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Chip Mosher: How much, and to whom?

Chip Mosher
Chip Mosher

On June 25, the Clark County Education Association, or teachers’ union, and the Clark County School District began facing off for their summer series of negotiation meetings — to decide what to do with the limited funding earmarked for teachers by the Legislature.

This year, legislators reportedly boosted public education funding by 7.8 percent, for a $489 million biennial increase. Because Nevada has become a national embarrassment for its paltry annual per-pupil funding, our politicians apparently have decided to raise this by about $200 per student (to $5,590) for the first year of the biennium (2013), and by $86 more per kid (to $5,676) the following year. Which means we will be near the bottom nationally in per-pupil spending come the next legislative session (2015) — or, still a national embarrassment.

Out of this $489 million largesse, given the strict legislative restrictions on the funding (for all-day kindergarten, lower class sizes, etc.), the amount in question for current teachers will probably be between $26-$30 million annually, a figure that is hardly arbitrary. In fact, that’s an approximation of the sum needed to pay for teachers’ “roll-ups” — a term that refers to their combined annual “step” salary increases (for experience) and “column” raises (for extra education). These were two things teachers lost last year due to stringent budget-cutting.

According to the district’s website, a first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree starts at $34,341 (base pay). In the second year that jumps to $35,776. This is a “step” increase for experience. These can continue for up to 14 years, then stop completely. From the 15th year on, there are no more such increases.

A “column” raise is for extra education acquired. Again, base pay for a first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree is $34,341. If a person adds 16 college credits to that (five semester classes, costing about $3,000), then a first-year salary will be $36,183 instead. A second-year teacher with this extra education would make $37,618 (one yearly step, plus the extra column).

There are eight columns for such educational improvement. A first-year teacher who has attained all of them starts at $48,667. After 14 years (steps), he or she would max out at $70,064. Hence, the most experienced teachers (15-30 years) receive no more increases after 14 years — unless the Legislature finds revenue for cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs). Which legislators have failed to do in seven of the past 13 years.

According to union sources, roughly 40 percent of teachers (about 7,200) are maxed out at various column levels ($40,081 to $70,064). Thus, only about 60 percent of them (roughly 10,800) qualify for the “roll-ups.” And this presents a dilemma.

The union, under Executive Director John Vellardita, has been promising to use the $26-$30 million to replace those roll-ups lost last year to budget cuts. However, there is nothing to prevent the union from negotiating with the district to use this money any way it wants — for example, as cost-of-living increases for 100 percent of CCSD teachers rather than just as roll-ups for only 60 percent of them.

Therefore, considering that 40 percent of our most experienced educators have received no increases of any kind for the last four years, spreading out this $26-$30 million to 100 percent of our teachers as cost-of-living raises, in these tough times, might prove a wiser, less-divisive union choice. Which the district probably would go along with.

CHIP MOSHER is a simple classroom teacher.