Clark County teachers hit with $1,000 pay cut, thanks to pair of recent rate hikes

Robert Fellner

Just months after threatening an illegal strike to obtain a modest salary raise, members of the Clark County teachers union (CCEA) are going to have to give a big chunk of that back, thanks to a pair of recent rate hikes that will cost the average teacher nearly $1,000 a year.

The first hike came earlier this year, when the state retirement system (PERS) announced an increase that will cost the average Nevada teacher an additional $750 annually.

Then, the CCEA voted last month to increase its annual dues to $846, up from $630.

Combined, this means that most CCEA members are going to see nearly $1,000 more docked from their paychecks next year:

The PERS increase, like the several that preceded it, will provide no benefit whatsoever to the teacher forced to pay that added cost, which will be spent instead on the system’s $14 billion deficit.

The CCEA, meanwhile, plans to spend the extra $2.2 million that it will take from teachers each year to lobby for a $1 billion tax hike.

The union claims that higher taxes and increased spending is the only way to improve Nevada’s public schools, but neglects to explain why the near tripling in spending that has already occurred since 1960 has failed to improve student performance.

At $10,200 per student, Nevada is already spending an amount comparable to several outperforming nations, like France, Italy and Spain, as well as numerous outperforming U.S. states, like Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.

Rather than forcing taxpayers, including teachers, to pour more money into a broken system, teachers and students alike would be better served by addressing the root cause of Nevada’s education problem: the chronic and systemic mismanagement of public schools.

No organization can be expected to succeed without accountability and transparency.

This is especially true for an organization as large as CCSD, which operates nearly 400 schools across Southern Nevada — some of which are true success stories, while others have consistently failed students for years.

But while their outcomes couldn’t be more disparate, they all have at least one thing in common, according to CCSD evaluators: Not a single one has had an ineffective administrator or school leader for at least the past four years.

This “everyone is doing great, regardless of outcomes” approach would be unimaginable in any other endeavor of this size or importance.

Imagine a hospital administrator learning that a small handful of surgeons were responsible for 100 percent of patient deaths, but then concluding that they were just as effective as every other surgeon.

Would anyone feel comfortable being treated by one of those underperforming surgeons the following year, simply because they received a budget increase?

This demonstrates the real problem with the proposed $1 billion tax hike: the lack of genuine accountability prevents the system from improving, regardless of how much money is spent.

Making matters worse, is the hundreds of millions of education dollars that are, in fact, spent on things that have nothing to do with education or improving student learning.

The so-called prevailing wage law, for example, takes tens of millions of dollars out of the classroom each year by requiring school districts to pay 62 percent above-market wages on construction projects. This handout to one of the state’s most powerful special-interest groups will cost Nevada schools nearly $500 million over the next ten years.

And that’s just an example of an officially sanctioned form of waste.

Large school districts like CCSD lose millions more each year to the more conventional forms of waste and fraud, according to Harvard scholar Lydia Segal.

In recognition of this fact, former CCSD Superintendent Carlos Garcia in the early 2000s ordered the implementation of a robust financial accounting system designed to prevent fraud and maximize transparency — but the project itself became exactly the kind of financial blackhole it was ostensibly designed to prevent.

Despite spending more than $100 million on that project, the system in place today is still unable to perform the basic tasks the district cited to justify its purchase in the first place. While all of that money was classified as education spending, it is a safe bet to assume that lining the pockets of contractors on a failed computer upgrade did little to help improve student learning.

Yet, rather than addressing the structural deficiencies responsible for this colossal failure, the Legislature instead rewarded CCSD with even more money.

And when the money finally does reach the classroom, it is deployed in the most ineffective way possible. Rather than treating teachers as professionals and rewarding them for their skills, teacher compensation is instead based entirely on longevity and credentials.

The refusal to reward teacher quality not only harms student learning, it also denies great teachers the raises and promotions that they deserve, and which they would undoubtedly receive in any other industry.

Rounding out this cornucopia of inefficiencies is the PERS retirement benefit offered to teachers, which, as mentioned earlier, forces current and future teachers to pay for the system’s past funding failures. The benefits are also structured in such a way that veteran teachers are penalized for working past 30 years. Needless to say, an effective compensation system would seek to retain the most experienced and dedicated teachers, not push them out.

Lastly, there is the establishment’s hostility to choice and competition. A hostility so blinding and irrational that CCSD, amidst a budget shortfall that required cuts elsewhere, actually spent over $100,000 to hire a marketer to persuade parents not to enroll their children in public charter schools.

The insistence that education be provided through a one-size-fits-all monopoly hurts teachers and students alike, as numerous studies have found that choice and competition help to increase both student test scores and teacher salaries at public schools in jurisdictions that embrace these programs.

Nonetheless, the CCEA has stuck to its belief that more money, and only more money, will fix public education.

And that’s why, rather than addressing the reasons more money hasn’t helped in the past, the CCEA is prepared to spend $2.2 million of teachers’ hard-earned money on a political campaign to hike taxes.

Teachers, not to mention students and taxpayers, deserve better. They deserve an education system that actually works — not merely one that costs more money.

Robert Fellner

Robert Fellner

Director of Policy

Robert Fellner is NPRI’s policy director and joined the Institute in December 2013. Robert has written extensively on the issue of transparency in government. He has also conducted legal research and assisted in crafting legal arguments for numerous public records-related lawsuits, including one which prevailed at the Nevada Supreme Court, resulting in a landmark decision that protected and expanded Nevadans’ rights to access and inspect government records.

An expert on government compensation and its impact on taxes, Robert has authored multiple studies on public pay and pensions. He has been published in Business Insider, Forbes.com, the Las Vegas Review Journal, the Los Angeles Times, RealClearPolicy.com, the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Wall Street Journal, ZeroHedge.com and elsewhere.

Robert has lived in Las Vegas since 2005 when he moved to Nevada to become a professional poker player. Robert has had a remarkably successfully poker career including two top 10 World Series of Poker finishes and being ranked #1 in the world at 10/20 Pot-Limit Omaha cash games.

Additionally, his economic analysis on the minimum wage won first place in a 2011 George Mason University essay contest. He also independently organized a successful grassroots media and fundraising effort for a 2012 presidential candidate, before joining the campaign in an official capacity.