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CCSD teachers contract approved, paving way for pay raises

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Updated: 9/26/2013 10:57 pm
LAS VEGAS (Las Vegas Sun) -- About 18,000 teachers are getting pay raises after the Clark County School Board unanimously approved a new contract between the School District and the local teachers union.

The new contract will cost the district about $27.4 million.

Thursday night’s contract approval represents the first time the nation's fifth-largest school system has finalized a contract with its teachers at the start of the school year since 2010-11.

During the past two years, contract negotiations between the School District and the Clark County Education Association fell apart, leading to a prolonged, bitter and costly arbitration battle, which pitted Nevada's largest school system against the state's largest public employee union.

With a new superintendent at the helm, the School District resolved contract negotiations quickly with its teachers, support staff and school administrators. The district is still negotiating a contract with its police officers.

“This marks a positive change in the relationship between CCSD and CCEA,” Richard Tellier, a Burk High School teacher and union member, said. “This is a good contract for both teachers and the district. It’s a fair contract.”

“This is the beginning of better times to come,” School Board member Linda Young said. “It’s time.”

Here are some of the major financial changes to the teachers contract, which covers the 2013-14 school year:
  • Teachers’ salary schedule will increase by 1 percent for this school year, costing the district $11 million.
  • Eligible teachers will receive step and column increases that had been frozen for the past two years. This will cost the district about $27.5 million.
  • Eligible teachers will receive increased longevity payments for this school year, costing the district about $3.4 million.
  • The School District will cover teachers’ share of a mandatory, 1 percent increase in contributions to the state pension fund.
  • The School District will pay less into teachers’ Retiree Health Trust: $100,000. This will save the district $1.3 million.
  • The School District’s per-teacher contribution to the Retiree Health Trust will also decrease from $12.76 per teacher, per month to $1 per teacher, per month. This will save the district another $2.5 million.
  • Teachers’ required contribution to the Retiree Health Trust will also decrease from $15 per paycheck to $1 per paycheck. This will save each teacher $336 this school year.
The contract also provides for additional professional considerations, such as allowing more days that teachers can take sick and personal leave.

In addition, the new contract allows teachers one paid day for classroom set-up over the summer and will create working groups that will meet with Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky four times a year to address grievances and other policies affecting teachers.

Teachers speaking before the School Board on Thursday supported the contract. They expressed hope for a new “culture of collaboration” between the district and the union, which they said would help raise student achievement.

“Educators are the key to great public schools,” CCEA President Vikki Courtney said. “By agreeing to this contract, it gives teachers the ability to focus on students.”

Teachers said the salary increases are a welcome change after working without a cost-of-living increase since 2008 and a frozen salary schedule over the past two years. The pay raises under the new contract will help offset some of the costs incurred by many teachers to supply equipment for their classrooms, teachers said.

School Board members also supported the contract. After two years of rancorous debates over contracts, board members said they hope the new contract will help repair their relationship with the union.

“We haven’t seen you smile in a long time and it feels so good,” School Board member Patrice Tew said. “We are on the same side serving children. It’s good to see teeth in your smiles and that you are content.”

Although the School District and the teachers union have agreed on salaries, they are still negotiating changes to teachers’ health insurance.

Currently, about 34,000 teachers, their dependents and retirees are insured through the Teachers Health Trust, a nonprofit welfare benefit trust founded in 1983 under an agreement between the district and the teachers union.

For the past several years, the School District has been trying to consolidate its employees health insurance plans. The support staff, administrators and teachers unions all have separate insurance plans.

By bringing all employees under the same health plan, proponents argue the School District would have the bargaining power to bring health insurance costs down for some 60,000 employees, dependents and retirees.

That, however, will dissolve the Teachers Health Trust, which is facing mounting financial problems.

The new teachers’ contract stipulates that the School District or the teachers union may call for a third-party arbitrator to decide the health insurance matter starting mid-October.

The School Board on Thursday night also unanimously approved a new two-year contract with its school administrator union that will cost the district about $4.36 million.

Here are some of the major financial changes with the administrator’s contract:
  • The School District will increase the administrative salary schedule by 3 percent.
  • The School District also will restore a 0.375 percent increase in administrators’ salary schedule that had been frozen.
  • In addition, the School District will cover administrators’ share of a mandatory 1 percent increase in contribution to the state pension fund.
  • The new contract also maintains six days of personal leave for administrators, gives a stipend for qualified National Board Certified principals and makes it easier for administrators to move up the salary schedule between the top two tiers.
The School Board’s approval of the teachers and administrators’ contracts comes a little more than a month after the School Board unanimously approved a raise for support staff employees that will cost the district $2.5 million over the next biennium.

Skorkowsky also approved raises for some of his cabinet members, although his administrative reorganization is expected to save the district $145,000.

In total, the School District will spend $34.3 million on pay raises for its teachers, support staff and school administrators this school year. And that's excluding potential pay raises for its police officers, which is still being negotiated.

Paul Moradkhan, the director of government affairs for the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce, said that while he applauded the School District for finding some savings in retired teachers’ health insurance, he was concerned about the flurry of pay raises the district has approved in the middle of Las Vegas’ economic recovery.

Moradkhan took issue with longevity pay, which rewards longtime teachers with bonuses. He said he favored performance bonuses instead.

“We’re asking you to be cognizant of your spending,” Moradkhan said, addressing the School Board. “You have a lot of facilities needs.”

School Board President Carolyn Edwards defended the pay raises, arguing the cost of going to arbitration with the teachers union likely outweighs the cost of the new contract.

Edwards acknowledged that teachers did not make as many sacrifices as other employee groups, which voluntarily made concessions during the recession. However, she said Clark County teachers deserve the raises because they are not paid as much as some of their counterparts in other states.

"The reality is, we don't pay our teachers enough," Edwards said. "Teachers in some other states make a lot more. I believe this is the right thing to do at this time."

-- Paul Takahashi / Las Vegas Sun
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