Mutually assured donations
Back-scratching abounds in Clark County education.
- Friday, November 7, 2008
Why is the Clark County School District issuing checks for millions of dollars to Southern Nevada's powerful teacher union?
According to purchase and change orders reviewed by the Nevada Policy Research Institute, within the last two years a total of $4.9 million has been approved by CCSD trustees for payment directly to the Clark County Education Association, or to a foundation controlled by the union.
In November 2006, a $373,165 purchase order – described as being for "No Child Left Behind TURO" – was issued to the CCEA Community Foundation. In April and May 2007, that same purchase order number was the subject of two new similarly described change orders totaling $550,000. Then in July 2007, yet another new change order was entered under that original purchase order number. This time it authorized payment to the non-profit of $1,012,594 for "officiating services." These payments to the CCEA foundation exceed $1.9 million.
Payments directly to the union in 2007 and 2008 totaled $3,009,301. "Athletic officiating services" got $582,699.95, "Establish PO in SAP" got $424,393.75, "Consultant/CCEACF" got $2 million, "Postal services" got $1,708.09 and "Table Fee" got $500.
At least three of these descriptions deserve fuller explication. "Athletic officiating services" is puzzling, since the teacher union is not in the business of officiating at athletic events. Additionally, Ron Lopez of the union denies that the union received any such money or does any officiating.
"Establish PO in SAP" is problematic because it apparently only instructs some CCSD employee to establish a purchase order in the district's purchasing software, made by the German software giant, SAP, and does not actually describe the services supposedly provided.
"Consultant/CCEACF" appears to indicate that the union was providing consulting services to the district regarding or through the union's community non-profit.
However, Lopez denied that the union was providing any consulting services to the school district, and also denied that the union itself received any money. He also said that the union's non-profit foundation would not provide any consulting or sports officiating services.
Which leaves unanswered the question, "Who got the money?"
A staffer at the foundation, contacted by NPRI, also denied that it provides consulting or sports officiating services. Messages left for senior officials received no response.
Inquiries to the school district purchasing department were shunted to the district communications office. A representative there, in turn, asked for an official public records request. When it was received, NPRI was informed payment of a $37.50 research fee would be required to pay the district's cost of gathering the information. That process, said the district's official letter of response, could require 15 working days or more after payment – postponing release of the requested public information until well into December.
Added to the unexplained money flowing – according to CCSD records – to the teacher union are several other instances of apparent special favors or privileges granted by the school district to the union with which it negotiates teacher compensation:
- Mary Ella Holloway, former CCEA president, was hired by the school district as a "project facilitator" to "improve teacher morale." According to a Sept. 3, 2008 report in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, "In her new position as a project facilitator, Holloway will help conduct surveys and look for ways to improve teacher morale as a member of the ‘Teaching and Learning Conditions Committee,' a task force that Holloway helped create three years ago during the collective bargaining process."
- Under a district mandate, all newly hired teachers must attend a new teacher orientation run and controlled by the CCEA – a private organization. At the sessions, the union presses the new teachers to join the union, and – according to teacher statements made to NPRI – insinuates falsely that union membership is required for the new teachers to be protected from possible lawsuits. The union also bars from the orientations other professional organizations that offer competing services to teachers, such as the Association of American Educators.
The CCEA and its affiliated state and support-staff unions clearly put a high priority on helping to determine who gets elected as CCSD trustees. A check of Clark County Elections Office records revealed that the union's contributions to its preferred candidates during the recent school board election campaign totaled some $84,000.
In 2006, the ESEA, the support-staff union, contributed $5,000. This year, however, it quadrupled its contributions, to $20,000. In 2006, the CCEA contributed $13,000; this year, it more than tripled its contributions, to $44,000. And for the first time in at least 10 years, the Nevada State Education Association (NSEA) weighed in with $20,000.
What was so different this year? Could it have been that, for the first time in years, three highly qualified dissident educators had a very good chance of filling three open trustee seats?
In these three heated races, the candidates not favored by the unions were all CCSD insiders, and each had indicated he was tired of teachers, students and the community itself falling prey to "scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" practices between the district and associations.
All three promised to buck the system and bring accountability and transparency to the board.
Now however, it's clear the buck will not be stopping with them.
Nor, for sure, will teacher-union bucks.
Karen Gray is an education researcher for the Nevada Policy Research Institute.