Douglas County educators decide to become more politically active | NevadaAppeal.com

Douglas County educators decide to become more politically active

Douglas County teachers decided to take political action against the school district to show their dissatisfaction with a standstill in contract negotiations.

“We need to take the interest and solidarity that we’ve shown tonight and translate it into some sort of action,” said Marty Cronin, president of the Douglas County Professional Educators Association.

Cronin said they needed to take a grass-roots approach. Sign-up sheets were passed around for teachers to join committees to speak at school board meetings, write letters to newspapers and board trustees, and to make phone calls to members of the board and the public.

“If you leave this room and you haven’t signed up for something, I’m going to say, ‘shame on you,'” Cronin said.

As the meeting progressed, tension was high. Many teachers expressed distaste for the members of the school board.

“These are your board members,” Cronin said. “If they’re not doing what you want them to do, boot them the hell out.”

All five male members of the Douglas County School Board are up for re-election this year.

“Really, the only way to politically effectuate change in the district is to change the composition of it,” Cronin said.

Nearly half of the county’s teachers attended the meeting at the CVIC Hall in Minden. The meeting, organized by the teacher’s association, was designed to tell teachers of the proceedings between the association and the school district and why negotiations are stalled.

“Negotiation years are always tumultuous,” said Maggie Allen, communications liaison for the district and member of the association. “You have what the teachers want and then you have what the district has the means to provide.”

However, this year is more tumultuous than most.

Susan Lacey, negotiations director for the association, said that after meeting with the district nine times and getting nowhere, they asked for mediation.

“If they (the district) were really interested in what we need to say, why not go to mediation?” Lacey said.

Mediation is a process in which a third party is called to talk with both sides and try to help them find a middle ground.

She said the district denied mediation and the association has filed for arbitration.

In 1969, Nevada teachers traded the right to strike for the right to arbitrate.

The arbitrator’s decision is final and binding.

In order to file for arbitration, the two groups must have met at least four times. The association said they met nine times but the district said those meetings were not all focused on contract negotiations.

The district then filed a complaint with the Fair Labor Practice Board saying proper procedure was not followed.

“By filing this, they’ve allowed themselves more time to delay,” Lacey said.

However, on Friday, the association filed a counter-complaint against the district.

“I’ve never seen anything like this in my seven years of serving rural counties,” said Randy Cahill, organization specialist with the Nevada State Educators Association.

Cahill said that the complaint filed against the association will delay the arbitration process.

“Best-case scenario – a couple of months,” he said. “Worst-case – we’re into next school year.”

Until a new contract is approved, the teachers’ former contract will remain in effect.

Lacey said the proposals made by the association, such as unrestricted sick days and guaranteed prep time, were not unreasonable.

However, she said the district countered with proposals such as 10 sick days instead of 15 and a required doctor’s excuse with each absence.

“You would just walk out of those meetings going, ‘what was that?'” she said.

The association also wanted a pay raise for teachers in the district. Lacey said the district had $2.7 million in an unrestricted fund that the association wanted to use for salary money.

“The district told us that teachers were not a priority for that money,” she said.

In a formal written statement, the district said that the money added up to $1.9 million and could not be considered surplus. It said the district has saved up for 10 years.

“This money is similar to a personal savings account in that once it is used, it is gone,” the statement said. “It would be irresponsible to use this money for ongoing expenditures, the district would be jeopardizing its financial stability to satisfy salary demands.”

Al Bellister, research director for NSEA, said the long-term solution would be to pass an initiative to the business tax by no more than 5 percent.

There simply isn’t enough money in K-12 education,” he said. “We need more money in the state general fund.”

Although teachers are anxious for change, Cronin said the quality of education should not change.

“These are our kids and our community and they deserve the best we can do,” Cronin said. “Let the community decide who’s right and who’s wrong.”