Las Vegas Sun

June 27, 2019

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Clark County teachers affirm strike commitment if funding falls short

Clark County Teachers Send Message to Legislators

Steve Marcus

Schorr Elementary School kindergarten teacher Kristan Nigro speaks during a news conference organized by the Clark County Education Association in front of Durango High School Friday, May 31, 2019. Members of the teachers union threatened a strike if the legislature fails to fully fund education.

Clark County Teachers Send Message to Legislators

Vikki Courtney, president of the Clark County Education Association, speaks during a news conference in front of Durango High School Friday, May 31, 2019. Members of the teachers union threatened a strike if the legislature fails to fully fund education. Launch slideshow »

On the same day that the Nevada legislature is expected to disclose updated 2019-2020 per pupil funding estimates for the Clark County School District, area teachers announced that they are holding firm on their pledge to strike absent more resources and funding.

Approximately 100 educators, students and supporters rallied outside Durango High School today in the latest push from the Clark County Education Association to get more money into the largest public-school district in Nevada and the fifth-largest in the country.

The association is demanding that state lawmakers allocate more funding to Clark County schools to increase resources, reduce class sizes and raise teacher salaries, as promised by Gov. Steve Sisolak. With the legislative session expected to end Monday, union officials worry that the district will need to cut some resources unless state lawmakers approve a plan to allocate more money to the district.

Nevada already has the largest class sizes in the country, and CCSD spends less money per pupil than most other comparably sized districts nationwide.

At the rally, CCEA executive director John Vellardita affirmed union officials’ and teachers’ commitment to a strike first announced weeks ago, when more than 5,000 teachers in the CCEA, or approximately 78% of union members, voted in favor of striking if state lawmakers fail to meet their demands. Under Nevada law, public sector employees such as teachers are forbidden to strike.

Educators are aware of the risks associated with striking, Vellardita said, and they refuse to tolerate the education budget cuts and freezes that have become the norm in Nevada over the last decade.

“Educators are not going to start next school year with one single cut in these classrooms,” he said.

Teachers Kristan Nigro and James Frazee spoke at the rally about rampant turnover among CCSD educators as a result of pay freezes, high class sizes and burnout. Frazee, who teaches at Centennial High School, shared that he works three different jobs in order to make ends meet.

“The myth is that we’re just money hungry,” Frazee said.

Teachers and union officials also emphasized that more funding would allow teachers to better serve students. According to a recent poll conducted by the union, 76% of the community would support a strike with the goal of bringing more resources into classrooms, reducing class sizes and ensuring that educators can live comfortably in the community. Four-hundred Clark County residents “representative of the community at large” participated in the poll, said CCEA spokesperson Keenan Korth.

As of this afternoon, school district officials are waiting to receive an updated estimate from state lawmakers regarding how much money per pupil the district can expect to receive next school year. CCSD Chief of Communications Kirsten Searer hopes that lawmakers will be able increase the district’s funding for teacher raises and classroom resources.

“We’re feeling optimistic at this point, but we’re waiting to see those numbers,” Searer said.

She added that she is grateful for lawmakers’ efforts so far to increase education funding.

Vellardita said the union isn’t pointing fingers at the school district. Nonetheless, the union won’t call off the strike until state lawmakers approve a plan for more funding and the school district votes on a budget that includes teacher raises and “appropriate resources for the classroom.”

“Show us the money. We’re not moving until we see the money,” he said.