Governor confirms ‘conversations’ between his office, CCSD, teachers union

It is unclear what, if anything, the governor can do beyond privately -- or publicly -- pressuring one or both sides to reach a contract and avoid prolonged arbitration. (Photo by Trevor Bexon/Nevada Current)

By Nevada Current

August 31, 2023

BY APRIL CORBIN GIRNUS, Nevada Current

Gov. Joe Lombardo’s office on Wednesday confirmed “initial conversations” have begun between the governor, Clark County School District, and the teacher’s union.

“Governor Lombardo has already had initial conversations with both sides and will continue those discussions this week,” spokesperson Elizabeth Ray confirmed Wednesday.

The first-term Republican’s intervention was invoked Saturday by Clark County Education Association Executive Director John Vellardita during a union meeting, which was closed to but reported on by media.

On Tuesday, Vellardita clarified the union is not seeking gubernatorial mediation on the opposing contract proposals for the district’s 18,000 educators and other licensed professionals, but is instead asking the governor to weigh in on a broader “far more important” conversation about whether the district is working toward improving student outcomes or simply defending a status quo that lawmakers, educators, students and the public are not satisfied with.

“We are saying, ‘Stand with us,’” Vellardita said. “Hold us accountable. Hold the district accountable.”

The union said he believes the governor can weigh in on the intent of the K-12 education budget and related bills, looking at whether they are “in alignment” with the district and union’s priorities. That could include another look at Senate Bill 231, a $250 million matching fund designed to provide raises for educators and others employed by districts, that appears to be central to disagreements between the union and district.

Vellardita says the union’s proposed raises — 10% in the first year of the contract and 8% in the second year — were “not pulled from thin air” but based on the bills and budget as passed.

CCSD has said in public statements that SB231 funding cannot be used to permanently raise salaries because it is not guaranteed past the current fiscal biennium.

CCEA counters that Nevada law says the district can use any and all available funding for collective bargaining, with the exception of what’s needed to maintain an ending-fund balance and money specifically earmarked for specific student populations (like English Language Learners, ELL). No money is guaranteed beyond the current biennium, says Vellardita, because the state budget is set every two years by the Legislature and based on revenue projections subject to the ups and downs of the economy.

Democratic legislative leaders have previously indicated their SB231 was intended for permanent raises. Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro was one of several state and local lawmakers who attended a CCEA-organized rally outside the Clark County School Board last week.

It is unclear what, if anything, the governor can do beyond privately — or publicly — pressuring one or both sides to reach a contract and avoid prolonged arbitration.

Then-Gov. Steve Sisolak intervened in a similar CCSD-CCEA contract negotiation stalemate in 2019, but specifics of his involvement were never revealed.

Vellardita demurred when asked in CCEA’s office Tuesday if more direct action from the executive branch might be a possibility, but he emphasized that the governor is taking the issue seriously.

“This is a governor who has his first test of accountability,” said Vellardita, pointing to a CCEA sign reading “with investment comes accountability.”

“He knows this is a test,” he added.

CCEA, which endorsed Sisolak for governor in 2018, declined to endorse either Sisolak or Lombardo in 2022. The union’s non-endorsement was largely seen as a boon for Lombardo.

After Vellardita’s comments on Saturday calling for the governor to intervene, Lombardo released a statement saying that “after providing record funding for education in Clark County, it’s disappointing that negotiations between CCSD and CCEA have been unsuccessful so far.”

His statement continued: “While I’ve always believed collective bargaining should be handled at the local level, I’m eager to help resolve this conflict in a way that best serves the children of Clark County.”

CCEA previously promised to begin taking “work actions” starting this week if no contract had been reached. The union says many teachers have individually begun to work-to-rule — meaning they are working only their contracted 7 hours and 11 minutes and not a minute over.

Vellardita says participation in a work-to-rule action is “highly personal” and up to individual teachers. But he says the union has warned the district that it will take legal action if any teachers are forced by their administrators to work beyond contract time.

This story was originally published by Nevada Current and has been republished under a Creative Commons license.

CATEGORIES: LABOR | POLITICS

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