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Teachers seek end to stalemate

by Merrie Leininger

The Douglas County School District addressed concerns from teachers that they were being denied a salary raise even though the district can afford it; but only two teachers came forward at public comment of the school board meeting Tuesday to express concerns.

One teacher told the board he just wished negotiations would be over because the stalemate has lowered teacher morale.

“My concern is we don’t have a contract. I’m not worried about if I’m going to get a raise. But morale has gone down just because of the way negotiations have come to a stalemate,” said Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School teacher Jim Abbott. “We just need to get this weight lifted off.”

Negotiations stalled after the Douglas County Professional Education Association and the school district met nine times with little forward movement. At that point, the teacher’s association declared an impasse. Since then, both sides have filed unfair labor practice complaints that require lengthy hearings.

Teachers have been working on the same conditions set in last year’s contract negotiations.

n Release me. Also at public comment, music teacher Jackie Maye made a very musical presentation to the board about the stress her job has caused her and asked to be released from her contract.

“I’ve read interesting information about the fine arts program in the district and music is not thriving. I’ve been here for 26 years and things have never been worse,” she said.

Maye, with a blood pressure gauge hanging around her neck, said her 4th grade students cannot meet state requirements for 6th graders and that most of her students can’t sing in tune. She said students bused to band practice lose 40 percent of their instructional time. She teaches at two schools and isn’t allowed enough time to give them what they need. Maye also said the books provided by the district are 15 years old.

“I take great pride in teaching,” she said. “I need to get out. Please buy out my contract while I still have a little dignity left.”

According to Assistant Superintendent of Personnel John Soderman, the district does not buy out employee contracts. He said they do have an early retirement policy. Anyone who has worked with the district at least 10 years, is over 55 years old and meets other requirements for retirement can come to him to ask for the program.

n Financial problems. Business manager Rick Kester gave a detailed description of the $1 million shortfall the district will face next year.

Kester explained the state guarantees $3,806 per student, but because of the Nevada Plan, which redistributes money to poorer districts, the district doesn’t necessarily receive that amount.

Last year, the state Legislature gave a 5.1 percent increase for insurance, a $10 per student increase for inflation, but no increase for salary raises, he said.

“I think that is not very adequate funding, and we expressed that opinion, but that opinion did not prevail,” Kester said.

He said because the district had 164 fewer students this year and expects a continuing decrease in students, they will get $1 million less from the state next year.

“We are very concerned and it is necessary to have at least an adequate ending fund balance,” Kester said.

He also said the decrease in funds would require cutting 10-15 teacher jobs and that would result in a loss of class size reduction funds.

Board members expressed concern about the future and said they understand teachers’ concerns, but there just is no money.

“I’m extremely impressed with the job teachers do. But to run the unreserved fund balance to zero in a time of diminished funds seems to be mismanagement to me. This district can’t solve the problem (of no money for salary raises). We have to get together next time and go to the state Legislature,” board member George Echan said.

In a press release from district communications coordinator Maggie Allen, the district said teachers have requested meetings with administrators to get the district’s side of the story of the stalled negotiations.

They are asking the teachers’ association to sign an agreement that would allow these meetings with teachers in order to answer their questions.