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January 29, 2015

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At start of school year, teacher unions are not happy

Teacher unions across Nevada are refusing to make concessions in contract negotiations and lashing out against politicians who were once their allies. The source of their anger? Budget cuts and changes to education rules.

For the first time in at least a decade, both Clark and Washoe county school districts began the school year without a new contract with their teacher unions.

On Monday, the first day of school, the Nevada State Education Association, the umbrella group for all the county teacher unions, issued a scathing report card in which it gave the 2011 Legislature an F for its education policy, and many leading Democrats a D for their work.

Only a few of the state’s 17 school districts have struck agreements with their teacher unions, according to education and union officials. Among those with new contracts are districts such as Eureka County, which is flush with money from gold mining and can afford to offer pay raises.

None of the counties asking for concessions from teachers — salary freezes, larger contributions to health and retirement benefits — has reached an agreement with its union.

Hundreds of Clark County teachers could face layoffs unless teachers agree to concessions, the district warned. The last offer before arbitration was a salary freeze, foregoing so-called “step increases” — based on years of service and education — and contributing more to their retirement, according to a district statement in August.

The district is not asking teachers to take a 2 1/2 percent pay cut as the Legislature recommended in June, when it passed the state budget, including funding for schools.

But teacher unions are, in part, reacting to what they see as a broader effort to blame them and educators for problems with school systems in Nevada and nationwide.

The tough fiscal times come at a difficult time politically for teachers.

A policy trend, bolstered by President Barack Obama’s administration, is prompting lawmakers nationwide, including Nevada Democrats, to demand more accountability from educators, including evaluating them based on student test scores and making it easier to fire “bad” teachers.

During the debate at the Nevada Legislature, the state teacher union said it was painted as a anti-reform villain.

Still, some see peril in the unions’ hard line, coming as the state struggles with historic rates of unemployment. Teachers risk appearing out of touch with economic realities as they refuse to give on their demand for pay increases.

Losing step pay increases is “draconian to our teachers,” said Ruben Murillo, president of the Clark County Education Association. Some schoolteachers have lost pay with the elimination of year-round schools, and step pay increases were suspended last year.

“We believe the district can pay,” Murillo said. “In the end, we don’t think there will be any layoffs.”

He said rank-and-file members are behind union leadership.

“Teachers can’t afford to give more,” he said, noting that although there have been no teacher layoffs in Clark County, many teachers’ spouses have suffered in the bad economy. “Even first-year teachers have told me even if they have to take a layoff for a year, they’d rather do that and not earn less money when they get back.”

Craig Stevens, government affairs director for the Nevada State Education Association, said the stalled contract negotiations and union’s poor grade for the Legislature were prompted by lawmakers’ failure to adequately fund education.

“The uncertainty can be laid at the feet of the Legislature,” he said. “If they funded education properly, we wouldn’t be in this mess. It’s easy to come up with a deal so they could leave Carson City on time ... The Legislature did not do (its) job.”

He said some Democrats tried to “scapegoat” the union as anti-reform, when they supported many of the changes to the education system, such as changing the tenure period from one year to three years for new teachers.

(Stevens said the state education association does not get involved in local negotiations, but provides local negotiators with information.)

A proposal by legislative Democrats to raise $1.5 billion in additional revenue failed to gain any Republican support. Although Democrats control both the Assembly and Senate, Gov. Brian Sandoval had promised to veto any tax increase and new taxes, requiring a two-thirds supermajority to pass.

In the end, the Nevada Legislature extended taxes passed in 2009 that were scheduled to expire in June.

Dale Erquiaga, senior adviser to Sandoval, said agreements should guarantee no layoffs.

“It should be possible given the level of funding agreed to at the Nevada Legislature,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that the teacher unions still refuse to make concessions.”

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, who authored some of the education bills and received a D on the state union’s report card, said her bills passed after a lot of consultation with teachers.

“I understand that as an organization they ... protect working conditions and pay and benefits, first and foremost,” Smith said. “My job is to look at all of education, and what’s best for the kids. I think our Legislature ended up passing something very balanced, and very meaningful.”

Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, who got a B minus from the union, said he understands why the unions are hesitant to make concessions.

“There’s a lot of anti-union stuff going on nationwide,” he said. “I think they feel like they’re personally attacked. People blame teachers for all the problems with education.”

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  1. My wife has 32 Kindergartner's...

    In a predominately Hispanic (91%) school, with 3 "special needs" kids...(& no classroom aide).
    AND, she's supposed to start "individual testing" of the students...

    Go ahead, rip on these teachers, Teacher Haters & Public Employee Haters...
    Tell em' all how worthless they are, and how you're "sick of their complaining"...

    You think things are bad NOW?
    You think a lot of these good folks aren't burning out?
    Why do you suppose it is that CCSD has problems retaining GOOD teachers?

    There's a limit for EVERYONE...
    a point at which they say, "NO MAS"...

    You think being PUNITIVE towards your teaching professionals that are hanging on by their TEETH is gonna HELP???

    The state of Nevader & CCSD have NO CLUE...
    More wage concessions, PLUS getting rid of the Teachers Health Trust Insurance Plan is your BEST OFFER???

    My God...
    Could you POSSIBLY make it LESS APPEALING, could you possibly foster a worse working scenario for your teachers?

    It's madness, I tell you...

  2. The "education first" law, passed in part due to NSEA's work, requires that education be funded prior to other areas; it does not specify the level of that funding.

    Education is facing a similar moral dilemma all around the country. If people aren't willing to take a 2.5% cut, then someone will wind up with a 100% cut. Other state and local workers have been facing down the barrel of salary and benefits cuts for the past several years. At the moment, whether there SHOULD be money there or not, the money is not there to pay everyone at the same level.

    I suggest the teachers pull together en masse and accept the cuts with solidarity. Otherwise, teachers with more job security will wind up tossing others to the wolves. In the long run, the stability and unity mean more than that 2.5% does today.

  3. The "No child" program spent tremendous amounts of money on testing but not improving the educational environment or teaching aids.

    "No child" required 100% of the graduates to pass the same math requirements. There are those who HATE math and reject it entirely. Math cannot be taught with threats or punishment of teachers. If one student hated school, he could fail the tests just for revenge and the teacher who taught him the math would be punished.

    The premeditated goals of "No child" guarantee that school systems would be penalized financially, leading only to greater failure.

    And what is next:
    "No child", a George W. Bush concept, is an attempt by a Religious Fundamentalist who wants Intelligent Design to be taught as "Science", as he stated in a national speech. There are no tests for Intelligent Design, just "Believes" and you get an "A".

    Brian Sandoval is trying to change the Nevada Constitution to permit taxpayer funding of HIS religion. Defunding and demonizing public education is the first step in the fundamentalist's path. Mark Amodei will become his first Punkawalla.

    "No child left a dime" is how the plan will end.

  4. Actually, the ideas behind No Child Left Behind began in 1989, before George W. Bush was even considering running for president. A series of business roundtable discussions through the 1990's about education gained the support of liberals and conservatives alike. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) was one of the prime movers behind passing the legislation, which Bill Clinton supported in principle. When it finally came up for a vote, Bush was in office and also supported the idea behind the bill: that education would be improved by means of common standards. In each house of Congress, the NCLB bill was sponsored by a democrat and a republican. It was supported widely (384 ayes in the house and 91 ayes in the senate) and became law.

    That said, I agree with SunJon to a great extent. Although the act began with the hope of educating all children, the details wound up as controlling measures by the federal government. The same is true now with federal talk of "accountability" -- a buzz-word that President Obama has mentioned in speeches about education since March 10, 2009. The feds have said that they want to "track" teacher "performance" better. They want to set "higher standards" for teachers. The article (above) mentions the fact that democrats have been calling for increased accountability. To whom will the teachers be more accountable? To the federal government. The issue of increased federal control over local education has never been a partisan one.

    The politicians think they see a problem, and they believe that action on their part is needed in order to fix that problem. Unfortunately, Nevada and many other states are caught in the midst of trying to improve education with less money. One of these issues is a rock; the other is a hard place.

  5. Good question from a reader: starting salary of a teacher. $34,688 in Clark County. Below is a link to the salary schedule, and what is meant by "step increases." Horizontal is generally for education, vertical for years of service.

  6. Easy fix to keep all the teachers. Mandatory involvement from the parents. Each would have to help in the classroom one day a month per child they have enrolled. They can help babysit, pass out papers, help with simple chores and let the teachers TEACH!

  7. Supply and demand, we are overstocked with (teachers, lawyers, unions and who knows what. Lawyers and Unions have created their own jobs by votes and laws. The teachers have a union that eat up part of their wage. If a union doesn't get what they want, they call for a strike and everyone walks, disrupting everyones life that has a child. When that happens you lose a lot sympathy from everyone. Your so called, LIBERAL unions are killing you. Along with everyone that has a union.

  8. we seriously have teachers that would rather be laid off for a year and lose $35+ of income rather than a 2.5% cut? these people do not deserve to be teachers as they cannot do basic math. $875<$35,000. take the cut. thats the problem with union employees, they are mindless to the details of what is happening to them. the union tells them to jump, and they all blindly jump off a cliff. if the union really cared, they would be trying to keep as many members employed as possible rather than sacrificing the new ones to pander to the old ones

  9. Aaronboy (Roy Keith): Nevada public employee unions, including teachers, can't strike. Instead, they have binding arbitration.

  10. The issue here is NOT teachers and their 'grabby' stance toward salaries and benefits.

    The issue is TO MAKE ALL OF US, with CCSD taking the lead, look at the ROOT CAUSES of the problems plaguing education. There is an insidious GROUPTHINK of why education is failing and it's preventing critical thinking. We must break through this superficial and misleading discourse.

    Money is hardly the solution.

  11. Tanker:

    There is really no point in convincing people whose minds are already made up. There is no convincing people whose minds are closed. We have been going back and forth on this topic and we need to get away from it. It has not solved any of education's problems. Please ignore any more reference to the current groupthink.

    We need to focus more on critical thinking to get to the root causes of the problem. Let's get away from funding and work on what we have and what we can do to reverse the damage that has been done.

    What is really causing the problems in education?

    Answers must not be the ones already beaten to death in this forum. We need to think deeper.

  12. "In a predominately Hispanic (91%) school, with 3 "special needs" kids...(& no classroom aide)."

    Lmao. Yet another liberal spinning their words, 91% illegal immigrant's children offspring sucking off our taxpayer funds is what you're really saying. News flash, boot the illegal's out and their offspring, your wife's job just got that much easier, problem solved.

  13. Tim...
    You are an imbecile.

  14. manfromuncle1...