Las Vegas Sun

March 3, 2015

Currently: 61° — Complete forecast | Log in | Create an account


School Board approves support staff contract as teachers worry about layoffs

Two dozen teachers address board in angry, tearful outbursts


Paul Takahashi

Emily Bolshazy, a Greenspun Middle School seventh grader who counts four family members as Clark County School District teachers, speaks at the School Board meeting on Thursday, Dec. 8, 2011. About 200 teachers union members wearing red attended the meeting; about two dozen of them spoke out against potential teacher layoffs.

The Clark County School District approved a contract with its support staff union on Thursday that would avoid outsourcing union positions for three years and save the district $34.7 million.

Meanwhile, about 200 teachers rallied at the meeting in group solidarity to air their concerns over the School Board's proposed concessions and working conditions for them.

The finalized agreement with the support staff comes after four months of negotiations between the School District and the Education Support Employees Association, which represents more than 11,000 custodians, bus drivers and office, maintenance and kitchen workers.

“We started out pretty rough and it didn’t seem like we were going anywhere, but slowly we advanced,” said Brian Christensen, the union’s executive director. “The $34 million provided to the district, that’s no small amount of money. We hope that’s appreciated and never forgotten.”

The union — which numbers about 6,000 members — ratified the contract on Saturday by a vote of 183 to 56 members, or a 76 percent approval rating by those present at the meeting.

Thursday's School Board vote was 5-0, with board members John Cole absent and Deanna Wright abstaining because her husband is a union member. The contract takes effect immediately, and will run through the 2013-2014 school year.

“I commend the Education Support Employees Association for being a partner while we all manage the constraints of a downturned economy,” Clark County Superintendent Dwight Jones said in a prepared statement.

Under the contract, support staff employees will continue to pay half of their pension rate increase in exchange for a no outsourcing guarantee from the district.

The union was worried about the district replacing in-house employees with private workers since the Gibson Consulting Group recommended in September to outsource custodial and transportation services as a “measure of last resort” to balance the School District budget.

The Austin-based consultants estimated that outsourcing 1,500 custodians would save the district $10.4 million each year, and outsourcing 1,500 bus drivers would save about $11 million per year.

Dozens of union members lobbied the School Board for months, urging the district to keep in-house employees. Concerns were raised over the quality of work and safety to children posed by hiring outside companies to drive school buses and clean classrooms.

“Our support staff employees can celebrate the holidays knowing that when they come back, their jobs will be there,” union President John Carr said. “I’m satisfied. We prevailed.”

The contract also allows the union to pay for a portion of the pension rate increase as well as employee step increases for the next two years by pulling $30.2 million in leftover funds from the union’s defunct health trust. The district moved its support staff employees over to a private health insurer in 2001; the district is advocating the same for its teachers union.

The money will fund union raises up to June 2013, after which salaries would revert to June 2011 salary levels unless additional money is found, according to School District spokeswoman Amanda Fulkerson.

Carr said he was confident that by that time, the economy will have improved and that more state funding would be allocated to the School District.

“It will get us through this economic crisis,” he said.

Although the School District has finalized contracts with its administrators and support staff, it is still seeking a contract with its teachers union, which declared an impasse in August after four negotiations. Since then, the district and the Clark County Education Association met four more times and are currently going through the arbitration process, whereby a third-party judge will decide the outcome.

The cash-strapped district is seeking $39 million in union concessions this year and an additional $39 million next year to close its budget gap. Proposed concessions include freezing salary and step increases, lowering salaries to pay for pension cost increases and moving teachers away from the Teachers Health Trust to a private health insurer.

“We want to come to an agreement that keeps teachers in the classroom as well as lets us live within our means,” Fulkerson said.

Last week, Superintendent Jones warned school principals to prepare to shed nearly 1,000 teaching and other licensed positions should the teachers union win the arbitration. Schools could lose up to seven teachers, depending on how many students they have, according to a memo from the district’s human resources department.

“If the teachers union prevails (in arbitration) and we’re forced to give raises, we have to find savings somewhere and those saving, unfortunately, are going to equate to jobs because that’s where we spend the most money,” Fulkerson said. “The bottom line is, if we win, salaries stay the same and everyone gets to keep their job. If the teachers (union) wins, some teachers get raises, while hundreds of others get pink slips.”

CCEA President Ruben Murillo doesn’t see it that way. He said the School District should look at other ways to plug the budget gap, notably an estimated 20 percent increase in sales tax revenue — which accounts for 30 percent of the district’s budget — and an additional $111 in per pupil funding allocation from the state next year.

“I think (the School District) has more than enough to get by,” he said, adding union members were “taken aback” by the superintendent’s warning about potential layoffs last week. “Being told they were going to lose their job, teachers were upset by that. A lot of them were angry.”

About 200 teachers wearing red CCEA T-shirts packed the School Board meeting Thursday to air their concerns over the proposed concessions and working conditions. About 25 teachers spoke collectively during an hour-long public comment session about being “overworked, underpaid and underappreciated” and urging the district to “invest in teachers.”

Clark County Education Association President Ruben Murillo speaks at the School Board meeting on Thursday, Dec. 9, 2011. About 200 teachers union members wearing red attended the meeting; about two dozen of them spoke out against potential teacher layoffs.

Clark County Education Association President Ruben Murillo speaks at the School Board meeting on Thursday, Dec. 9, 2011. About 200 teachers union members wearing red attended the meeting; about two dozen of them spoke out against potential teacher layoffs.

“Our members are under a lot of pressure, working their tails off,” Murillo said. “They feel overwhelmed, tired and pushed to the edge.”

One by one, the teachers came up to the podium, some with angry tirades and others tearful outbursts. At times, School Board President Carolyn Edwards had trouble keeping the audience from clapping and speakers from talking beyond their two-minute time limit.

“This is not about teacher greed,” said teacher Stephanie Swain. “We want to do what’s right by students ... (but) I need you to have my back.”

Several teachers lamented paying thousands of dollars to receive master’s degrees to qualify for higher salaries. They are afraid their efforts would be for naught should the district freeze salary increases for education.

Gretchen Byers, a second-grade teacher at Glen Taylor Elementary School, said she shelled out $6,000 for her master’s degree. The single mother of two children said she “scrimped and scraped” for tuition and is in the process of purchasing a house in anticipation of the pay raise.

“I will assuredly lose the home if you take away my raise,” she told School Board members. “I earned this raise and I have a right to keep it.”

Others took issue with pay cuts, “70-hour work weeks” and mounting workloads from additional testing and curriculum changes.

“Why are teachers expected to do more with less?” a teacher asked the board.

After the hour-long public comments, Edwards thanked teachers for their input and work.

“We know you make great sacrifices for our children and we know you are the core of what we do,” she said. “We still value you and recognize the hard work that you do.”

Join the Discussion:

Check this out for a full explanation of our conversion to the LiveFyre commenting system and instructions on how to sign up for an account.

Full comments policy

Previous Discussion: 9 comments so far…

Comments are moderated by Las Vegas Sun editors. Our goal is not to limit the discussion, but rather to elevate it. Comments should be relevant and contain no abusive language. Comments that are off-topic, vulgar, profane or include personal attacks will be removed. Full comments policy. Additionally, we now display comments from trusted commenters by default. Those wishing to become a trusted commenter need to verify their identity or sign in with Facebook Connect to tie their Facebook account to their Las Vegas Sun account. For more on this change, read our story about how it works and why we did it.

Only trusted comments are displayed on this page. Untrusted comments have expired from this story.

  1. The school district makes threats and the money comes out of the mouths of our least paid employees. This town should be ashamed of the way they treat school district workers. Principals who worked in twelve month schools still got paid for twelve month salaries per their contract after they went to a nine month schedule! Administrators gave back peanuts. The 99% in the school district are the support staff. Let's talk about the insurance the district wants the teachers to accept. Administrators in the district complain about how horrible their HMO is. How little it pays. What they get stuck paying.
    We have a Superintendent playing poker with our kids education all for an extra buck. Stop the insanity. Someone please stop this insanity.

  2. When times were good we got nothing. When times are bad we get cut. Enough!

  3. What we have here is an issue with public perception about public education management issues. One thing might become apparent, is that over the years, it is all about what MANAGEMENT(Administration)is doing to play the financial shell game, and not so much about the actual DELIVERY(Teachers) of education.

    Now, take a look at the ever rising MANAGEMENT costs versus the stagnant to minimal costs of DELIVERY. Over the years, we have seen the classroom teacher leaving the classroom favoring the safety and financially lucrative and stable administrative side. The fact is, teachers are continually faced with doing more with less, while the administration enjoys the insulation. One might suggest it has become a situation of "too many Chiefs and not enough Indians" going on in education these days.

    If the public were to go into the lives of our community's teachers, they would find that these teachers carry their students on their sleeves. Some student is always on their mind, trying to provide for the needs of students is forever on their radar. Teachers are forever scrounging around for freebies for their students 24/7/365, finding little treasures to enhance a lesson here and there. Teachers are always "asking" on behalf of their students. Few out there appreciate such dedication. Those who chant blindly that "Teachers are greedy," should go to a school and adopt a teacher for a few days or week, to get a reality check. Because of the economy over this prolonged period, teachers are beginning to suffer and yes, they are beginning to come forward being more demanding to be heard and helped. All they ask for is to be treated FAIRLY.

    Blessings and Peace,

  4. I would like to point out that the teachers have been scorned by John Q Public for years. The teachers of CCSD are being vilified for holding fast and not agreeing to concessions. Without those consessions, up to 1000 licensed positions may be cut, class sizes increased and student schedules at the middle and high school level redone. The public needs to be concerned about how education is funded in this state, and quite frankly, this may be the only way to make the point. No business in Nevada pays a tax on profits generated in Nevada. Why not? Mining and gaming had roughly the same gross revenue a few years ago, 5,700,000,000 and paid greatly different amounts in tax. Gaming paid over 420,000,000 while mining paid 48,000,000. Why aren't they paying the same amount? The Cortez Hill Mine in Northern Nevada, owned by Barrick Mining, produced 336,000 ounces of gold in the 1st quarter at a cost of 225 per ounce. Assuming a profit of 1,000 that is a profit from that mine in the first quarter of 336,000,000. How much of that will go to the state of Nevada? I'll bet less than 10,000,000. We have been told for years that low taxes and a favorable business climate will bring businesses to Nevada. Where are the businesses and why do we have the highest unemployment rate in the country? How do you answer a business when they ask, "How are the schools?" You get what you pay for, and what happens when Nevada can't attract any new teachers to replace those who have left or retired?

  5. The photo above is my daughter, Emily. Here is the text of her speech last night:

    Hello members of the school board. My name is Emily Bolshazy and I am a seventh grader at Greenspun JHS. I have been a CCSD student since Kindergarten and hope to be proud one day to call myself a CCSD graduate. When I say I hope to be proud, I have to tel you that I am worried about how things are going.

    When you cut one teacher's pay and benefits, you affect my family FOUR TIMES. My mom teaches math at Greenspun, my dad teaches English at Basic, my step-dad teaches special education at Greenspun, and my dad's girlfriend teaches Health at Kenny Guinn. My aunt and uncle also teach in CCSD and my Grandma just retired from working in the office at Green Valley. They work evenings, weekends, and vacations. When they are not grading tests and papers, they are tutoring students for free, writing IEP's, and calling parents. They are TEACHERS AND PROFESSIONALS 24 hours a day and it doesn't seem to me like you really understand or respect what they do.

    I invite you to come to Greenspun and watch my PE teacher motivate his class of 50 students in fitness. He has helped me this year to be able to run 2 miles without stopping and I have tripled what I bench press. Watch my English teacher teach effective oral and written communication to over 160 students. Watch my algebra teacher, who stays at least 60 minutes after contract time EVERY DAY, teach functions to a class of over 40 students. These people are my teachers and my role models.

    Why do hard-working teachers continually get a bad rap? How can you continue to expect my parents and teachers to teach classes of over 40 students and make them responsible when students don't learn? I can tell you that some of my classmates REFUSE to learn. Some of them are disruptive, many of them are caught up in drama, and some CHOOSE not to do their work. You can't blame the teachers for this. At each board meeting you hear from student body presidents and honor students. When have you had the students with the most dean referrals speak at a board meeting? When have you had students who are in high school an can't read or don't know their multiplication facts? When have you had parents here to question them about why their child has over 20 missing assignments or over 20 absences? I see you when you come into my HONORS classes, but have NEVER seen you in a class that has everyone mixed together.

    In closing, I have to wonder... if the NBA can settle contracts with overpaid athletes, why can you settle contracts with reasonable, underpaid teachers?

  6. Sadly, everyone commenting here on the issue of lay offs or pay cuts for teachers misses one key point: None of our opinions on CCSD budget priorities matter, legally or politically. The only opinions on CCSD budget line items which matter legally and politically are those of Superintendent Dwight Jones, and if they choose to overrule him the majority of the School Board.

    Once, about 10 years ago, I saw a very wise judge speaking to a group of voters who were suing a city, seeking to overturn what amounted to a "bad business decision". After ruling against the voters' lawsuit, the wise judge said "If you are not an elected official voting on this matter, your only recourse is to organize, work hard and bring out the voters to turn those whose decisions with which you disagree out out office at the next election."

    That's the case here. If teachers don't like the outcome of their contract arbitration and budgeting process, their only recourse is to recall the majority of the School Board, and then to run replacement candidates with common sense who will cut the fat out of the budget and restore both class size limits and teacher salaries.

    That's it. It's your only choice ladies and gentlemen of the teaching profession. Your opinions don't matter and those in charge right now know it.

  7. Why do the teachers think that they should get more than any of the other public servants in NV? While I agree that we need to pay teachers more, we need to value the teaching profession more, NOW is not the time. We cannot afford to have more students in classroom then we already have. We cannot afford to have anymore unemployed workers. We need forge ahead, keep people employed, keep pushing for better funding for education, keep moving in the right direction. WE did not get here over night and digging ones heals in the sand will not help the situation. Reasonable and fair are very different. I hope that my son's teacher chooses reasonable knowing that life (right now) is not fair.

  8. You can pretty much do whatever you want to people in this country. What are people going to do? What are these teachers honestly going to do if they don't get a raise? They'll be replaced in a heart beat.

    That goes for a lot of various jobs and subjects in this country. The people are powerless. Until people say enough is enough and stop working, nothing will change.

    If you want to fix things? Have this entire country strike for 1 month, that will clean up the garbage in this country real fast. But everyone is too scared to do this.. So, enjoy going through the "system" to get things done. Let us know how that goes. In my experience, it's not even worth the hassle and aggravation.

    Good luck teachers.

    "You'll pay more and get less..." - Me.

  9. The Super just hired himself a CHIEF OF STAFF! I thought HE WAS!...

    Yes. Someone please stop this insanity!