When Gov. Steve Sisolak promised educators a 3 percent raise during his state-of-the-state speech, some teachers couldn’t help but wonder: Would that money ever reach their paychecks? Or would the money be diverted elsewhere?
It’s happened before.
Teachers within Clark County School District are supposed to be able to look toward the salary schedule negotiated by their collective bargaining agent, Clark County Education Association. It lays out salary increases based off length of employment (“steps”) and levels of professional development (“columns”). Step increases equate to about a 2 percent raise. Column advancement results in larger raises but requires significantly more work, typically in the form of advanced degrees or professional development courses.
“Since 2010 or 2011, ever since the recession, there’s been $1 billion cut, and we’ve been in constant battle to see any kind of increase,” says Jon Vellardita, executive director of CCEA.
Even after an infusion of money, as occurred in 2015 when then-Gov. Brian Sandoval created a new business tax to support education, the teachers within the state’s largest district went six months without any salary increase while their district and union battled over an agreement.
More recently, Vellardita says, educators last year received a one-month step increase (rather than a year-long one) and this year are under yet another salary freeze.
“How do you plan your life?” asks Vellardita. “These educators have families, and they have to make ends meet. When you cannot guarantee that each year you have additional money, it’s hard to raise a family in Las Vegas.”
Teacher frustrations over salaries have a rippling effect across the district, say education advocates. It drives potential teachers away and leads to high turnover among existing ones as people look for better-paying jobs elsewhere. That, in turn, leads to classrooms headed by less experienced teachers or long-term substitutes making $90 a day. In short, it affects students, especially those enrolled in resource-scarce schools and neighborhoods.
Salaries, wages and benefits make up the lion’s share of any public school district expenses — upwards of 85 percent, according to some analyses.
Four Assembly Democrats have introduced a bill that begins to address the issue, starting with that 3 percent promised by the governor but potentially going even further. Assembly Bill 277 would require school districts to have a dedicated pool of money that could only be used on salaries for licensed teachers and classified employees, which includes support staff. It also requires districts to budget enough money into that account to potentially pay a 3 percent salary increase annually. All this is done in the name of recruitment and retention.
AB 277 would not be equivalent to guaranteeing an annual 3 percent salary increase, according to CCEA, and the bill is not intended to step on the toes of the collective bargaining process. Unused money from the dedicated source would rollover to the next year.
“It’s a vessel for a budget item on teacher compensation,” explains Vellardita. “The governor has called for an increase of 3 percent for educators and classified staff. How do you it? This piece of legislation says the district should create an account that’s separate from the regular budget and will have to allocate money.”
Such a vessel could be used for the governor’s promised 3 percent raise but also for additional funding intended for educators.
Adds Vellardita, “What we’ve had in previous sessions is, they allocated dollars for annual step increases but because it’s put in the DSA (distributive school account), it becomes discretionary when (districts) get it.”
Ever the pragmatist, Vellardita concedes that a bill like AB 277 has a lot of wiggle room to change as it makes its way through the Legislature. It’s not unusual for CCEA to find itself in policy disagreement with CCSD and other education associations such as Nevada State Education Association (NSEA), which it severed ties with last year.
“We’re not taking anything for granted,” says Vellardita. “We know the governor made a commitment, and he lived up to it. Now it’s in the hands of 63 lawmakers, and not all of them made that same commitment.”
When asked if the district will support AB 277, CCSD spokesperson Kirsten Searer stated via email: “Per our legislative platform approved by the Trustees, CCSD does not support unfunded mandates. We will monitor this bill to see if it is fully funded.”
A follow-up question via email regarding the implementation of the 3 percent raise promised by the governor went unanswered.
As part of an arbitration agreement reached last year, CCEA and CCSD agreed to lobby the Legislature together to establish new revenue streams that directly support educator salaries and benefits. The teacher’s union also specified that 70 percent of additional funding secured would go directly to paying for educator salary, health and benefits increases.
Vellardita described those efforts as “separate” from AB 277 and “still underway.”
Meanwhile, the union is planning an education rally on April 27 outside the federal courthouse downtown. According to Vellardita, a related petition has already garnered 25,000 signatures and an estimated 10,000 people are planning to attend. He hopes it will be the largest gathering of its kind in the state, scheduled around the time the Legislature will be making key decisions on budgets.
He adds, “It’s indicative of what’s happening nationally.”