Teachers union gave to lawmakers in days after they rebuffed school district
In the days after a group of Democratic lawmakers delayed a decision to provide funds for raises to Clark County School District (CCSD) support staff, the school district’s teachers union made major campaign contributions to those same lawmakers, new reports show.
The decision came during a Dec. 13 meeting of the Democrat-controlled Interim Finance Committee (IFC) — at a time when CCSD and the teachers union, the Clark County Education Association (CCEA), remained locked in a contract dispute — as lawmakers decided not to consider a $58 million funding request from the district, which panned the move along with the unions representing support staff.
According to reports available as of Thursday morning — ahead of a Tuesday, Jan. 16, deadline to report 2023 campaign fundraising activity — those contributions include a maximum $10,000 donation from the CCEA PAC to Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) a day after the vote and $40,000 from Strategic Horizons, a PAC chaired by CCEA Executive Director John Vellardita, to a PAC registered to Sen. Rochelle Nguyen (D-Las Vegas) a day later.
Cannizzaro and Nguyen did not immediately return requests for comment.
In a brief phone interview, Vellardita described the timing as “purely coincidental” and said the contributions had nothing to do with the IFC decision. He said the contributions were part of a recurring commitment to lawmakers that CCEA has endorsed and the timing came just before an end-of-year fundraising deadline on Dec. 31.
“You’re trying to create a story, and it’s not there,” he said, before refusing to answer further questions.
Vellardita previously downplayed any suggestion of coordination between CCEA and lawmakers, saying at a December press conference, “If we could coordinate things with lawmakers, we would have had a contract nine months ago.”
In a statement that followed the Dec. 13 meeting of the IFC — an interim group of lawmakers that makes spending decisions outside of legislative sessions — the Education Support Employees Association (ESEA) and Teamsters Local 14, which represent support staff in Clark County, panned the decision to delay approval of the funding request.
“We do not believe that support professionals should be held hostage by other unions actions,” the group said in a statement.
The contributions came in the midst of a monthslong legal battle and stalled contract negotiations between CCSD and CCEA, a fight predicated in large part on a then-unresolved dispute over how the district would spend tens of millions in state dollars set aside for teacher raises. The district eventually settled with the union — and only with the intervention of a third party arbitrator — seven days later.
Though Nevada poured a record $2 billion of new spending into the public K-12 system in 2023, collective bargaining laws and the mechanisms of the K-12 funding formula prevented lawmakers from earmarking funds explicitly for pay increases. As a workaround, Democrats created SB231, which set aside $250 million in matching funds to be distributed by IFC once districts and unions hammered out new contracts.
Statewide, multiple districts and education employee unions approved such deals in the summer, including the ESEA and Teamsters Local 14.
However, CCSD rejected early contract proposals from CCEA, arguing the amount of money requested from SB231 could create a fiscal cliff without assurances that lawmakers re-authorize the money in perpetuity. In September, the school district declared an impasse in its negotiations with CCEA, triggering the start of an arbitration process.
As the fight between the union and district in Clark County worsened last year, top legislative Democrats have increasingly sided with the union in public statements. In August, Cannizzaro told reporters that “fiscal cliff” arguments from CCSD were “ridiculous.”
By November, Yeager and Cannizzaro had called on Jara to resign. In an interview this month, Jara told The Nevada Independent he was not focused on those calls, and blamed the length of contract negotiations on an unwillingness by CCEA to compromise on budget demands.
With CCEA still locked in a stalemate, lawmakers delayed a vote to authorize $58 million in support staff pay raises Dec. 13, even as they signed off on another $15 million in SB231 funds for raises in five rural school districts.
At the time, committee Chair Daniele Monroe-Moreno (D-North Las Vegas), said CCSD’s funding request was incomplete.
Guidance from the Legislative Counsel Bureau sent to school districts in August suggested that districts could submit multiple requests for SB231 funding, anticipating that they could finalize collective bargaining agreements with the various unions representing their employees at different points in time.
Shortly after the IFC decision, an arbitrator brought the contract fight to a close — sealing a deal Dec. 21 that would send teachers a near-20 percent pay raise over the next two years.