First-grade teacher Joe Gutierrez helps a student in the computer lab at Richard C. Priest Elementary School in North Las Vegas on Tuesday, March 21, 2017. Photo by Jeff Scheid.

Update on 5/31/17:

An emergency bill that would ensure the Clark County School District pays educators who complete professional development programs was introduced Wednesday in the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford is the primary sponsor of SB547. The proposed legislation would require the school district to reserve funds to award salary increases to educators who have completed agreed-upon growth plans — either through continuing education or professional development.

John Vellardita, executive director of the Clark County Education Association, said the bill’s first hearing could come today or Thursday.

“Obviously, it’s late so we know we have our work cut out to try to educate everyone around what this is,” said Vellardita, who played a key role in shaping the bill. “We’ll see where it goes. We’re optimistic we’ll find support for this.”

Associate Superintendent Nicole Rourke, who serves as the school district’s lobbyist, expressed caution about the bill but said the school district values its teachers and wants to invest in their growth.

“That’s why we worked with the Clark County Education Association to design an innovative new professional growth system,” Rourke said in a statement. “CCSD is working hard to implement the reorganization of the district and allocate more funds to school budgets. That is difficult to do when union leaders make more and more demands, and ask for legislation to create unfunded mandates instead of negotiating their compensation through the regular process.”

Vellardita, however, said the bill aims to shore up teacher vacancies, especially at lower-performing schools, and create more effective educators. The salary-incentive program would be open to all educators regardless of what school they work in, but there are added incentives for those who work in Title 1 schools.

“I think it hits several key issues that we face — the vacancies in at-risk buildings, how do you recruit and how do you hold onto them and how do you have more highly effective educators in these challenging classrooms?” he said. “I think it scores on all three levels.”

If approved by lawmakers and signed by the governor, the legislation would become effective July 1. No fiscal notes have been attached to the bill yet.

ORIGINAL STORY:

Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford plans to introduce an emergency bill that would require the Clark County School District to stash funds to pay teachers and principals who complete a professional development program.

It’s unclear when Ford plans to introduce the legislation, but it’s the outgrowth of conversations with a powerful figure in state education politics — John Vellardita, the executive director of the Clark County Education Association.

John Vellardita, executive director of the Clark County Education Association, stands in front of the CCEA office on Feb. 15, 2017. Photo by Jeff Scheid.

Senate Democratic Caucus Executive Director Peter Koltak confirmed to The Nevada Independent that an emergency bill is in the works.

“He hasn’t gotten the final language back yet,” Koltak said, referring to Ford. “The concept is to wall off money to ensure the districts meet their contractual obligations to pay teachers who complete professional development plans.”

Vellardita, who leads the local teachers’ union,  said the bill aims to create more effective educators while boosting recruitment and retention efforts, especially at low-performing schools plagued by frequent turnover. The salary incentive program would reward teachers and principals who complete a professional development plan agreed upon by the both the school district and educator.

“It requires them to essentially reserve money to make sure they keep up their end of the deal,” he said.

The bill’s timing, however, raises this question: Is it simply legislative intervention to solve an ongoing dispute between the teachers’ union and school district?

Last month, CCEA filed an unfair labor charge against the school district regarding its existing Professional Growth System — a salary-incentive program borne out of contract negotiations between the two parties in 2015. The unfair labor charge came after the school district announced revisions to what’s known as the Professional Growth Reference Guide, which spells out what learning activities count toward pay increases.

The changes, which district officials say simply correct mistakes entered into the reference guide, would reduce the number of credits tied to salary increases that educators can earn for completing college coursework and eliminate credits for taking massive open online courses (MOOCs). Additionally, special education teachers working in self-contained classrooms wouldn’t move up in the salary schedule until they’ve worked three years instead of two.

The teachers’ union contends the changes unfairly punish educators who already embarked on their professional development plans.

Sylvia Lazos, policy director for Educate Nevada Now, called the emergency bill a “disturbing development.” She said it creates the appearances of the Legislature assisting a special interest group, which could open the floodgates for others seeking similar intervention.

“It should make the people of Clark County — the taxpayers — extremely concerned,” Lazos said.

School district officials declined to comment until after they see the bill language. The Nevada Independent also reached out to Ford on Wednesday. He responded Thursday morning, via text message, and said the bill is not an attempt to intervene in the dispute between the school district and CCEA.

“I didn’t even know about the dispute,” he wrote.

Vellardita rejected the notion that the emergency bill is an attempt to override the school district in the dispute over the reference guide revisions. Instead, he reiterated that it’s another effort to address the ongoing teacher shortage while bolstering the quality of educators.

“This legislation has nothing to do with that case,” Vellardita said, adding that he expects that matter to be resolved soon anyway.

Vellardita said he’s not sure yet how much money the school district would need to reserve for the pay increases tied to the Professional Growth System, which he expects to serve as the foundation for the new bill.

Feature photo: First-grade teacher Joe Gutierrez helps a student in the computer lab at Richard C. Priest Elementary School in North Las Vegas on Tuesday, March 21, 2017. Photo by Jeff Scheid.