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January 21, 2019

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Dues, legislation drive teachers union skirmish

John Vellardita

Steve Marcus

John Vellardita, executive director of the Clark County Education Association, poses in the association offices Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012.

Differences over money and policy are putting the teachers’ union for Nevada’s biggest school district at odds with its state and national affiliate.

Clark County Education Association and Nevada State Education Association leaders have been in a public dispute since shortly after the end of the 2017 legislative session. Local officials want more control over dues, and the National Education Association warns of lost services should the skirmish turn into a permanent break.

Any action taken by the local group to sever ties with the state union would also mean separation from the national group, which provides lobbying and professional development services for teachers.

“In addition to losing a powerful voice to lobby for public education and students at the state level, they would lose access to that same advocacy at the national level,” said Jim Testerman, senior director of the National Education Association Center for Organizing.

The local association’s executive board decided unanimously on June 10 that the group would take action.

“The executive board shall run an organizing campaign on the ineffectiveness and misinformation of NSEA during the legislative session and express to President (Ruben) Murillo the non-confidence of his team and him in the attacks against CCEA, its members and leadership.”

John Vellardita, executive director of the Clark County association, says the state union supported a failed bill this legislative session that completely removed student test scores from teacher evaluations, while the Clark County group backed a plan that uses student growth.

Assembly Bill 320, signed by the governor, directs the Department of Education to establish a list of assessments that districts and schools can use to measure how well students are meeting learning goals. These goals will be set by a teacher or an administrator, such as a principal.

“In this last legislative session, it was clear that the agenda that the state was advocating was not in alignment with what served the best interest of CCEA-represented educators,” Vellardita said.

The local group should have control over its funds, Vellardita said, so that money can go toward supporting its interests. He said more than half of the group’s members responded to a recent electronic survey, which found that 85 percent indicated money should stay with the CCEA and less money should be sent to the state.

“It really gets down to the fundamental question of whether or not the dues that we’re giving NSEA are serving CCEA members’ interests,” Vellardita said. “We give out the bulk of their money. We feel that we’re subsidizing the state and the rest of its operations, and in return we’re self-sufficient. We do everything and we do it at a pretty high level, from legislation to helping to change the delivery system down here with the Clark County reorganization to representing our members.”

Testerman says Vellardita tried to pull his unit away from SEIU (Service Employees International Union) in California and is now trying to do the same in Clark County. He said Vellardita has burned through CCEA assets.

“Now, he wants more money from the state dues that members pay to offset the expenses that is running up,” Testerman said.

Vellardita says his experience with SEIU has nothing to do with the current conflict, which he says has roots long before he came to the local education association.

“It predates my arrival — these growing internal issues between the local and the state have been longstanding,” Vellardita said. “It’s like the tail wagging the dog — in other words, the state trying to dictate to the large local what to do.”

The CCEA is also in contract negotiations with the Clark County School District. State association President Murillo says he’s heard from CCEA members who are concerned with the direction Vellardita is taking.

“We both have the same goal,” Murillo said. “The goal is to do what’s best for our students and for our educators. We have different strategies in doing so. So the priorities we have are basically the same, but it’s the way we go about achieving them that’s been causing the difference.”

Vellardita says the contract fight is another reason why members would benefit from being able to use resources for its members’ interests.

“We’re trying to secure a decent contract with salary increases for our educators, we’re trying to increase the district’s contribution to health insurance ... all that requires resources,” Villardita said. “So we think that the dues that are being paid by our members should stay with CCEA.”

Both sides agree that the conflict isn’t going away anytime soon.

“Resolution of this issue is certainly something that we’re looking forward to,” Villardita said. “We would hope the NSEA would smell the coffee and realize that it’s in their best interest to see a successful large local affiliate.”

Testerman said he’s been in Nevada to bring both sides together, but Vellardita has walked away unwilling to form a partnership. He said not all CCEA members agree with Vellardita’s agenda.

“We continue to work with them and support them while they figure out how to make sure their voice is heard in their local union and that their priorities are reflective of that agenda,” he said. “That’s a democratic process, so that may take a little bit of time, but we continue to have faith in the democratic process.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported Jim Testerman's title. He is senior director of the National Education Association Center for Organizing. | (July 5, 2017)

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