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Teachers divided on new Clark County starting salary, retention bonuses

Rocio Hernandez
Rocio Hernandez
EducationK-12 Education
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The front of the Clark County School District administrative building

Andrew Shealy loves watching how much his high school students’ writing skills improve from the beginning of the school year to the end. Shealy, a casino dealer turned educator, also thinks his own skills grow each year he’s in the classroom. 

“I'm 100 times better as a teacher almost every year,” Shealy said. “It's experience that makes a teacher so effective and so good at what they do.”

As Shealy’s level of experience has grown, so has his pay. The soon-to-be seventh-year teacher is scheduled to receive a raise next school year that will take his annual base salary to $50,115. 

But starting next school year, incoming teachers with less experience than Shealy will also receive that same salary amount that it took him six years to reach. It’s part of the new starting salary — announced last week and subject to a school board vote Thursday — negotiated by the district and the Clark County Education Association, the bargaining unit that represents the district’s licensed educators. 

The union pegs the total value of the agreement at more than $109 million. The district will also spend tens of millions more for bonuses for other types of employees. 

The new base pay is higher than starting salaries for teachers in Nevada state’s second- and third-largest school districts, Elko and Washoe counties, where entry-level educators earn between $38,000 and $43,000, according to salary schedules posted on their websites. But it’s lower than the starting base pay for teachers in the Eureka County School District, $58,549.

Nearly 4,200 Clark County teachers who make less than $50,115 will receive a pay bump to that amount starting next school year, meaning many won’t have to wait as long as Shealy did to make it to that compensation level. 

Teachers who make more than $50,115 a year will receive bonuses totaling $5,000 in two installments — one in September and the other toward the end of the 2022-23 school year, said John Vellardita, CCEA’s executive director. Teachers who earn between $45,851 and $48,694 will also get a portion of that $5,000 bonus, in addition to the pay raise. 

The Clark County School District is also raising the top end of its salary schedule for licensed educators. As it stands now, the highest annual base salary for a licensed educator is $95,569. Under the new salary schedule, the maximum annual base salary moves up to $101,251. Clark County teachers can move up on the district’s salary schedule through step increases, a salary increase of $1,420 for every year of service, or column advances, which are earned through professional development, and can include additional college degrees and training. 

The Clark County School Board plans to discuss, and possibly approve, the new teacher salary schedule and retention bonuses at its meeting this Thursday. 

The move comes as other states around the country, such as New Mexico, Florida and Alabama, are boosting their teacher pay in an effort to retain their educators amid persistent teacher shortages, the New York Times reported

The recruitment and retainment problem has plagued Nevada as well. The Washoe County School District has 304 vacant teacher positions as of Monday, according to district spokeswoman Victoria Campbell. Washoe Education Association’s President-elect Calen Evans is urging his district to follow the Clark County School District’s lead on the raises and bonuses. 

“We have to understand that given the current cost of living and the competitive job market, as an employer, you have to offer more than emotional pleas to join our district,” he said in a letter to the district’s school board and superintendent. “People can’t pay their bills and feed their families off of the joy they’ll get serving our students. That’s the reality.”

The Washoe County School Board plans to discuss critical labor shortages at its next meeting, though it's unclear whether salary adjustments for teachers will be a part of that conversation.

Meanwhile, the Clark County School District has about 1,400 vacant licensed educator positions as of Tuesday, according to a district spokesperson. 

Even so, the Clark County School District’s announcement last Tuesday was met with a mix of praise and criticism from teachers, especially veteran educators who would have preferred to see the district raise teacher pay across the board, and not just at the front and back end. 

“Personally, I am frustrated that once again the district is showing that they don’t care about retaining experienced teachers in our community,” said Darby Mims, a fifth-year Clark County teacher. 

Mims makes less than $50,000, so she would be getting a pay bump under the agreement. 

“I understand the importance of attracting new teachers due to the shortage,” she said. “I’m fearful that this decision will only be a Band-Aid fix and will do little to retain teachers in CCSD in the long-run.”

Vellardita explained that the district was limited in what it could offer current teachers because it’s paying salary increases and bonuses with revenue from its ongoing general fund as well as one-time federal COVID relief funds that state lawmakers set aside for public schools as part of negotiations for AB495, the mining tax deal struck at the end of the 2021 legislative session. Those funds could only be spent on one-time retention efforts such as bonuses, and not on increasing base pay, which would be a continuing expense, he said. 

Right now, Vellardita said he doesn’t think it’s feasible for the district to raise all teachers’ pay. 

“They don't have that kind of money, because that would have to come from ongoing general fund revenue, and they don't have it,” he said. 

Ann Lynch Elementary teacher Leondrus Wright, who’s receiving both a pay bump and a portion of the bonus, points out that Superintendent Jesus Jara had no trouble find more than $400,000 in the budget last year to give raises to some district executives.

“That money should have been put into the pockets of teachers,” he said. “We’re the ones (who’re) out here doing all the work.” 

Mindy Arteta, a teacher at Nevada Learning Academy, the district’s online school, said some teachers worry Jara may not be as motivated to retain existing teachers as much as recruit new ones because one of his goals is to hire 1,655 new teachers by November as part of the items the school board will evaluate him on.

The district did not respond to a request for comment. 

But Board President Irene Cepeda and Jara said at a press conference last Tuesday that the pay bumps aren’t the district’s only strategy for improving recruitment and retention. 

“It's a step in the right direction,” Cepeda said. “We know that teacher recruitment, retention is complicated … so this one thing will help, but it's not the only thing we're planning on doing.”

Vellardita said part of that work starts with ensuring that Nevada lawmakers invest more money into K-12 education so the district can afford to raise teacher pay across the board. 

But the quest for more K-12 funding has been a very long, uphill battle in Nevada. Last month, the Nevada Supreme Court upheld the dismissal of a legal effort aimed at dramatically improving the state’s K-12 education funding. 

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