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State Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, gestures while speaking during the Clark County Education Association rally in front of Lloyd George Federal Building on Saturday, April 27, 2019. (Jeff Scheid/Nevada Independent)

Clark County Education Association members have authorized a strike next school year, union officials announced Sunday. It’s hinged, though, on what happens in Carson City before sine die.

The teachers’ union held an online vote Tuesday through Saturday on the matter. Seventy-eight percent of members who participated in the vote said they’d support a strike, said John Vellardita, executive director of CCEA. More than 5,000 union members — or more than half of what union leaders say is total membership — cast a vote, he said.

The question posed to members was whether they would authorize a strike if the Legislature doesn’t provide enough financial resources to improve overall public education funding and cover educator pay raises, leading the Clark County School District to make budget cuts for the 2019-2020 academic year, Vellardita said.

“This is very fluid,” he said. “We’re going to see how this plays out in Carson City in the next three weeks and then post the session, we’ll see what the school district does.”

The favorable vote comes as frustration mounts over a legislative session that has yet to produce any sizable progress related to education. The widely anticipated bill that would overhaul the 52-year-old school funding formula has not been introduced, and teachers raises promised by Gov. Steve Sisolak remain in limbo. The Clark County School District has said it cannot afford the raises and would need another $120 million to do so.

Teacher strikes aren’t legal under Nevada law. The union backing any strike could be subject to daily fines reaching $50,000, and participating employees could be suspended or fired.

Vellardita said the union hasn’t been “cavalier” about the risks. Teachers, regardless of their union membership status, would not be forced to strike. As for punishment for teachers who do participate, the union boss said he’s not particularly worried given the struggles the district already faces recruiting and hiring educators.

“We don’t see that as a viable threat,” he said.

No timetable has been set for the possible strike, although Vellardita said it would be close to the beginning of the upcoming school year. The union would work out those details if it deems a strike necessary after the legislative session ends.

If Clark County teachers walk off the job, they would hardly be pioneers. A statewide teacher strike in West Virginia last year shut down schools for nearly two weeks and led to a Republican-controlled Legislature passing a bill that authorized a 5 percent pay raise. It sparked similar strikes in Oklahoma and Arizona and smaller demonstrations in other states.

Earlier this year, teachers from the Los Angeles Unified School District went on strike, in part, to push back against the growing school choice movement.

CCEA’s membership numbers are unclear. Last year, it broke away from the Nevada State Education Association after an ongoing feud between the two labor organizations. The NSEA then launched a new local affiliate called the National Education Association of Southern Nevada.

Clark County Superintendent Jesus Jara said the strike vote indicates frustration over Nevada's lack of education funding, but he stopped short of condoning any walkouts.

"I stand with our teachers, support professionals and administrators in advocating for additional funding for education, but as superintendent I have an obligation to provide 180 days of instruction to our 321,000 students and comply with Nevada law," he said in a statement. "Teacher strikes are illegal in Nevada because educators provide an essential service to our students. I will take necessary legal action to prevent an illegal strike while continuing to advocate in the final days of the legislative session to improve teaching and learning conditions."

This story was updated at 9:32 p.m. to include a statement from the school district.

 

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