Published Tuesday, June 26, 2012 | 12:40 p.m.
Updated Tuesday, June 26, 2012 | 5:08 p.m.
The Clark County School District declared an impasse today in its 2012-13 contract negotiations with the union representing district teachers.
Facing a $63 million budget deficit next school year, the School District is seeking "mix of concessions" with the Clark County Education Association to restore more than 1,000 teaching positions that were eliminated last month to bridge the shortfall, district spokeswoman Amanda Fulkerson said.
The School District and its teachers union met five times, beginning in March. Their last meeting was on June 18. State law requires the district and the union to have at least four meetings before an impasse can be declared.
The decision to declare impasse was made after district correspondence to schedule additional negotiation dates with the union went unanswered, Fulkerson said. The School District has not declared impasse in at least 20 years, she added.
"Teachers deserve answers. We don't want to go through the entire school year without a contract again," Fulkerson said. "We want teachers to be focused on what's important – teaching – instead of worrying about their contracts."
However, the union claimed in a statement that the School District acted prematurely. The district and the union were scheduled with meet on July 11, but "CCSD unilaterally walked away from the negotiation table," according to a union press release.
"It is unfortunate that Superintendent (Dwight) Jones has taken this action," the union statement read. "The District's actions will not put one laid-off teacher back in the classroom."
Union President Ruben Murillo, who was traveling out of town, did not return calls for comment.
In a news release, the district indicated it expected this upcoming school year’s negotiations again would lead to binding arbitration. By declaring the impasse, the district said it wanted to move “the inevitable process of involving a third-party arbitrator forward.”
A year ago, the district’s negotiations with teachers didn’t begin until July. Those talks ultimately failed and the sides turned to binding arbitration after the teachers union declared impasse on Aug. 10.
The arbitrator’s decision, which sided with the teachers union, came down May 2. The arbitrator found, in part, that because the district had paid out salary step and education increases to teachers throughout the year, it had the ability to continue to do so.
The ruling, the district said, forced it to eliminate 1,015 teaching positions, including the layoff of 419 teachers. As a result, average class sizes are expected to rise by three students next school year.
The School District does not want a repeat of that scenario, Fulkerson said, adding that the district hoped to continue negotiations despite the impasse. The union has used "stall tactics" in the past, forcing the school district and teachers into contract limbo, she said.
"History has shown us this will get dragged out," Fulkerson said. "If we're going to be faced with delay tactics, it is good we're declaring impasse now."
The union responded by calling on the Clark County School Board to instruct Jones to return to the negotiating table to restore teachers to the classroom before the start of the school year.
Further, the School District has no need to force concessions – "unreasonable demands" – of its teachers, because there is still room in the budget to cut, the union said.
More than 600 teachers have left the district through retirements and resignations, saving the district $44 million in teacher salaries, the union said.
Moreover, the School District has allocated $15 million in non-instructional expenditures – such as central and school administration and communications – that could put 204 teachers back in the classroom, the union said.
In response, the School District said it was hoping to replenish teacher ranks to restore class sizes, which are already among the highest in the nation. Furthermore, the district has cut more than $500 million since 2007, Fulkerson said.
"We want to live within our means and protect (teacher) jobs," Fulkerson said. "This (impasse) is something we want to do."