Sunday, Aug. 13, 2023 | 2 a.m.
One of the many conflicts in the bitter ongoing contract negotiations between the Clark County School District and its teachers union centers on the $250 million that state lawmakers this year approved specifically to match raises for teachers and support staff.
The “who” that money is meant for doesn’t seem to be in dispute: teachers along with support staffers, or anyone who isn’t a teacher or administrator, at public schools, charters excluded.
The “when” is proving open to interpretation among the Clark County Education Association, key legislators and CCSD.
CCSD has “allocated not enough money out of their general fund for our bargaining unit, and they’ve up to this point refused to access earmarked money by the Legislature and signed by the governor that is dedicated to salary increases for educators and support staff,” CCEA Executive Director John Vellardita said on an Aug. 3 podcast interview with Las Vegas journalist Steve Sebelius. (Editor’s note: The union stopped talking to the Sun last month.)
It’s true that CCSD leaders have been cautious in tapping so-called Senate Bill 231 funds. District officials have consistently argued that the bill authorizing the money limits the funding to the next two years, pointing to language that sunsets the funding stream in June 2025.
“I can’t negotiate in good faith for our employees, for our students, with money that we don’t have promised to come back,” Clark County Schools Superintendent Jesus Jara said Thursday night at a school board meeting where hundreds of teachers demonstrated outside.
Among other demands for its next contract, CCEA wants 18% across-the-board pay raises over two years, along with added incentives for special education teachers and teachers in low-income, hard-to-staff schools.
Along with recurring, standard state education funds, SB 231 dollars would be needed to meet the union’s demands.
“That money has not yet gotten to the classroom, and the reason is the district is reluctant on using that money,” Vellardita said following a unionwide meeting in July. “Until they recognize they have to use that money to reach an agreement, there will be no agreement.”
The state sent a memo to each of its public school districts saying in part that funding provided under the bill would not be disbursed immediately.
The Nevada Department of Education confirmed to the Las Vegas Sun last week that all 17 of Nevada’s public school districts submitted their staffing reports on time. The next step, per SB 231, is for the Department of Education to forward those lists to the Interim Finance Committee, a body of state lawmakers that makes various funding decisions between Nevada’s regular biennial legislative sessions.
The bill states that the Education Department has until Aug. 15 to pass along the staffing reports so state fiscal analysts can proportionally divvy up the money. Only after the analysts have completed their calculations can school districts apply for their allotments, with budgets or union agreements in hand to prove they are committed to giving additional raises beyond previously agreed-upon adjustments, according to the memo from analysts within the Legislative Counsel Bureau.
The Interim Finance Committee’s next scheduled meetings are in October and December.
The bill states that funds must be committed before June 30, 2025. Unspent dollars revert to the state general fund as of Sept. 19, 2025.
Jara told teachers in a districtwide email Wednesday that he wanted to put two-thirds of the district’s expected SB 231 windfall toward teacher pay, with the June 2025 expiration.
CCSD Chief Financial Officer Jason Goudie said it would not be prudent to bake funds with a sunset date into permanent salary increases.
“That is a very clear one-time source of funding. If they had included that additional $250 million into the pupil-centered funding plan, we would be able to use that for raises in perpetuity,” said Goudie, referencing Nevada’s standard, recurring school funding mechanism. “We only get $250 million (statewide) over a very short period of time, and then that money technically goes away. The law is very clear on that. Now, can the Legislature renew that bill? Yes. Could they create another bill that provides more or something different? Yes. But we don’t know that, and to put the financial stability of the district at risk hoping that something like that happens is not sound financial practice.”
SB 231 cleared the Legislature in June on near-unanimous votes, with Las Vegas Democrats Nicole Cannizzaro, the Senate majority leader, and Steve Yeager, the speaker of the Assembly, taking the lead.
“I see this bill as a way of saying loud and clear to our educators and our support professionals, who have really had it rough over the last few years, that we see you, we appreciate you, we thank you, and we want to do everything we can in our power to incentivize some of this money to be able to go to where it should go, and that’s to compensate you,” Yeager said at a bill hearing in May.
On Aug. 2, Cannizzaro and Yeager called a news conference to reiterate that they expected investment and accountability, especially from CCSD, for both the $2 billion statewide infusion into recurring K-12 funding and the quarter-billion-dollar SB 231 package.
“The idea that somehow, because they don’t have assurances about (SB 231) money in the future, well, that is true of any funding for any program in the state,” Cannizzaro said. “So that is simply a red herring in an attempt to not provide that support to students in the form of teacher raises and support staff raises.
“That is funding that, of course, in the future will have to be addressed by the Legislature, just like every single other dollar that is invested in public education,” she added.
But Goudie, who estimated that CCSD could get between $170 million and $180 million of the $250 million pot, argued that standard school funding statutorily comes with significant assurances of recurrence.
School Board President Evelyn Garcia Morales told him she was “grateful for our crystal clarity, even if that means taking extra heat from members of the community who believe otherwise.”
Goudie said CCSD could not apply for SB 231 funds until after it settled contracts with non-SB 231 pay increases through the 2024-25 school year. The district has reached those initial, base agreements with support professionals, who are not represented by CCEA.
Fred Horvath, principal officer for Teamsters Local 14 — which represents some support staff alongside CCSD’s Education Support Employees Association — said he understood that SB 231 funding was “two-year money.”
“We are telling our members, your employees, that we’re going to get this money. We are not going to leave (money) that could be in their pockets on the table because of fear,” Horvath told the school board Thursday before it approved the support staff contract. “We’re going to reach an agreement with the district. It’ll be for two years. They will know the money will be gone if we don’t do our job, and our job is quite simple — go get the money again.”