Despite pay raises, Clark County teachers’ union says strike is still on

Following the end of the Nevada legislative session late last night, the Clark County Education Association announced that its proposed teacher strike is still on.

The union’s executive director John Vellardita said the Legislature failed to allocate sufficient funds to the Clark County School District that could cover promised teacher raises without cutting resources in the classroom.

Union members voted last month to strike in August at the start of the 2019-2020 school year if education funding falls short, maintaining they won’t accept budget cuts or pay freezes.

“In the end, the district did not get the funds it requested,” Vellardita said, estimating that CCSD faces an annual funding shortfall of about $17 million.

Vellardita and others from the CCEA, the largest teacher union in Clark County, will meet with district officials Thursday to begin negotiations. Due to funding changes that came out of the legislative session, the district will need to modify the budget it approved in May.

“We don’t expect a resolution in one meeting. I think over the next two-three weeks, we’re going to see how this plays out,” Vellardita said.

Superintendent Jesus Jara has previously said that he would take steps to “protect our kids” in the event of a strike, including legal action against striking teachers and the union. It is illegal in Nevada for public sector employees such as teachers to strike.

Despite the union’s grievances, the district seemed pleased with the outcome of the legislative session, which came to a close last night.

Most significantly, the Legislature approved Senate Bill 543, an overhaul of the state’s 52-year-old funding formula. SB543 will establish a new weighted funding method to increase education funding for high-needs students, such as English Language Learners and gifted and talented students, among other changes.

In a press release, the district praised the bill for increasing the transparency of education funding and allocating additional resources for students who need them most.

“Modernizing Nevada’s funding formula is absolutely critical as we work to accelerate student achievement in Nevada and move toward adequate funding,” Jara said.

The district also thanked state officials for passing Senate Bill 551, which will expand the state payroll tax previously scheduled to expire. That measure will provide $53 million of additional funding for teacher pay raises over the next biennium, as well as fund a 2% seniority pay increase and a 3% cost-of-living increase for CCSD educators.

Although those anticipated pay increases meet the salary demands of the CCEA, Vellardita emphasized that the district could end up cutting classroom resources in order to fund the pay raises, which the union views as unacceptable. CCSD is already one of the lowest-funded major school districts in the nation. 

“Our experience with the district is until we see the final numbers and the final digits, we’re not walking away from what our members authorized,” Vellardita said.