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VICTOR JOECKS: CCSD surrenders, gives control of its budget to CCEA

Congratulations to new Clark County School District superintendent John Vellardita.

Formally, Vellardita is the executive director of the Clark County Education Association. But after this week, his power has surpassed that of Jesus Jara, superintendent in title only.

On Wednesday, the district and union reached a two-year pay agreement. There was no compromise. The district caved to the union’s demands to avoid an illegal strike.

The district had wanted to give teachers a 3 percent across-the-board raise, a 2 percent step increase and a 4 percent increase in health care contributions. The union wanted all of that and a column increase for teachers who had completed education and professional development requirements. The district had maintained — accurately — that the Legislature hadn’t given it enough money to do so.

With a potential strike looming, Jara gave in. Teachers will receive all those raises, including column advancement for both years of the contract.

That was surprising, because district officials recently forced middle and high schools to reduce their budgets this year to cover a $17 million deficit. They said they had a $17 million deficit next year, too. District chief financial officer Jason Goudie estimated the cost of column advancement over two years at between $30 million and $45 million. It depends on how many teachers qualify.

How can the district pay for raises when the Legislature didn’t provide enough funding? It can’t, notwithstanding mumblings about better-than-expected interest earnings.

“The long-term financial implications of brokering such a financially significant deal with CCEA will be felt for years to come,” the district said in a release.

Translation: We can’t afford this. Expect this deal to reduce spending in other areas, which we’ll call “cuts” for PR purposes.

This is reminiscent of what happened in 2016. Then- superintendent Pat Skorkowsky reached a $136 million two-year contract with the teachers union. Asked how he was going to pay for it, he answered, “Cuts.”

That contract led to years of financial stress, with the district cutting $60-plus million from its budget in 2017 and 2018. But don’t miss this. The district’s overall spending went up both years. It “cut” in some areas because it couldn’t afford the raises. With this contract, it’s déjà vu all over again.

This is why the school district always seems short on money. The Legislature gave the district enough money to offer teachers a 5 percent raise. The union wanted 5 percent and a column increase. If the Legislature provided an 8 percent raise, the union would demand 10 percent. The union isn’t seeking a fixed target. It simply wants more.

Jara is supposed to hold the line. He had ample legal tools available to stop or limit a strike. But his reluctance to use them — or even to condemn the union for its illegal tactics — empowered Vellardita. By threatening a strike, Vellardita bullied Jara into getting what he wants. This is why the district’s budget problems will continue — no matter how much money the Legislature throws at it.

Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Opinion section each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Contact him at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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