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Las Vegas School District Battles Teachers Union Over Teacher Absences and School Closures

In Las Vegas, school district officials have filed a lawsuit seeking to halt what they claim is a coordinated campaign by the teachers’ union involving teacher absences during a contentious contract dispute. This campaign has resulted in school closures and disruptions to classrooms, which is particularly concerning as it’s illegal for public employees to strike in the state of Nevada. Since September 1st, unexpected teacher shortages have forced seven schools to cancel classes for the day, and two others have had to combine classes, as reported by the Clark County School District, which encompasses Las Vegas. The district’s motion for an emergency court order revealed that one of these schools saw 87% of its teachers calling in sick on the same day.

The contract negotiations in the nation’s fifth-largest school district have intensified during a time when labor unions nationwide are challenging worker treatment issues. This includes Hollywood’s ongoing writers’ strike, labor disputes in Detroit’s auto production lines, and conflicts in the Los Angeles Unified School District and the Las Vegas Strip.

A state judge is set to consider the Clark County School District’s request on Wednesday morning, although it’s uncertain whether a ruling will be issued immediately or at a later date.

The Clark County Education Association, representing approximately 18,000 licensed educators, has denied responsibility for the recent wave of teacher absences and stated that it will clarify its position in court on Wednesday.

Notably, the Clark County School District, one of the largest in the U.S. with around 295,000 students, is grappling with more than 1,100 teacher vacancies. However, the education association claims that the actual number of vacancies is nearly double when considering positions currently filled by substitute teachers.

Contract negotiations, which began in March, cover a range of topics, including pay, benefits, and working conditions. Negotiations recently resumed, but before Wednesday’s hearing, the school district announced that it had reached an impasse with the teachers’ union, declaring that arbitration was now the only viable option to resolve the ongoing dispute following 11 unsuccessful bargaining sessions. The district characterized the union’s demands as “unaffordable” and “budget-busting.”

The union is advocating for 18% across-the-board pay raises over two years and additional compensation for special education and high-vacancy schools, as well as an increased pay rate for teachers working extended hours at specific campuses.

The district’s final offer prior to declaring an impasse included a 9% salary increase during the first year of a new contract, a new pay scale based on education and experience, and incentives for special education teachers and hard-to-fill positions.

In recent months, negotiations have grown increasingly contentious, especially after the union set a deadline for reaching a contract before the start of the 2023-24 school year. It’s important to note that in Nevada, public employees are prohibited from striking, but the union had hinted at “work actions” if their deadline wasn’t met, including teachers refusing to work beyond their contracted hours.

The school district argued in its motion that it is implausible for the defendants to threaten work actions for months and then claim no involvement when these actions materialize through their members’ conduct.

Meanwhile, thousands of students have already been impacted by the wave of teacher absences, raising concerns about the educational well-being of the students involved. Parents like Andrea Brai have stressed the importance of not letting the students’ needs be neglected amid contract disputes, particularly for children with special needs.