The Clark County school district in Nevada is the 5th largest school district in the country. Its teachers union, the Clark County Education Association (CCEA), is not affiliated with either of the two national teacher unions, the National Educational Association or the American Federation of Teachers.

Teachers demonstrating for a fair contract at a meeting of the Clark County School Board in late August
Photo courtesy: Clark County Education Assn.

But the current fight taking place there is a microcosm of the situation unfolding around the country as individuals pushing anti-teacher and anti-education agendas and hostility toward teachers unions run for and sometimes get elected to local school boards. And when that hasn’t worked, state officials in places like Texas and Florida have sometimes moved to intercede with school curricula and administration.

In the most glaring example, one that made national news, the governor of Texas dismissed the Houston city elected school board and school superintendent and installed his own superintendent to run the schools. The new appointee, a former army ranger with no credentials or experience in teaching or school administration and probably couldn’t tell a lesson plan from a McDonald’s menu is now in charge of the education of children in the largest city in the state.

Unlike the more publicized situations, Clark County has not made national news. But the teachers in its schools and their union are currently locked in a battle with school district leadership, led by the school superintendent, Jesus Jara, that is treating teachers seeking to bargain for a contract with contempt. And it’s just a piece of the larger national picture.

The teachers there have been working without a contract this school year and their pay has stagnated. Earlier this year, they went to the state capital in Carson City to lobby for additional funds to pay for long overdue salary increases. They succeeded in getting the legislature to pass a bill and the governor to sign it that appropriated $250 million, specifically for teacher raises. It was part of a larger $2 billion education budget passed by governor Joe Lombardo. But the district school superintendent refused to access the state fund for teachers and will not even present the option to the school board for approval.

The lowest salary for teachers there right now is $50,115. The highest is $101,251. But getting to the maximum is complicated.” One Clark County educator said, “There have been years where salary increases have been frozen. Many veteran teachers feel like they are not being paid what they’re owed and make as much as a brand new teacher. It’s unfair.” Speaking of  the CCEA’s proposed contract demands, she added “This could be a once in a career raise for us. We are fighting for equity here. We have dealt with unfair salaries for too many years and we want the Clark County School District to use the money the state has given us. Teachers fought for that money in Carson City, and these raises are long overdue.”

The union has repeatedly called upon the  district leadership to negotiate a new contract and has presented proposals that would raise teacher salaries by 10 percent the first year and 8 percent the second year. It also called for an additional $5,000 adjustment to attract teachers where there are hard to fill vacancies and a 5 percent adjustment for Special Education teachers. Whereas the district contributes close to $1000 a month in health insurance premiums for school principals, it only pays about $700 a month for teachers, the union simply wants the district to pay the same amount monthly for teachers health insurance as they do for principals. In addition, an increase of 1.8% in state pension contributions started being taken from teacher paychecks this summer; the union wants the district to cover this increase. They have also called for time-and-a-half pay for overtime work spent on supervising after school extracurricular activities.

The district has refused to bargain with the union. Instead, it came back with an offer of only a 6 percent raise the first year and 1 percent the following year but with two stipulations – that teachers had to work a longer day and a sunset clause that the raises would expire after two years, and unless renewed, teachers would go back to their current salaries.

All summer long the union called upon the district leaders to engage in bargaining but the district leaders kept postponing bargaining sessions in what amounted to stalling tactics. Thus, the beginnings of the school year in August saw teachers without a new contract and stuck in the same mold as before.

The CCEA, spurred on by aroused resentment among its members, has begun to hold public protest demonstrations. When the school superintendent scheduled community meetings at coffee shops in Las Vegas to advocate his agenda, teachers showed up to demonstrate and present their side. The superintendent then decided to cancel all subsequent coffee shop meetings. At the early August meeting of the school board of trustees,  thousands of teachers demonstrated outside the meeting. The board shortened public comments due to the teachers presence, which caused an uproar that led to the meeting ending early. Another demonstration, perhaps larger, was set for the August 24 board meeting.

As we prepared this article the union is considering next steps. while the union and district continue to negotiate and the union decides what further actions it will take. Strikes by public employees are outlawed in the state of Nevada which makes the situation more difficult. And the district has further attacked the Clark County Education Association by suing it, seeking to take away its right to bargain for teachers for threatening a strike.

The United States was a pioneer in the establishment of free public education and teacher unions in the last 50 years have raised the status of the teachers and fought for more resources for public schools. The fight of Nevada teachers in this school district is part of the fight taking place all over the country for good schools with well-paid teachers and the ongoing battle to preserve American education.