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Teachers union rejects three-day furlough concession

Updated Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2012 | 5:44 p.m.

The local teachers union rejected the Clark County School District’s contract proposal — which included furloughs — during a closed meeting Monday night, according to an union press release.

The Clark County Education Association and the School District are proceeding with arbitration after the district declared an impasse in June over contract negotiations for this upcoming school year.

Last school year, arbitration wasn’t declared until mid-August, which delayed the arbitration ruling until May. The arbitrator ruled in favor of the union, which fought bitterly against the district to keep teacher pay raises and their nonprofit health insurance plans.

The arbitrator found the district to have the ability to continue paying raises for the last month of last school year. The district, in response, eliminated more than 1,000 teaching positions — including 419 actual teachers — to bridge a $64 million budget deficit. (The other 600 positions were funded vacancies that the district could not fill with qualified teachers, district officials said.)

However, there was an higher-than-expected number of teachers who left the district last year – about 1,200 employees – due to retirements and resignations. As a result, all of the 419 laid-off teachers were invited back to teach, district officials said.

Still, the district will operate with 1,000 fewer teachers next year, because the 419 returning teachers back-filled higher-than-expected retirements and resignations. That means class sizes will still rise by an additional three students in a district that has the distinction of having one of the highest average class sizes in the nation.

The School District — perhaps learning a lesson from this past year — swiftly declared an impasse in late June after five meetings with the union. State law requires that negotiating parties have at least four meetings before an impasse can be declared.

Despite going into arbitration, talks between the district and the union have not stalled, said union spokeswoman Letty Elias. Both sides have continued to meet to negotiate terms of a new teachers contract, she said.

“We would like for teachers to know where they stand when they go back to school next week,” Elias said. “But, while we don’t want to drag out the process, we also don’t want to jump to a proposal if it’s not to our benefit.”

According to the union’s press release, nearly 1,500 teachers attended the meeting, which was closed to the media. An “overwhelming” majority of attendees rejected the district’s proposal after discussion, the release said.

However, the district spokeswoman Amanda Fulkerson said Tuesday that the contract proposal the union voted down on Monday wasn't proposed by the district, but the union itself.

"This week, a few hundred teachers voted to reject a contract first proposed by their own union that would have furloughed teachers for three days in the coming school year," Fulkerson said in a statement. "We will continue to pursue arbitration to finalize a contract with our teachers."

Regardless of whose proposal it was, the teachers union said their vote “(reaffirmed) their belief that CCSD had used the layoff of 416 of their colleagues as a bargaining chip to get teachers to enter into a concessionary contract,” the release said.

Chief union negotiator John Vellardita told teachers that even if the district and union could compromise on teacher pay and benefits, bitter contract disputes will continue unless there is more state funding for public education, the release said.

That’s why the union is pushing for a ballot question that — if approved by voters in November — would impose a 2 percent margin tax on business revenue, the release said. The so-called “Education Initiative” would raise about $800 million annually in funding for Nevada’s public education, the release said.

The union also launched a petition drive Monday to collect more than 72,350 tickets to ensure the “Education Initiative” would appear before the 2013 Legislature.

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