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District dozen hit jackpot with overtime pay

Caps on excesses to go before board

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Sam Morris

School Police officers monitor a girls basketball game Tuesday at Chaparral High. Athletic events are the biggest source of overtime for officers.

Updated Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2009 | 3:03 p.m.

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Clark County School District roofing supervisor Danny Hurd earned $61,426.14 last year in overtime, but the district says the reality is it's cheaper to pay Hurd and other workers overtime than to bring in more employees, and have to pay benefits on top of salaries.

While 2008 brought reduced work schedules and less pay for many Southern Nevadans, a handful of Clark County School District employees raked in a hefty amount of overtime.

The district’s top overtime earner was School Police Officer Christopher Law, who was paid $84,533 in overtime from January to November, on top of his base salary of $55,791.

Danny Hurd, a roofing supervisor, was the top earner among the district’s facilities support staff, earning in $61,426 in overtime, in addition to his $71,665 salary.

According to the district, five police officers and seven support employees worked at least 1,000 hours of overtime last year. The cost to the district in overtime for the 12 top earners was more than $600,000.

Faced with massive budget cuts, the School District wants to put tighter restrictions on overtime pay — how much can be earned and how the extra hours are assigned.

In a Dec. 23 memo to staff, Martha Tittle, chief human resources officer for the district, said “in view of present and pending budget cuts,” overtime should be assigned only when “the work to be performed is imperative and of some urgency.”

In an interview Tuesday, Tittle added, “Nobody is saying the majority of overtime is inappropriate. However, there may be some areas where there is clearly excessive use.”

The district couldn’t immediately provide a total of the overtime paid. As part of their review, officials plan to begin generating quarterly reports on the additional pay to track the expense.

The School Board will take up the issue when it meets Jan. 22. One proposal is a ban on more than 24 hours per week of overtime, or more than 10 consecutive days. Another is that the lowest-paid qualified employee be the first asked to work overtime.

“We need to make sure the opportunity isn’t going unfairly to people at the top of the pay scale,” said Tittle, who earns $139,923 annually.

Only campus police and support employees – who include maintenance and facilities workers – can earn overtime. District policy currently requires employees to obtain advance approval for overtime from a principal or department head.

Carole Vilardo, president of the Nevada Taxpayers Association, said public entities should review overtime costs.

“A one-time bump in overtime could be an anomaly,” Vilardo said. “If you’re consistently seeing a pattern, then in all probability you’re not staffing to what your needs really are. In some cases, there might be an abuse of the discretionary determination that overtime is warranted.”

Number crunchers face a trade-off as they look at overtime costs. While the school system pays time-and-a-half for the extra hours, to hire additional workers would bring the added costs of health, retirement and other benefits.

“In departments where overtime regularly exceeds the regular 40-hour week,” Tittle wrote in the memo, “department heads must re-evaluate the cost-benefit of overtime versus hiring a permanent employee.”

Chris Collins, executive director for the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, said the public should not rush to judgment on School Police overtime.

“The only reason there’s so much overtime is they’re badly understaffed,” said Collins, whose organization represents Metro officers.

The district is probably saving “a lot of money” by paying time-and-a-half instead of shelling out the salary and benefits a new hire would require, he said.

Metro has a long-standing rule on overtime, Collins said: “If you have a second job, you can only work 24 hours per week at it. When you show up for your public safety job, they need you to be at 100 percent of your capabilities.”

Law, the School Police officer, worked more 1,711 hours of overtime in 2008, or the equivalent of more than 35 extra hours per week.

In 2007, Law earned $180,262 — $112,852 of which was in overtime. Cooke's gross earnings in the same year were $160,640, with $106,314 in overtime. Also on the top-earner list for 2007 was William Wiseman, an intrusion alarm supervisor for the district's security systems division. He earned $149,963, with $20,436 in overtime.

Teacher salaries in the School District top out at $70,060, which requires 14 years experience and advanced certification in addition to a master's degree. Principals, who must have a master's degree, can earn as much as $114,480, depending on the size of the school and the programs offered.

Two of Law’s colleagues, Ching Johnson and Anthony Cooke, earned more in overtime than their regular pay. Johnson’s total pay, including $61,194 in overtime, was $132,798 and Cooke’s, with $72,579 in overtime, was $127,597.

School Police Chief Phil Arroyo’s salary is $114,480.

School Police’s pay scale is lower than that of other local law enforcement agencies, which officials say has made it difficult to recruit, hire and keep qualified officers.

School Police are limited to working 16 hours within any 24-hour period, said School Police spokesman Lt. Ken Young. The department will comply with the new district requirement limiting overtime to 24 hours per week, he said.

School Police get overtime for three reasons: covering open shifts created by staffing shortages, vacations or sick leave; covering athletic events; and covering co-curricular events, which include school plays and dances.

Currently, the department is about 10 people short of its full roster of 175 officers, said School Police spokesman Lt. Ken Young. That figure includes 13 new hires still in training.

In a given week, as many as 500 requests for officers to work overtime are posted, said Sgt. Phil Gervasi.

“That’s how short-staffed we are,” said Gervasi, past president of the Clark County School Police Officers Association. “Every bit of overtime is the district saying, ‘We need you.’ ”

Athletic events are the biggest source of overtime, Gervasi said, followed by graveyard or swing shifts and coverage at alternative schools.

People don’t realize that it’s School Police that must respond if a campus alarm goes off, Gervasi said. “Technically we’d need 200 people to man the buildings we have,” he said.

The district has cut $130 million from its operating budget, with another $120 million in cuts projected for the next biennium, which begins in July. Included in the cuts are a 15 percent, or $1.7 million, reduction to athletic and extracurricular activities, resulting in pared-down sports schedules and fewer requests for School Police, said Ray Mathis, the district’s executive director of instructional support and student activities.

A typical high school football game requires six officers, Mathis said. If School Police cut back on overtime, campuses probably won’t be able to afford to hire outside security, he said.

That will “put an additional task on school administrators to be more visible at the ball games,” Mathis said.

Paul Gerner, associate superintendent of facilities for the district, said his top overtime earner — roofing supervisor Hurd, who worked 1,095 hours of overtime last year — “and pretty much everybody else has been taken out of the overtime business” because of the budget cuts.

“Overtime is being very grudgingly allowed in only the most dire situations,” Gerner said.

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