Clark County Superintendent Jara on school safety, grading policy and union talks
School is back in session in Clark County.
Some changes students can expect for the new school year revolve around two new laws to address a rise in school violence since the COVID-19 pandemic. The laws peel back key parts of the state’s 2019 restorative justice law and expand the ability of schools to suspend or expel students.
The district is also revising grading policies implemented in 2021 for middle and high school students that eliminates the traditional 100-point scale and instead sets 50 percent as the minimum grade.
The school district has also been busy this summer negotiating a new contract with the Clark County Education Association (CCEA), but so far those talks haven’t gone smoothly.
The Clark County School District invited the media to interview Superintendent Jesus Jara ahead of the first day of school. Below are highlights from The Nevada Independent’s conversation.
Jara applauds Gov. Joe Lombardo’s effort on his school safety bill, AB330, which the school district helped shape. Jara said being part of the process has helped the school district better understand the bill, which he said will help educators hold students who are acting out and causing disruptions accountable.
He added that the Nevada Department of Education sent additional guidance last week on the changes the bill makes.
The district is also looking at alternative settings where disruptive, misbehaving students can be placed.
Outside of the bill, he said the school district continues to rely on fencing, cameras, single points of entry and its incident alert systems. Jara said the school district has also been training campus security monitors on deescalation techniques and methods to mentor and support students to keep them engaged in schools.
On cellphones, Jara said the school district has clarified that educators can take away electronic devices from students and may have additional announcements on the topic later this school year.
In addition, he said the school district is researching a new weapons detection system, and is in the process of determining whether it's appropriate for its schools. In the meantime, Jara said the school district plans to increase the frequency that its K-9 officers conduct random searches at school campuses for weapons and drugs. Previously, those have been conducted three times per week.
Jara said he’s heard the criticisms of the school district’s 2021 grading reform loud and clear. Teachers have said the shift resulted in increased workloads, particularly as it gives students leeway on turning in late assignments, and that students are abusing the policy.
The district has proposed applying the 50 percent minimum ‘F’ on students’ overall quarterly grade rather than at the assignment level. The revised grading guidelines also clarify how late or missing work in all grades will be scored, and set deadlines of at least five school days for missing work.
Jara said these changes were made based on discussions with educators across the district. He said he told teachers that he wouldn’t get rid of the 2021 policy, but wanted to meet them halfway by making changes that make it clear that students will be held accountable.
So far, he’s said he’s gotten positive feedback from teachers on the upcoming changes.
“The teachers they said, ‘Boss, if you do that your ratings will go up and we’ll love you.’ But that's not why I did it. I did it because it made sense,” he said.
Jara said he’s also committed to continue conversations on the grading policy with teachers.
“This is a policy that's been in effect for two years,” he said. “You can’t change 100 years’ worth of grading in two years and expect it to be flawless right now. So I promised them that next fall, we'll get back together.”
The teachers union has called for the district to increase teacher salaries by 18 percent over the next two years and called for additional pay bumps for special education teachers and teachers in certain schools with a high number of vacancies. CCEA has argued that the district could use additional K-12 education funding appropriated by lawmakers during the 2023 legislative session and some of the $250 million in one-time matching funds from SB231 to pay for these increases.
The union has said that if a new contract is not settled by Aug. 26, it could take “work actions,” which the school district has interpreted to mean a strike.
In Nevada, it's illegal for public employees, including teachers, to strike. Violations could result in a fine of up to $50,000 to the union for each day of the strike, and a fine of up to $1,000 to the officers of the union for each day of the strike.
Last week, the district announced it filed a complaint in court against CCEA as well as a petition with the Employee-Management Relations Board to withdraw CCEA’s bargaining agent status as the representative for the district’s teachers.
On the ongoing negotiations with CCEA, Jara said he wishes “his partner on the other side,” alluding to CCEA Executive Director John Vellardita, would bargain in good faith and behind closed doors, rather than in public.
“That's his strategy, not mine,” he said. “But that's probably because he's never been in the classroom as a classroom teacher and doesn't understand.”
Jara said he believes that teachers deserve to be paid based on their number of years of experience and level of education, but did not give any specifics on what the district has offered teachers.
On SB231, Jara said the school district received guidance from the Legislative Counsel Bureau that confirms the matching money goes away in 2025.
“Our teachers deserve to be paid. We want to pay them, but we can't use money that goes away because it looks good,” he said.
During a press conference last Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) called the district’s concerns over SB231 “ridiculous” and compared them to any other funding appropriated by the Legislature.