As many of you know PERS is the retirement program that all educators and many other state employees are a part of. PERS is a great program, that is a huge benefit for our employees who become vested and make it to retirement. Every two years the PERS board makes adjustments to the rate to maintain the overall health of the program. These adjustments require a 50/50 split in cost between the employer and employees. We were informed last week that the PERS board would be increasing the rate, which would effectively impact teacher salary by 2%. This 2% reduction in salary is not something that the union or district have control over and is an additional hurdle in this already difficult journey we find ourselves in.
Historically, these PERS increases have been “offset” by pay increases that are negotiated during each contract. With that being said, you all know our pay increases have not been adequate enough and our compensation has fallen well behind inflation rates and cost of living in our community. Add to that increases to insurance over the last decade and many educators and their families are struggling financially. Because of this reality we are seeing less young people join the profession and more of our colleagues find jobs in other sectors. This further adds to the burden being placed on those of us still in education, which leads to even higher rates of burnout, and around and around we go. This is a self-perpetuating cycle that has and will continue to worsen, without a major disruptor.
The state of Nevada has been severely underfunding education in Nevada for decades and because of that our district has been struggling to function. We are 50th in school finance, 48th in per-pupil funding, have the largest class sizes in the country, one of the lowest teacher salaries (when you factor in the number of students serviced), and Washoe county is the lowest funded district in the state of Nevada. Washoe country is in the bottom 5% of district funded in the United States. Lawmakers have supplanted billions of dollars from education over the last decade, while gradually putting less and less of the state’s general revenue towards education. All of you (and our students) are part of a system that is not built for success and all the successes that we see in our district (and there are A LOT of them) are despite the system, not because it. This is the reality that we’re facing and again this self-perpetuating cycle will continue and worsen unless a major disruptor comes along. YOU are that disruptor. We as a labor force must be the ones who stop this cycle from continuing year-after-year.
This coming legislative session is absolutely imperative. We are already starting at a deficit with this PERS increase and unless the state of Nevada drastically increases educational funding, the union and the district will not be able to negotiate more competitive wages, smaller class sizes, or provide the resources you need to be successful. That’s the truth.
If we as individuals sit back and hope that lawmakers, district leadership, or even union leadership are going to come in and stop this cycle alone, then we will all be disappointed. It’s going to take the collective actions of all of us to address a problem of this size. You are the union, and the strength of the union is determined by its members and their willingness to take action. Union leadership is going to take this fight head on and do everything we can to win, BUT we NEED all of you standing behind us. YOU are the union. WE have to show up, be loud, be assertive, and unapologetic in our pursuit for what’s right.
This fight has already started, and we need your help. There are WEA committees to get active in. You can start organizing your colleagues and tuning them in to the efforts of the association. Make a personal commitment to show up and participate in this legislative session. We must put ourselves in a strong position to bring about change and all collective actions throughout this session will help us get to that spot.
**Believe in Education Rally- Saturday Feb. 11th, 10am@the Believe sign in downtown Reno. We need to turn out THOUSANDS of educators AND community members to set the tone for this legislative session! Put it in your calendar. Make a commitment to show up. Recruit your colleagues to join you. Tell your neighbors and bring your friends and family. Education impacts the entire community, so we all need to show up. It’s time to send a very clear message to lawmakers that education is a priority!