Las Vegas Sun

October 15, 2019

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Teachers union wants greater parental involvement — in pay raise dispute

Vikki Courtney

Ian Whitaker / Las Vegas Sun

Vikki Courtney, Clark County Education Association president, speaks to teachers outside the Clark County School District offices on Flamingo Road, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015.

Frustrated by what they claim is an unwillingness by the Clark County School District to come to an agreement over a new contract, teachers union leaders say they will seek the support of a group that up until now has been conspicuously absent in the debate: parents.

That was the common refrain among the dozens of teachers who turned out for tonight’s school board meeting with protest signs and rowdy chants of “We’re fired up and won’t take no more.”

The protests have been a common sight at school board meetings since district officials announced in June that previously negotiated teacher pay raises would be frozen to fill a roughly $67 million budget hole.

“We have to get parents out here,” Clark County Education Association President Vikki Courtney yelled through a megaphone to a crowd of teachers outside the school district’s Flamingo Road offices. “Parents need to be out here supporting us.”

Teachers vowed before the board that they would start approaching parents inside and outside of school in an effort to get them to enlist them in the cause.

And that cause has been getting school district negotiators to agree to a $70 million contract that would include across-the-board pay increases and a starting salary of $40,000, around $5,000 more than under the past contract.

The school district has countered with a $21 million package that would, among other things, include pay raises for teachers who have earned their master’s degree.

But the offer doesn’t satisfy the union executive director John Vellardita, who is adamant that the district still has $70 million in savings from unfilled full-time teaching positions. If the two parties don’t come to an agreement, the matter will likely go to arbitration.

“$21 million will effectively apply to less than 3,000 teachers,” said Vellardita. “They would get a marginal increase, while over 14,000 would receive nothing except the cut in pay and freeze they already got.”

The district is sticking by its offer for now, according to school district spokeswoman Michelle Booth, who added that the $70 million has already been budgeted for other things.

One thing that can’t be disputed is that the conflict is growing more and more bitter by the day. As both sides fail to come to an agreement — a deal was expected to happen before the start of school — teachers are getting more and more restless.

Tonight, one teacher called the school board “disgusting,” and another accused them of “failing” teachers. Almost every teacher who has spoken at the school board meetings has said the district has lost their trust.

The district, including Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky, has largely kept quiet on the issue. The rationale has been that they can’t say anything while negotiations are ongoing, although Booth said the district was aware of the teachers' concerns.

“We understand this is very frustrating for teachers,” she said. “We hope we can reach a resolution soon.”

The CCEA is currently combing through the CCSD budget in an effort to prove the district has $70 million it could allocate for teacher salaries, but Vellardita said the damage was already done.

“We want arbitration,” he said. “It’s about time a third party took a look at their budget.”

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