A breakdown in negotiations over a pay raise between the Douglas County School District and the Douglas County Professional Employees Association representing teachers prompted protests on Tuesday.
Under Nevada law, public employees are not allowed to strike, and must agree to binding arbitration to resolve disputes.
That didn’t stop more than 80 school district employees from demonstrating at Tuesday’s Douglas County School Board meeting.
Before opening the floor to public comment, Board President Tom Moore acknowledged it has been six years since teachers have received a salary increase and asked that employees not interpret board members’ silence on the matter as indifference.
“We’re all disappointed that negotiations did not lead to an agreement,” he said.
According to teachers speaking at the meeting, they were offered a 2.5-percent raise, but took a 2.125-percent pay cut due an increase in the Public Employee Retirement System, bringing their raise to 3/8ths percent. They are seeking a 7-percent pay increase.
More than two-dozen district employees, residents and even a parent spoke at the meeting.
Justin Thran, who works as a medic at Meneley Elementary, said that when the year began in September, and the children were required to stay indoors due to smoke, he wondered why anyone would be a teacher.
“I’ve been in the fire and emergency medical services and I’ve seen some crazy stuff,” he said. “But I’ve never had to deal with 156 kids in the hallways at once.”
But, Thran said, one day he was helping a student draw a star.
“At first he said he couldn’t do it, but I kept working with him,” he said. “When he was able to do it, seeing his face light up made me realize why people become teachers.”
Carson Valley Middle School computer teacher Allen Gumm said he didn’t feel the school board’s designees at negotiations were representing the board’s interests.
“I don’t believe you want us to suffer,” he said. “When some of these cases have gone to arbitration, they’ve gone our way.”
Meneley Elementary School teacher Trich Michitarian said she was a product of Douglas County schools, as was her daughter, Megan, who is also teaching at the school.
“I’m here because my teachers always went above and beyond,” she said. “I’ve done all the work the district has asked of me.”
She said much of her preparation for her classes must be done outside of her contracted hours.
“Because when I’m in the classroom, I teach,” she said.
Association President Brian Rippet asked board members to take a critical look at their budget.
“We understand the financial position of the district,” he said.
He said that in 2012, the district claimed that it had $1.9 million when the tentative budget was approved, but when the fiscal year ended June 30, a month later there was $5.3 million in the budget.
He said the association’s analysis of the budget indicated a 10.6 percent increase in the Distributive School Account.
“We’re asking that you take a skeptical look at the numbers provided by the district,” he said.
According to information provided by the school board, 14 of Nevada’s 17 school districts have settled negotiations.
Douglas County has the longest school year in the state with 186 days.
While a first-year teacher here makes $34,957 a year, third only to Storey and Elko counties, the per-day rate puts Douglas at seventh in the state. The county gains some ground for teachers in the middle range coming up to fifth in per-day pay at $45,471, but falls back to 11th for at the top level with $65,425. The 2.5 percent raise proposed by the district would take starting teachers to $35,830 and teachers at the top level to $67,060.
Should an impasse be declared during negotiations, both parties go to binding arbitration