEA’s final offer “extremely reasonable” given the district’s recent financial challenges, which led to a series of budget cuts in the fall.

The union leader said the school district has a history of immediately racing to arbitration rather than negotiating — racking up legal costs along the way. Vellardita estimates that the teachers’ union spent more than $500,000 during the arbitration process for educators’ 2017-2018 school-year contract. CCEA is in the midst of bargaining with the school district for the upcoming academic year contract.

The district’s response to the union’s arbitration victory also included a call for the Legislature to increase the base funding formula, which officials said could lead to consistent employee raises in the future.

Arbitration Ruling by Jackie Valley on Scribd


Featured Videos

7455 Arroyo Crossing Pkwy Suite 220 Las Vegas, NV 89113
Privacy PolicyRSSContactNewslettersSupport our Work
The Nevada Independent is a project of: Nevada News Bureau, Inc. | Federal Tax ID 27-3192716