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Official: West workers reject furlough day

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By David Giuliani

The West Las Vegas school district was planning a voluntary furlough day for today. But it appears as if most employees won’t take advantage of it.

Late last week, the district was expecting 80 to 90 percent of employees to take the furlough day, Superintendent Jim Abreu said. But after a story in Monday’s Optic about possible raises for two top top officials, the furlough program largely collapsed, he said.

At a school board meeting last week, two members harshly criticized a budget that they said included large pay hikes for the business manager, Dawn Biagianti, and the associate superintendent, Mary Jo Archibeque.

But Abreu said that no raises were negotiated and the budget increases were simply a cushion for the next superintendent’s discretion. A board majority had previously decided against renewing Abreu’s contract, which expires June 30.

“If I stayed as superintendent, no administrator would be getting a raise if teachers didn’t,” he said Wednesday. “It’s not true that anyone is getting a raise.”

The district is only giving teachers a $1-a-year raise and laying off eight of them to make ends meet.

Abreu said the story about the school board meeting hurt the furlough program “tremendously.”

School board member Caroline Lopez, a retired teacher, said Thursday that she still thinks like an educator.

“We teachers are willing to give up a furlough day, but don’t tell me in the next breath that administrators are getting pay raises,” said Lopez, who, along with member Kenny Lujan, voted against the budget because of the pay hikes. “That’s why I fought against the raises.”

The furlough idea was examined by both West Las Vegas officials and union representatives. It was a way to help offset a $108,000 deficit.

At last week’s board meeting, Abreu and other top officials expressed enthusiasm about employees’ participation in the furlough program.

“There have been employees who have come to me and said they would give two or even three days. These are not just administrators, they are employees at every level. It was agreed to by the union, and they actually had a hand in putting this memorandum of understanding (for the furlough day) together,” Abreu said at a meeting last week.

Member Kenny Lujan said at the meeting that he had received some calls from employees who were afraid of the consequences if they don’t take part.

“I waited until this meeting to bring it up, but I have got some calls from people who have been told that if they don’t volunteer, they are going to be fired or their friends are going to be fired. That isn’t the message that we wanted to send out, but I’m not sure who is making the threats,” Lujan said.

“Do you have any names or positions, Mr. Lujan?” Abreu asked.

“No, not at this time, but our thing was to go to ask for volunteers and not to threaten people that they would lose their jobs if they didn’t. Another caller told me that it was going to be mandatory. That’s just not the message we were trying to send — the message was donate if you want to, and if you don’t, that’s fine too. I just want the employees to know this is voluntary,” Lujan said.

Abreu said he had heard the same argument earlier from union members who were concerned about the possibility or retribution.

“I regard this as a completely voluntary and anonymous process, and there are people who are looking at this very closely. I think everyone is pleased with the (agreement) that the union and district came to,” Abreu said.

 Abreu said the day selected for the furlough day was today, but said those who wanted to donate more days could.