Wednesday, March 28, 2012 | 4:29 p.m.
The Clark County School District’s budget woes were slightly eased by an arbitration ruling Wednesday that allows the district to lower teacher salaries by 1.125 percent to pay for increased pension plan contributions.
Arbitrator Claude Dawson Ames’ decision — part of a larger arbitration hearing between the School District and its teachers union over teacher contracts — will save the district $10 million, district spokeswoman Amanda Fulkerson said.
The district is facing a $39 million budget deficit in each of the next two years.
With the average teacher earning $73,974 — including benefits — the savings from the arbitration decision equates to about 135 teacher positions. If the remaining $29 million budget deficit isn’t resolved, however, hundreds of teacher positions could be cut starting next school year.
“...We are still far from having a balanced budget,” Clark County Schools Superintendent Dwight Jones said in a statement. “I remain optimistic that we can continue productive conversation with CCEA on maintaining current salaries and keeping teachers in the classroom.”
In the fiscal year that began July 1, public employees faced a 2.25 percent increase in their annual contribution to the state’s retirement plan.
State law mandates that the increase to the Public Employees Retirement System be shared equally between employers and employees — in this case, 1.125 percent each.
Because employee salaries are subject to collective bargaining, the School District asked its unions — administrators, teachers, support staff and police — to pay for half the increase through a voluntary salary reduction.
While the other bargaining units agreed, the Clark County Education Association refused to go along. The School District filed suit in April 2011, stating its intent to abide by state law if the district and its teachers union couldn’t come to an agreement.
The School District unilaterally began lowering teacher salaries in July 2011 to help pay for the pension cost increase. The teachers union declared impasse in contract negotiations the following month and filed an unfair labor practice grievance against the School District.
According to a statement by the union, the Employee Management Relations Board has yet to rule on the union’s unfair labor practices suit. A union-favored ruling by the board could bring the PERS issue back to the bargaining table, union spokeswoman Letty Elias said.
The School District is still seeking $29 million in concessions from the teachers union to balance its budget.
The proposed concessions include freezing salary step and education increases and establishing furlough days. Changing the nonprofit Teachers Health Trust to a for-profit health insurance company is off the table.
A second arbitration decision over the district’s contract with its teachers union is expected late next month or in early May. The district’s other unions have settled their contracts.