Las Vegas Sun

May 1, 2016

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Teachers protest proposed pay cuts, working conditions

More than 200 teachers union members packed the Clark County School Board meeting Thursday to protest proposed pay cuts and working conditions.

Teachers wearing red T-shirts lined the walls of the Edward Greer Education Center’s main meeting room, the overflow spilling into the lobby and adjacent hallway.

Even as the School Board went about its regular business — renewing a contract with Innovations International Charter School and recognizing more than 30 National Merit Semifinalists — the teachers union could be heard organizing members outside.

To plug a $39 million budget gap, the cash-strapped School District has proposed concessions for Clark County Education Association members that include freezing salary and step increases, lowering salaries to pay for pension cost increases and changing teachers’ health insurance provider from the nonprofit Teachers Health Trust to a private health insurer.

Contract negotiations failed in August, sending the matter into arbitration for a third-party judge to decide.

Last month, Clark County Superintendent Dwight Jones warned school principals to prepare to lay off nearly 1,000 teacher and other licensed positions — even as some teachers get raises — if the union prevails in arbitration. Individual schools could lose up to seven teachers, according to a memo circulated by the district’s human resources department.

The teachers union has refused the proposed concessions, saying its members are “overworked, underpaid and underappreciated.” For the past several

board meetings, union members have urged the School Board to “invest in teachers” to better student achievement.

“We’re your employees, but we’re also your constituents,” said union President Ruben Murillo, inviting School Board members to talk face-to-face with teachers to hear their concerns directly.

District spokeswoman Amanda Fulkerson said Thursday in a text message that the union is ultimately asking teachers to take on more students — and work — by not taking concessions that could save teacher jobs. It is “absolutely off base,” she said.

Teachers at Thursday’s School Board meeting seemed unwilling to take on another round of pay and benefit cuts, imploring the School Board to look for alternative ways to bridge the funding deficit.

About 20 teachers raised their concerns during an almost two-hour-long public comment session, some nearly in tears as they spoke about pay cuts and mounting expectations to deliver better academic results.

Terri Lyman, an 18-year veteran math teacher, said she was concerned about the loss of salary increases. She said she and her husband — also a teacher — are expecting to lose $7,000 in salary increases for earning advanced degrees if the district prevails in arbitration.

“Teachers shouldn’t have to get another job if they excel at the one they already have,” she said.

First-grade teacher Tracy Beattie said she was concerned about losing the nonprofit Teachers Health Trust. Her child was born 14 weeks premature, she said, weighing only 1 pound 3 ounces at birth. A private health insurance company that didn’t cover a premature baby would have forced Beattie’s family into bankruptcy, she said.

“Please keep the Trust,” she said.

Sam King, a former teacher who is now a representative with the League of

Women Voters, told the School Board she had never seen so many impassioned teachers voicing their opinions at a meeting.

She argued that instead of pursuing concessions, the School District should go back to the Legislature for more education funding.

“You’re going to have to settle the contract,” she said. “You’ve got to stop the bleeding.”

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