While classroom teachers have been eating Ramen noodles so they can afford to buy school supplies, teachers union bosses are living high on the hog. Considering that teachers often have to purchase classroom supplies and teaching materials with their own money, and that they’re also expected to pay for continuing education classes, their salaries don’t stretch very far. But despite their tight budgets, many teachers think that paying dues to the Clark County Education Association (CCEA) is worth it because the teacher’s union promises to fight for higher wages. Considering recent media coverage which revealed the outrageous salaries paid to union bosses, dues-paying teachers must feel like they’ve been taken for a ride. Just one example was Jason Jasonek, who was the Executive Director in 2009 and earned more than $632,000 from the union and two related organizations.
CCEA, like all non-profit groups, is required to file a Form 990 with the federal government reporting all salaries over $100,000. A quick look at the form, which is available online, shows that in 2009 (the latest figures available), the union spent more than 30 percent of its budget to pay just nine leaders. The total budget for the year was around $4.1 million, and $1.5 million of that went to pay union bosses. Unions in similar-sized districts spend between three and 7 percent of their budgets on leadership salaries. Jasonek retired in 2010 and was replaced by a new executive director, John Vellardita, who claims his salary is less than $160,000. But since he refuses to disclose exactly what it is, we’ll have to wait for the next Form 990 to find out for sure.
Perhaps just as disturbing as the high salaries, was the union’s reaction when the cat was let out of the bag. They accused Clark County School District (CCSD) Superintendent Dwight Jones of launching a negative public relations attack against them. Since when did telling the truth equate to an attack? Unless of course, they had information they’d rather their members not know about. If the hard-working teachers entrust them with their scarce dollars, they need to be held accountable for where that money goes and who is being paid what.
But there’s more at stake than just the union dues. The CCSD gives hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to the CCEA Community Foundation, which administers grants that fund specialized classes for teachers- education they need in order to qualify for pay increases. Although the foundation is separate from the union on paper, it was founded by Jasonek and staffed with union employees until he retired. CCSD is now demanding that the foundation provide “reliable accounting” for $2.4 million in taxpayer money, our money, given to the Community Foundation between 2006 and 2011.
The CCEA is one of the state’s most organized and powerful unions. They have a long history of blocking much needed educational reforms by focusing on the teachers, rather than the students they teach. Our schools are in crisis and it’s time we stopped letting the teachers union stand in the way of meaningful reform, such as charter schools, merit pay and firing bad teachers. Even if you don’t have children in the school district, you still have a dog in this fight. The economic prosperity and development of our state is directly related to the success of our educational system.
At press time, CCSD and the union were deadlocked over the terms of a new contract for teachers, but neither side seems interested in changing the fundamental way teachers are compensated, which is based on seniority instead of their success in teaching our children. Until we put our students first, and as long as the union is in control, our teachers and students are both set up for failure.
Originally published in Nevada Business Magazine: