With students in the Clark County School District in Nevada returning to classrooms in two weeks, the threat of a teacher strike remains.
While a new statewide school finance formula approved during this year’s legislative session will result in more funding for the district, the Clark County Education Association (CCEA) is closely monitoring how CCSD leaders plan to close a remaining $17 million budget deficit for the 2019-20 school year.
“We’re currently in negotiations with the district over the additional funding,” said Keenan Korth, a spokesman for the CCEA. “Our terms are that there can be no cuts to the classroom and the promised raises need to be honored.”
In June, CCSD Superintendent Jesus Jara proposed eliminating the positions of 170 school deans to help address the shortfall. But the Clark County Association of School Administrators (CCASA), which represents principals and other administrators, filed a lawsuit and was successful in getting an injunction to keep the district from following through on the layoffs.
CCASA argued the board’s discussion of eliminating the deans violated open meeting laws.
Since then, Jara has turned to the community for input and stepped away from cutting those positions, even though he stressed his plan would have less of a negative impact on students and classrooms than other options. Korth said the union supports the superintendent’s intention “not to make those cuts in the classroom” and that he expected the budget dilemma to be settled before school starts.
‘The clock is ticking’
Last school year was marked by multiple teacher strikes, from as large as the United Teachers Los Angeles’ week-long strike against the Los Angeles Unified School District in January to as small as individual charter schools in Chicago. Some work stoppages, such as the New Haven Teachers Association’s two-week strike against the New Haven Unified School District in California, ended with just a few days to spare in the school year.
Now, as families are beginning to prepare for the new school year, CCSD isn’t the only district where teachers unions are still saying they are “strike-ready.”
In the Chicago Public Schools, where school starts Sept. 3, members of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) have accelerated protests and organizing efforts in recent days, saying even though Mayor Lori Lightfoot has proposed a 14% pay increase, she is not complying with all of their staffing demands.
On Tuesday, Lightfoot issued a release saying she and CPS have agreed to increase the number of school nurses, special education case managers and social workers over the next three to five years.
“CPS schools have never been stronger, but to continue our exceptional progress we must increase our investment in the resources our students need most and ensure equity is our north star,” said CPS CEO Janice K. Jackson. “The commitments announced today will help ensure our schools reach new heights and guarantee that every child in Chicago receives a high-quality education that meets their unique needs.”
But CTU President Jesse Sharkey responded with questions about whether those positions will be staffed with licensed and certified personnel or be hired by outside companies.
"Still absent from either her press release or her bargaining proposals are any discussion on class size, the expansion of sustainable community schools, school librarians, restorative justice coordinators, job stability and salary proposals for our low-wage teacher assistants and school clerks," he said in a statement.
A neutral fact-finder is currently hearing testimony from both CTU and CPS. After a report is released, which isn’t expected until the end of August, the union can accept the recommendations or continue with plans to strike. But the time table in place would mean if a strike occurs, it would begin after school starts, no earlier than the end of September.
Meanwhile, members of the union representing CPS bus aids, special education assistants, custodians and security officers have also voted to authorize a strike, saying they’ve worked for a year without a contract. Among the Service Employees International Union Local 73’s demands are a raise, in-house supervision for custodians instead of outside contracts, and consistent work schedules for bus aides.
In the Columbus City Schools in Ohio, where school starts Aug. 22, negotiations are continuing with the Columbus Education Association (CEA). The union’s demands include smaller classes and higher pay. And in June, CEA members reacted to the district’s plans to hire a firm that would provide substitutes if there is a strike.
“This decision is both unsafe for our students, and a waste of resources that could be used towards working with CEA to build the Schools #ColumbusStudentsDeserve,” according to a statement.
Members also staged a march to city hall on Monday, directing their protests against “tax abatements for wealthy corporations which drain millions of dollars from our schools,” the union’s website says.
District spokesman Scott Wortman, however, says the goal is for a deal to be reached before the start of school. “Both sides have continued to negotiate in good faith,” he said, “and are working towards a deal that is amenable to all parties.”