Did Clark County School District teachers get a salary increase while classroom programs, personnel, athletics programs, teacher purchase cards and other employees' salaries were being cut?
For almost two months now, the Clark County School District Board of Trustees has been under scrutiny for having approved additional perks for CCSD's top officials while calling upon others to sacrifice. But the top brass apparently weren't the only CCSD employees to receive presents from the district last fall. Clark County teachers, too, appear to have been gifted — in the form of an unpublicized, surreptitious retirement contribution.
In January 2009 the Nevada Retirement Board notified all public employers of a rate increase for Public Employees' Retirement System (PERS) contributions. For CCSD, that increase translated into a 1 percent rate hike for teachers, administrators and support staff, and a 3.5 percent increase for school police.
According to Nevada law, such increases are split equally between employer and employee. However, when employees' PERS contributions must be increased, they must be made either 1) in lieu of an equivalent salary increase or 2) to counterbalance an equivalent salary cut.
During a June 25 public board meeting, CCSD staff informed trustees that salaries of three of the four employee groups were reduced in accord with the relevant state statutes, and that those salary reductions would balance the higher PERS payments the district would be making in those employees' behalf.
"Salary schedules have been adjusted for administrative, school police and support staff personnel to reflect a division of the required increase in contribution rates to be shared equally between the district and the employee under provision stipulated in NRS 286.421," states the June 25 informational material given trustees.
Close inspection of the trustees' backup material, however, reveals no mention of any comparable cuts to teacher incomes. And the website of the Clark County Education Association — also known as the teacher union — indicates that there were none. Instead, reported the CCEA on its website, a "Contract Deal [had been] Reached" with "No Cuts in Salary & Benefits."
"The school district is also covering an increase in PERS contribution, which would have affected teachers' pockets," said John Jasonek, CCEA's executive director at the time.
So at this point we can determine that CCSD teachers did not have to undergo any salary adjustment — while administrators, school police and support employees did, kicking in their 50 percent of the contribution rate increase via a salary decrease.
The noticeable secrecy of the Clark County School District here appears to have been an attempt to minimize political fallout. After all, while talking up "shared sacrifice" and cutting pay for members of three unions, CCSD was actually raising pay for members of Jasonek's union.
An important question remains, however: Given the vague and indefinite manner through which the district attempted to implement the teacher pay raise, was it even legal?
Because state law requires the district school board to take all its formal actions in public meetings, public-meeting records were examined for answers.
However, a review of board minutes from February 4 through July 10, 2009 failed to identify any agenda item for the board to give teachers a pay increase to cover their increased PERS obligation.
The closest candidate was an agenda item for the board's April 14, 2009 public meeting. Back-up materials for the tentative district budget informed trustees — if they read it — that the PERS contribution rate increases for all employees were "fully funded." When the board then approved the tentative budget, a $13,409,406 allocation for "PERS Rate Increases for All Employee Groups" was included in that tentative budget.
But does the board's quiet, almost pro-forma approval of a budget allocation constitute a legal method of approving a change to a labor contract between the school district and its largest union?
Apparently, not even CCSD would argue it does. When trustees approved the 2009 Negotiated Agreement between the district and the Clark County Education Association on September 10, 2009, the contract — like other CCSD official publications — shows no change in the salary schedule for the 2009-10 school year from 2008-09. Nor does language appear to indicate a pay increase, nor a salary decrease, nor a PERS contribution "in lieu of" a pay raise.
All that Article 29, the PERS provision in the contract, states is:
The School District agrees to pay the standard employee and/or employer contribution to Social Security or any Public Employees Retirement System for each employee covered by this Agreement, as required by law.
Despite the absence of any public record of school board action on this issue, when the district filed its New Contribution Rate Change Certification with Nevada PERS on July 10, 2009, it stated that teachers "paid their portion of the contribution rate increase 'In Lieu Of' a pay increase effective July 1, 2009." As for administrators, support staff and school police, the certification says they "paid their portion of the contribution rate increase by a salary reduction effective July 1, 2009."
While we may never know from these records how CCSD "covered" teacher's PERS contributions, it may well be that Superintendent Walt Rulffes simply quietly awarded the extra pay.
However it was done, teachers alone escaped the burden of a salary decrease that all the other employees had to bear. And it happened quietly, behind the public's back and with no transparency at all.
Karen Gray is an education researcher at the Nevada Policy Research Institute. For more visit http://npri.org/.