Las Vegas Sun

November 28, 2015

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Clark County School District might sue union about negotiations

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Dwight Jones, the Clark County School Superintendent, is photographed in his office Thursday, January 20, 2011.

Strained contract negotiations between the financially beleaguered Clark County School District and the teachers union may end up in court, with management saying union leadership is bargaining in bad faith because of its unbending demands.

In June, the district declared an impasse in negotiations, sending the contract matter into arbitration. The district and union are now choosing an arbitrator who will decide between the their proposals for concessions.

Just like last year, the cash-strapped district wants teachers to agree to a one-year salary freeze to help erase a $64 million deficit, and the union is fighting to preserve teachers’ annual pay raises.

“I can’t pay for raises that I can’t afford,” Clark County Schools Superintendent Dwight Jones said, adding that the district has cut more than $500 million since the recession. “I don’t know how much more we can cut.”

Part of those cuts included the elimination of more than 1,000 teaching positions this summer, including 419 actual teachers in the classroom. The other 600 scrapped positions were unfilled.

After four months of negotiations, the district and the union in late July zeroed in on how to bring back those 419 laid-off teachers. The district said it needed $22 million in concessions from the union, which the union said could be achieved through mandatory unpaid time off versus an across-the-board pay freeze for a year.

The district asked for four furlough days and the union pushed for two before settling on three furlough days.

The union agreed to deliver the proposal to its members at its back-to-school meeting on Monday, according to Jones and district negotiator Edward Goldman. The meeting was closed to the media.

In an email to the district this month, the union’s executive director and chief negotiator, John Vellardita, said the union would neither recommend nor oppose the deal to teachers — but said the negotiation committee reserved the right to comment on it.

District officials — pointing to a Las Vegas Review-Journal account of the meeting — said that’s not what happened. Vellardita reportedly told union members to vote against the furloughs, Goldman said.

Meeting attendees — who included union and non-union members — “overwhelmingly” rejected the proposal, according to a union news release sent Monday night. The exact vote was not revealed.

Top district leaders were floored. Months of back-and-forth negotiations went down the drain and Vellardita went back on his word, Goldman said.

“You negotiate with these particular union bosses, and it’s all for naught,” Goldman said. “It’s frustrating.”

The School District may file a bad-faith bargaining lawsuit against the union with the state’s Employee Management Relations Board, Goldman said.

Vellardita said his comments against the furlough came after 40 teachers made their public comments about the proposal. All 40 teachers were against it, he said, adding it illustrated how his members were planning to vote.

Besides, Vellardita said, the furlough proposal no longer makes sense because the School District has invited back all 419 laid-off teachers, to fill vacancies in the district created by more retirements and resignations than the district anticipated. As a result, there is no longer a need for teachers to make contract concessions, Vellardita said.

But Jones points out that while the 419 laid-off teachers are being rehired, they are not filling their old jobs. With the loss of 1,000 positions that will still be unfilled, the average class size when school opens next week will increase by three students, Jones said.

If the teachers were to agree to the furlough days — or accept a pay freeze for one year — some of the 1,000 trimmed teaching jobs could be filled and class sizes could be lowered, Jones said. (The district's other three major unions have accepted two-year pay freezes.)

“Kids deserve better,” Jones said. “If we don’t solve this (contract) problem, then the kids suffer.”

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