Tuesday, July 3, 2012 | 2 a.m.
A local libertarian think tank’s recent email blast to 12,000 teachers encouraging them to drop their union membership has further inflamed tense relations between the Clark County School District and the local teachers union.
It all started when the Nevada Policy Research Institute launched a campaign last month to inform teachers of their right to opt out of the union between July 1 and 15.
The conservative group listed on its website five reasons why teachers should drop the union, and representatives came to a recent School Board meeting to speak and distribute dozens of pre-written opt-out letters and stamped envelopes.
Union officials representing the Clark County Education Association slammed NPRI’s campaign and accused School District officials of condoning the initiative. District officials denied encouraging teachers to terminate their union memberships.
On Friday, NPRI sent an email bulletin to 12,000 teachers through the district’s email system, Interact. The unsolicited email blast drew the ire of several teachers, who accused the district of providing their work email addresses to NPRI.
“It’s another in a long line of attempts by the district to intimidate union members to drop their membership,” said Daniel Barber, a social studies teacher at Durango High School who received NPRI’s email on Friday. “This is an example of divide and conquer.”
However, the School District did not disseminate a list of teacher emails, said spokeswoman Amanda Fulkerson. District officials do not know how NPRI was able to gain access to teachers’ work email addresses, she added.
There are more than 40,000 employee email addresses in the district’s Interact communication system. Although the district’s four unions representing administrators, police, support staff and teachers are able to use the email system to contact their constituents, outside groups — such as vendors and non-union political groups — are not privy to this email database, Fulkerson said.
Groups such as NPRI and some education vendors have requested this email database citing public record laws, but the School District has been reluctant in previous years to release this information, Fulkerson said. The district has never provided a list of emails to outside groups, she maintained.
“It’s our position that we will not provide a roster of emails as a public record,” she said, adding that “emailgate” was still under investigation.
However, many teachers post their work email addresses on school websites and directories, Fulkerson said. District officials are surmising that NPRI scanned school websites and data-mined teachers’ email addresses using a computer program, she said.
NPRI Communications Director Victor Joecks did not say how his group accessed the district’s database of teacher email addresses.
“We have our sources,” Joecks said, seemingly coy. “CCSD did not give it to me.”
Because public schoolteachers are state employees, their work email addresses are of public record and should be made public for groups like NPRI to send bulletins to, Joecks said.
Regardless, Joecks was adamant NPRI’s intent with its email blast was solely to inform teachers of the two-week window of time they are contractually able to withdraw from the union. Any teacher who wishes to unsubscribe from NPRI’s email listserv may do so by clicking on the “unsubscribe” link on the bottom of the email, he added.
“It’s very important for teachers to know about their rights when it comes to their CCEA membership,” Joecks said. “We’re not interested in spamming people. We’re not in the business of harvesting emails online.”
Still, union officials saw NPRI’s email blast as a direct attack on the union, which draws the majority of its funding from union dues. Union membership has been on the decline since the recession.
CCEA Executive Director John Vellardita also pointed fingers at the School District, which he says has stoked the fires of discord between them by circulating NPRI literature among administrators. NPRI’s email blast was the first to directly target teachers, he said.
The union is now conducting its own investigation to see how NPRI was able to get teacher emails, Vellardita said. Pending the results of this investigation, the union may file an unfair labor practice lawsuit against the School District, he said.
“This administration is essentially anti-union and anti-teacher,” Vellardita said. “Contrary to what the superintendent and the School Board says, actions speak louder than words.”