Negotiations between Clark County School District and the union representing its 18,000 teachers are set to resume Friday afternoon. And if Thursday night’s Board of Trustees meeting offers any indication, tensions will likely be running high.
Clark County Education Association has set Friday as the deadline for reaching — or “making significant progress toward” — a renegotiated contract that includes both across-the-board salary increases and salary increases for approximately 2,500 educators who have invested in professional development. The latter, referred to by teachers as “column advancement,” is the biggest point of contention in the currently stalled negotiations. If the contract conditions aren’t met, the teachers union has promised to strike on Sept. 10.
On Thursday, educators doubled down on that promise by turning out en masse to a Board of Trustees meeting and pre-meeting rally outside Liberty High School. The meeting got off to a combative start when board President Lola Brooks told the boisterous chanting crowd that their “anger was displaced.”
The tension reached a boiling point roughly an hour later when the school board meeting abruptly came to a halt, prompted by the frustrated crowd of educators vocally protesting the limiting of public comment to 30 minutes.
As the trustees and Superintendent Jesus Jara walked off stage, they were trailed by a chorus of boos and chants of “strike!”
School Board and Superintendent just walked out of meeting after crowd booed about 30-minute public comment being shut down. pic.twitter.com/hPhu4yWJBA
— April Corbin (@aprilcore) August 23, 2019
CCEA Executive Director John Vellardita later called the trustee’s behavior “shameful” and pushed back on the suggestion the elected officials were faultless in the dispute between the union and district. Trustees allowed the district to not properly budget and plan for the honoring of column advancements, he said.
Once the school board meeting was officially recessed to a later date, a crowd congregated in the courtyard outside the auditorium and kept the rally going, chanting: “September 10th” and “Since they walked out, we walk out!”
CCEA President Vikki Courtney addressed the crowd, instructing everyone to take home the strike signs the union had distributed during the rally.
“‘You’re going to need them,” she added.
Courtney urged educators to speak to others at their individual schools about mobilizing for a strike. Union leadership told the Current they distributed 1,200 signs during the rally and that 300 of the district’s schools were represented among the crowd.
Vellardita also addressed the crowd, but kept his comments to three words: “We will win.”
"Since they walked out, we walk out." pic.twitter.com/pqpUJ104i8
— April Corbin (@aprilcore) August 23, 2019
Since the union announced the Sept. 12 potential strike date, media outlets and district employees alike have questioned how many teachers might actually participate. The fifth largest school district in the country, CCSD employs upwards of 18,000 licensed teachers and personnel. The strike authorization vote back in May was limited to the 11,000 dues-paying union members. Around 5,000 voted, with 78 percent of them voting yes to authorization.
But Vellardita says non-members can and will strike.
The union believes it will have the numbers to make a significant impact.
“All you need is a critical mass,” he added. “If 20 percent of bus drivers went on strike, you cripple a city’s whole transportation system.”
CCSD has announced it intends to keep schools open during a teachers strike.
“We’ll see if they can,” said Vellardita. “We want to keep schools open, too. A contract keeps schools open.”
Vellardita said the union is sensitive to the fact that many students rely on their public school for their breakfast and lunch. He said they plan to help make accommodations for those students. In other states where strikes have occurred, teachers have volunteered packing lunches and distributing food from community pantries to try and ensure their students are fed.
CCSD has issued a call for additional substitute teachers and held a meeting with school administrators to find “creative ways to keep students engaged.” Vellardita says the call for substitutes is unlikely to help the district because the process for being approved as a substitute typically takes at least 60 to 90 days. Substitute teachers are licensed by the state.
When Los Angeles Unified School District stayed open during its teacher strike earlier this year, student attendance plummeted and its administrators union received hundreds of emails from principals worried about school conditions and safety.
Parents in Clark County have already expressed concern in social media groups and news reports about skeletal staffs or unqualified substitutes who might be fast-tracked by a district desperate for warm bodies.
Last year, CCSD told Channel 8 it has a pool of 5,000 substitutes and that on an average day has 1,800 vacant spots needing to be filled. Day-to-day substitute teachers earn $12.50 an hour, or $90 per day.
This school year began with 750 vacancies, a higher number than in the past four years.
Who’s chimed in
The Education Support Employees Association (ESEA) issued a press release earlier this week saying it “does not support or encourage any its members to engage in an illegal strike.” On Thursday, a representative from the union told Channel 3 their negotiators were prepared to sign a contract identical to what CCEA was originally offered by CCSD.
The head of the Clark County Association of School Administrators and Professional-Technical Employees, typically referred to as the administrators union, told The Nevada Independent earlier this week that it does not condone a strike “in any way, shape or form.”
Meanwhile, Gov. Steve Sisolak and legislative leaders held a meeting with Jara and Vellardita on Wednesday “to urge them to find solutions to their current disagreement in order to avoid potentially devastating impacts to our students, educators, and families.” Beyond a brief press release announcing that the meeting had occurred, not many specifics of the meeting are known are known. Jara did indicate in a Review-Journal interview that there was no talk of a special session.
To the Current on Thursday, Vellardita would only say the meeting was “interesting.”