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Parents, educators wonder how CCSD will fund promised raises

Following a tentative contract deal between the Clark County School District and the teachers union, many educators and parents were wondering Thursday how the district found up to $20 million to pay for professional development raises, ending a weekslong impasse over the issue.

“We’ve struggled, we’ve had reductions in teachers in years past,” Helen Smith Elementary School parent Shellie Tingey said. “I see the shortages, so where did they come up with this extra money?”

The Professional Growth System, designed to reward teachers who pursue professional development like master’s degrees or other career development opportunities, was the final sticking point between the district and the Clark County Education Association during the negotiations for a 2019-21 contract

Under the tentative agreement announced Wednesday, teachers who meet the requirements will receive a so-called column advancement raise in each year of the contract, with a provision that all parties will meet to rework the system for the future.

But Superintendent Jesus Jara and other school district officials provided little detail on how they would fund the raises.

The agreement must still be finalized, voted on by union members and ratified by the School Board before teachers see their raises. Jara said Wednesday that he hopes to present the agreement to the board as soon as possible, but that it may not make the cutoff for the Sept. 12 meeting.

Funding remains fuzzy

At the news conference Wednesday, Jara cited three areas where he said district finances had been “trending forward,” including interest earnings and savings from hiring freezes. A statement from the district also said it will be “reallocating appropriate positions from the district operating budget to state/federal grants.”

Asked whether the district always had the money to fund the raises, Jara replied, “Under some of the forecasting and projections, no.”

On Thursday, Chief Financial Officer John Goudie said in an emailed statement that the money was not “found,” but rather based on updated financial information and estimates.

“As we operate throughout the year we continually monitor the actual revenues we receive and the actual expenditures we spend, but given our financial system is extremely antiquated, this requires a lot of manual processes,” Goudie said in the statement. “We are currently forecasting/estimating that our revenues are higher than in the budget and our expenditures are lower than in our budget, which will create additional funds available to cover some of this agreement.”

As a result, he said, the district cannot say how much money would come from each funding source, but added that the hiring freeze alone would save an estimated $2 million to $4 million each year.

The amount needed will be determined by how many teachers qualify for the professional growth raises, but has been estimated at $15 million to $20 million. If all 2,500 who applied were to qualify, the total contract amount would be about $189 million.

Teachers react

The perception that the money was there all along was frustrating for some teachers who said they felt disrespected by the drawn-out process.

Nicole Hess, who teaches kindergarten at Helen Marie Smith Elementary, said she didn’t pursue the so-called contact units needed for professional development because she didn’t believe the district would fund the raises. But she was angered that her coworkers who took time from their families to go through training programs were then denied their payoffs.

“We shouldn’t have to fight for things that we have earned and that we deserve and that we have worked so hard for when all along you could have said that ‘yes, we appreciate you and here’s what you have earned,’” Hess said.

Hess said she’s pleased with the results of the negotiations because teachers are finally getting their due but indicated that the battle with the district is not over.

“We need them to keep up their end of the agreement so we can fill these vacancies and get teachers who want to teach in Las Vegas,” Hess said.

Fourth-grade teacher Sarah Sunnasy said she’s happy that CCSD is honoring its commitment, but that morale among educators remains low.

“Rectifying our inadequate pay is one step toward improving morale,” Sunnasy said. She added that she’d like to see a hybrid growth system developed that allows those on the existing track to earn their units, while offering another path to other teachers.

Helen Smith kindergarten teacher Abigail Peterson, said the negotiations were particularly frustrating for teachers who had not seen pay raises in a long time, but still worked diligently in their classrooms.

“To not get that pay increase for us was very demoralizing,” Peterson said, referring to the earlier impasse. “There’s changes being made to better the system, to bring in teachers who are bettering themselves. I hope that as we go along in the future, that’s made easier for all teachers.”

Across social media, teachers expressed concern that a revamped professional growth system may look more like merit pay based on student performance, citing comments by CCEA Executive Director John Vellardita during Wednesday’s press conference.

“The compass behind the [Professional Growth System] is to improve the practice of the educator in the classroom,” Vellardita said at the news conference. “It’s got to correlate with outcomes of with student achievement. We’ll make refinements to the plan moving forward.”

But Vellardita said Thursday that his statements were only an explanation of the purpose behind the professional growth system, which is designed to improve a teacher’s skills and thereby improve student outcomes.

He said merit pay is absolutely not on the table, and that the union would not accept it if the district proposed it as a substitute to the career development system or otherwise.

“It would be dead on arrival,” Vellardita said.

Parents support teachers

Parents interviewed at Helen Smith Elementary on Thursday said they were pleased that teachers will get their raises.

Parent Marianna Alvarado praised the teachers who work with her son and said a strike could have seriously interrupted his education.

“Even a day, he could fall behind,” Alvarado said.

But parent Anastasia Reveal-White said a new school funding formula is needed to keep classrooms from facing future cuts.

“Our kids need just as good an education as everybody else in the country,” she said.

Derik Francis said he was relieved when he heard the strike was off, but wants the state to look at directing more marijuana revenue to education.

“These teachers, they need it. They’re out there, handling our futures,” Francis said. “We can’t give them enough to make sure they’re doing their jobs the right way.”

Helen Smith Principal Robert Hinchliffe said he’s feeling relieved that a strike has been averted after the divisive issue created a perception of staff members pitted against staff members.

He said that his school hadn’t spent much time making preparations for a strike on Sept. 10, as he believed the issue would get settled.

“It’s a relief that we don’t have to think about it anymore,” Hinchliffe said. “We can just get back to teaching kids.”

Contact Aleksandra Appleton at aappleton@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0218. Follow @aleksappleton on Twitter.

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