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School district appeals arbitration decision that would boost teacher pay

Jackie Valley
Jackie Valley
Education
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The back end of a Clark County School bus

The financial tug-of-war between the Clark County School District and the local teachers’ union has escalated again over educator pay raises that an arbitrator approved last week.

The School Board of Trustees announced Tuesday morning that the district has asked Clark County District Court to vacate and set aside the arbitration award for the 2017-2018 school year contract with the Clark County Education Association. The union, in turn, is mulling next steps as well, with leaders saying teachers have hit their “tipping point.”

“We have nothing left to lose,” said John Vellardita, CCEA’s executive director.

The drama comes the week after an arbitrator ruled in favor of the local teachers’ union. The arbitrator’s award — now in jeopardy with the school district’s appeal — would have boosted teachers’ pay as well as contributions to their health care.

Board President Deanna Wright called the legal maneuver a “difficult position” the school district must undertake, largely based on financial reasons.

“The Board of School Trustees would have liked to provide a raise for all employees,” Wright said in a statement. “Unfortunately, we have been grappling with budget crises for several years in a row -- cutting and cutting and cutting our budget. If we were to comply with this arbitration award, we would need to cut positions and programs that serve students. Instead we must collaborate with employee associations and others in the community to work with the legislature to consistently provide raises for all our employees in a fiscally responsible way.”

Board members contend the arbitration award doesn’t comply with a state law that protects the district’s ending-fund balance, hence the request for court intervention. On top of that, trustees took issue with having to funnel more money to the troubled Teachers Health Trust, which they described as being in “financial shambles.”

“The arbitration decision would require CCSD to pay an additional $20 million to the THT in the next two years, which is not in the best interest of our teachers i the long term,” Wright said in a statement.

The district had wanted to freeze teachers’ salaries and move them over to a health plan similar to the ones provided for support staff and school police. The Teachers Health Trust is the nonprofit organization that oversees health care for roughly 18,000 Clark County educators and their dependents. The arbitrator had noted in his decision that despite the trust’s recent checkered past, it had made strides to repair its financial footing.

The arbitration award would have saddled the school district with a roughly $13.2 million bill for the existing academic year. School officials estimate the financial impact of the award through fiscal year 2019 would be at least $38.5 million.

CCEA’s executive director, John Vellardita, said he is disappointed the trustees have opted to take an arbitration decision to court, “wasting taxpayer dollars” in the process. But the union leader said he’s confident a judge will determine the decision was within the statutory scope of the arbitration process.

“It’s a terrible message to send to educators when morale is at an all-time low,” he said, adding that the trustees’ move seems like “sour grapes.”

Vellardita said the union will solicit feedback from members to determine how to proceed. He said Nevada isn’t immune to the “wave of unrest” among teachers that’s playing out across the country.

Oklahoma teachers are on day nine of a strike regarding education funding and better pay. Last month, West Virginia teachers scored a victory when their strike ended with a pay raise.

“That wave is hitting Vegas — that energy that says we have to do something different to get the powers to recognize that they cannot continue to not invest in educators,” Vellardita said.

But he stopped short of predicting a labor strike in Clark County. Nevada law prohibits public employees from striking.

Instead, the union leader said local teachers will be demanding better funding “using the best means they see fit to accomplish that objective.”

“These trustees don’t realize how they’ve essentially broken all trust and confidence in their leadership,” he said.

Vellardita also said the union would be seeking damages for each day the arbitration award is not granted while stuck in court.

District officials declined to comment on possible future action taken by the union.

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