Las Vegas Sun

July 21, 2019

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Las Vegas area teachers vote to strike next school year

Teacher's Union Rally in Downtown Las Vegas

Miranda Alam/Special to the Sun

Attendees during a rally held in support of more education funding by the Clark County Education Association at the Lloyd D. George U.S. Court House in Las Vegas on Saturday, April 27, 2019.

Updated Monday, May 13, 2019 | 12:07 p.m.

Las Vegas area teachers voted to strike during the 2019-2020 school year if they don’t receive promised teacher raises and additional resources for their schools, the Clark County Education Association announced Sunday.

More than 5,000 of the 11,000 teachers in the CCEA participated in an online poll last week about whether to strike, with 78 percent voting for a strike.

State officials have yet to approve a plan to deliver promised teacher raises and additional resources to the Clark County School District, the primary demands of the union as expressed at a recent rally in Las Vegas. Union officials say that absent “proper” education funding, CCSD could face budget cuts next year, which might jeopardize some educators’ jobs.

“CCSD budget cuts will trigger a strike of educators in the 2019-2020 school year. The strike will last until funding is secured for students and teachers,” the union said in a statement.

School district teachers started this school year and the last one with a pay freeze, said CCEA president John Vellardita. Teachers, students and union officials say overcrowding in classrooms and insufficient school supplies are increasingly common.

The strike would be the first associated with Clark County schools since 1969, when teachers fought for collective bargaining rights and the right to join a union, Vellardita said. In response to that controversy, Nevada made it illegal for public sector workers to strike, and the union could face fines of up to $50,000 a day for doing so.

“We are prepared to deal with whatever risks and consequences there are,” CCEA spokesperson Keenan Korth said.

Similar laws against strikes in Oklahoma, West Virginia and Arizona did not stop teachers there from striking last year to demand better pay and more resources in schools, Vellardita noted. Some of the strikes led to substantial gains for teachers and districts, such as a 20 percent pay increase for Arizona teachers by 2020.

The strike vote came weeks before the official end of the Nevada legislative session on June 3. Educators, union representatives and school district officials had high hopes that the Legislature — firmly controlled by Democrats for the first time in years — would produce concrete plans to increase funding for education. Nevada spends less per pupil on education than the majority of states in the county.

In particular, school district officials and the union have been pushing for changes to the state's funding formula, which was established in 1967 and which critics say is outdated. They say the state should move to a weighted formula, whereby schools and districts with more high-needs students, including English-language learners and special education students, would receive more money.

Democratic state Sens. Mo Denis and Joyce Woodhouse released a bill today overhauling the district's funding formula. If the new bill passes, it remains to be seen if it will cover 3 percent pay raises and a 2 percent roll-up salary increase for teachers, as previously promised by the Governor Steve Sisolak. In an interview with the Sun last month, Superintendent Jesus Jara said the district would need an additional $100 million from the state to give out those promised raises.

While the district has expressed a desire to compensate teachers at a higher rate, Jara emphasized that resources for students remain a top priority absent additional funding. In the event of a strike next fall, Jara said he would take action through the school board to ensure that students aren’t adversely affected.

“I’m going to tell you that I’m going to protect our kids and make sure our children have a classroom with educators there,” he said in April.

Vellardita believes that the state and the district would have limited legal standing to penalize teachers, given that the district is obligated to provide resources to teachers that enable them to carry out their responsibilities. A strike would be a long time coming in response to years of budget cuts, he said.

“Anyone that’s not taking this seriously is in a different time zone,” Vellardita said. “This is a systemic issue. This is not something that’s happened over the past year.”