By Daniel Honchariw
The Clark County School District and its teacher union, the Clark County Education Association, just finished Round One of binding arbitration meetings, to no avail.
To those interested citizens and school parents hoping to better understand the real conflicts at issue in these important talks: Good luck.
The public is expressly barred from these meetings under laws that school-district and union insiders lobbied into statute years ago.
Representatives of both sides met last week in a three-day attempt to convince an ostensibly independent arbitrator of the merits of their respective positions. For reasons undisclosed to the public, the arbitrator has not yet been able to render a decision in the matter. Thus, both sides must endure an additional three days of arbitration hearings, set to take place September 13-15, 2017.
The arbitration process is only necessary because of the failure of the school district and the teacher union to broker a new agreement governing workplace conditions. The prior collective bargaining agreement expired as the 2017-2018 school year began, although its provisions, generally, will continue to govern until a new agreement is reached.
According to local reports, the impasse stems primarily from the teacher union’s demand for 3 percent increases in step pay over the duration of the new contract. The district, citing its estimated $50-60 million budget deficit for the current year, has instead proposed a “pay freeze” for at least the current year.
After the first round of arbitration meetings ended, however, the district announced $43 million in spending cuts, which may change the calculus for future meetings.
Such financial issues are core to CCSD’s ability to provide its students with a meaningful education. It is well documented that Nevada consistently ranks as worst or next-to-worst in many national education rankings, depending on the methodology. As such, the arbitration process, which could exacerbate CCSD’s budget shortfall, has significant ramifications for the district’s ability to educate its students.
Yet despite this, the public at large, including the parents of children attending district schools, are blocked from witnessing the arbitration process unfold — not to mention the series of failed negotiations which preceded it.
Such is the case because state law specifically exempts the entire collective bargaining process from Nevada’s Open Meetings Law, which otherwise provides that “all meetings of public bodies must be open and public, and all persons must be permitted to attend any meeting of these public bodies.”
Under NRS 288.220, the following meetings “are not subject to any provision of NRS which requires a meeting to be open or public”:
- Any negotiation or informal discussion between a local government employer and an employee organization.
- Any meeting of a mediator with either party or both parties to a negotiation.
- Any meeting or investigation conducted by a fact finder.
- Any meeting of the governing body of a local government employer with its management representative.
- Deliberations of the [Local Government Employee-Management Relations] Board toward a decision on a complaint, appeal or petition for declaratory relief.
This carve-out makes it impossible for any common citizen to gain a comprehensive understanding of the factual basis for the stalled negotiations, including those whose stake in CCSD’s financial wellbeing is greatest — the school parents.
There is, however, no justifiable basis for exempting government-union labor negotiations from public view. Like any other government meeting where taxpayer dollars are on the line, the general public has a compelling interest in what results from arbitration.
In June, an NPRI commentary published by the Las Vegas Review-Journal advocated for the abolition of the collective bargaining exemption to the state’s Open Meetings Law.
In that particular instance, the basis for arguing against the exemption was the district’s ongoing sexual-misconduct scandal. Since 2014, more than 30 CCSD staff members have been arrested on suspicion of sexual misconduct or other inappropriate behavior involving students.
Soon after local media reported on the scandal, it became clear that the governing labor agreement between CCSD and the teacher union had been exploited by district employees to perpetuate the abuse. Specifically, in multiple cases the agreement’s “pass the trash” provision had been invoked to quietly transfer staff members who had been accused of misconduct into other district schools, instead of simply terminating their employment with the district.
From the Las Vegas Review-Journal:
Behind closed doors, it’s all too easy for government representatives and union bosses to form a common front against the public — whether it’s the taxpaying public or, as in this case, the youth and families the district was established to serve.
Take for example Article 12, Section 10 of the current collective bargaining agreement between the school district and the Clark County Education Association, known colloquially as the “pass the trash” clause. It reads, in part:
“In the event civil or criminal proceedings are brought against a teacher and the teacher is cleared of said charge, all written reports, comments or reprimands concerning actions which the courts found not to have occurred, shall be removed from the teacher’s personnel file.”
While this provision is somewhat ambiguous — can a personnel file be wiped only if courts have become involved? — in practice it has allowed predatory teachers to be quietly transferred to other schools where new students can potentially be victimized.
Note that the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s recent “Broken Trust” series revealed that at least two of the teachers arrested during just the 2016-17 school year “had a known history of inappropriate behavior, according to police records,” yet were permitted to teach anyway.
This is powerful evidence that, for the safety of students and the common welfare of the community, the provisions of collective bargaining agreements need to be crafted publicly and transparently…
…Sunlight on union negotiations would have likely precluded this type of clause, and anything as potentially damaging, from ever being adopted in the first place.
Clark County parents are already furious, given the failed educational outcomes the district provides to its students.
Thus, had they been present for the negotiations that resulted in the “pass the trash” clause, they likely would have rebelled against the union efforts to blindly prioritize the protection of its members over the safety of children.
There, the consequences of having kept the bargaining process secret were arguably more dire than in the present case, which primarily concerns financials. Regardless, in both instances, the taxpaying public has a vested interest in the contents of the district’s labor agreement with its teacher union, and therefore should be allowed to witness the bargaining process in real-time.
Transparency in government benefits any civil society. Why do the unions insist on secrecy?
Daniel Honchariw is a policy analyst with NPRI.
 See NRS 241.020