Gov. Steve Sisolak on Friday placed the blame for the looming teachers strike at the feet of Clark County School District, saying “I get why teachers are angry.”
Standing alongside Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro and Speaker Jason Frierson in a press conference, the governor attempted to distance his office and the Legislature from the ongoing dispute between what is by far the state’s largest school district and Clark County Education Association, the union representing the district’s more than 18,000 teachers. Sisolak said it was the sole responsibility of CCSD “to manage their obligations” and make the appropriate budget request to the state.
Sisolak says his budget fulfilled the district’s request, which included a 2 percent across-the-board “step increases,” a 3 percent salary increase and 4 percent in additional health care contributions. It appears CCSD did not request from the state enough funding to honor “column advancements,” raises of around $5,400 that educators can earn investing time and money into professional development, despite those raises being contractually obligated.
“They created this mess,” said Sisolak of the district. “They need to fix it.”
The governor’s statements echoed comments he made during this year’s legislative session back in May, two days after members of Clark County Education Association authorized a strike amid concerns the school district would face yet another academic year with frozen salaries and budget cuts.
Sisolak on Friday said it was up to CCSD to fix the problem. When asked, he would not offer suggestions on how exactly the district might do that, but he did emphasize that a solution should not come at the expense of the 3 percent salary increase, the 2 percent “step increases,” the 4 percent in healthcare contributions, money for the district’s other four workers unions, classroom reduction or educators jobs.
“Get in a room, lock the door, and figure it out,” he added.
In a release issued Friday afternoon, the district did not respond directly to Sisolak’s statements, saying that it “is seeking mediation with the CCEA” to resolve disagreements over the contract.
CCSD and CCEA met Friday afternoon for another negotiation session. According to an email update sent to media and employees, the district offered the union “a one-time payment equal to the column movement increase to all employees that qualify under the Professional Growth System. If the District can find the funds and the parties commit to replace the Professional Growth System.”
CCEA Executive Director John Vellardita called the offer “an insult” and a “grasp at a fruitless solution” that was “dead on arrival.”
The professional growth system offers different routes but most require financial investment, sometimes thousands of dollars paid to universities for advanced degrees. Vellardita stressed that the return on investment for educators is supposed to be a $5,400 bump built into their salary for the lifetime of their career, not a one-time bonus.
He added that parents should be concerned about the district’s proposal that they replace the progressional growth system, which he says emphasizes continuing education that improves classrooms.
Vellardita said the CCEA and CCSD are “still very far apart” when it comes to an agreement but that the union is willing and available to resume negotiations immediately.
The teachers union had previously set Friday as a deadline for either reaching a contract or “making significant progress” toward one, or else it would ramp up mobilization efforts for a Sept. 10 strike.
Vellardita said that in light of the governor’s remarks, the union would not be ramping up mobilization efforts and would continue working with the district, but that a Sept. 10 strike is still on the table. He declined to set another deadline or turning point for when formal mobilization might occur, saying the situation is “fluid.”
The union boss also suggested that teacher support for a strike has risen since the May authorization. He pointed to Thursday’s tense Board of Trustees meeting, which the elected officials cut short after a vocal crowd of educators protested the end of public comment.
Vellardita said he believes support for a strike extends beyond teachers, despite public comments and statements from the support staff union and administrators union that have been critical of a strike.
“I think they don’t reflect their rank and file members,” said Vellardita, adding that a number of principals have expressed their support. “Organizational leadership may have taken a different stance than them.”
Many of the headline-grabbing education strikes across the nation have involved not just teachers but also support staff or administration. Likewise, many have been statewide efforts making demands of their state legislatures.
CCEA represents only teachers and licensed personnel within CCSD, and is not affiliated with a statewide or national teachers union. Like the governor, the union places the blame for the dispute solely at the district’s feet and says the Legislature did their part.
Not everyone in the education community agrees with that.
On Thursday, Educate Nevada Now now quietly publicized their analysis of a survey of 13 school districts, which found “almost half were not able to provide the governor’s recommended raises for their educators, while some districts provided the raise even if they did not receive an increase in state funding.”
According to their release, Carson City provided a 2 percent raise, Esmerelda provided a 2.5 percent raise and Storey provided a 2 percent raise plus a 1 percent adjustment to the public retirement system.
“This may seem confusing after what legislators called a historic increase in education funding,” read the statement announcing their analysis. “Next year districts won’t even be able to keep up with inflation costs, making increased resources, continued pay raises and other supports very unlikely.”
Their analysis concluded: “Ultimately, lawmakers have found that Nevada is more than $1 billion short of adequately funding our schools and there is nothing our individual school districts can do to make up for this shortfall to get our students and educators the resources they need.”
The organization is urging the start of a broader conversation that focuses on long-term solutions to adequately fund public education throughout the state.
In his press conference Friday, Sisolak briefly addressed that larger issue of adequate and additional funding, saying that the state needs to address funding but that it first “must fix the broken budget system” and increase transparency and accountability within school districts.