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In split vote, Clark County school board approves raise, contract extension for Jara

Rocio Hernandez
Rocio Hernandez
EducationK-12 Education
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Citing a desire for “stability,”, the Clark County School District board voted Wednesday to extend Superintendent Jesus Jara’s contract through June 30, 2026 along with a $75,000 raise to his base salary, bringing it up to $395,000 a year. 

The morning work session — held during school hours — was a sharp contrast from nearly a year ago, when four of the seven trustees voted to terminate Jara’s employment contract, kicking off a saga that ended with the superintendent reinstated weeks later. 

The decision to keep Jara was decided with that same 4-3 split vote with Board President Irene Cepeda, part of the majority to fire the superintendent  a year ago, now voting in favor of Jara’s contract extension. She was joined by Trustees Lola Brooks, Katie Williams and Evelyn Garcia Morales. 

“Putting this contract through 2026 puts us through two election cycles and gives some semblance of stability in this district, and we need it,” Williams said. 

Trustees Linda Cavazos, Danielle Ford and Lisa Guzman voted against the measure. Cavazos and Ford argued that there was no need to rush into this vote since Jara’s contract would otherwise not expire until mid-January. 

Cavazos brought up that three trustees including herself, Ford and Cepeda are up for re-election in November. Cavazos also suggested the discussion could have been held during a regular board meeting, which takes place during evening hours every second and fourth Thursday of the month and typically sees greater public participation. 

“How this was rolled out is …I'm just gonna say it bluntly, I believe that it's shameful and it is not inclusive of the diversity of our entire community, including parents, students who wrote to me who said they wanted to be here,” Cavazos said. 

Wednesday’s vote comes less than a week after the board gave Jara a 3.6 out of four in his latest evaluation, and rated him as “highly effective,” though some trustees and community members questioned the data that was used in the evaluation, and whether the rating was truly deserved.  

After the vote, Jara told the board he was “extremely grateful” for the opportunity to continue to lead the school district, and noted there is still progress to be made on improving student outcomes. 

“I am humbled and honored to serve as their superintendent,” he said. “We don't have a moment to waste for their opportunity for success."

The raise is a first for Jara, who became superintendent in 2018, said board attorney Nicole Malich, adding that the superintendent is the only district employee that has not received a raise in the last four and half years. Still, his salary is higher than the $310,000 base salary for Washoe County School District Superintendent Susan Enfield.

Jara’s salary is also higher than that of the superintendent of the fourth largest school district in the country, Miami-Dade County Public Schools, but lower than the base pay for superintendent of the second largest school district, Los Angeles Unified School District, $370,000 and $440,000 respectively. Clark County is the fifth largest school district in the country. 

Community discontent

The discussion on the superintendent’s contract extension was scheduled about 12 hours after Jara's evaluation meeting last week. The sudden move left some teachers, including Vicki Kreidel, frustrated because the Wednesday meeting took place during teachers’ work hours, making it almost impossible for them to attend the hearing, even virtually. 

“They're doing it at a work session that's early in the day because they don't want us there,” said Kreidel, who is also president of the National Association of Education of Southern Nevada. “There's a lot of us that believe that's intentional.”

The move also didn’t sit well with some parents, such as Jamie Bunnell.

“This definitely comes across as something shady is going down,” Bunnell said. “It may not be ‘officially’ broken, but this environment with Jara and the board is toxic and the whole system is broken.”

The meeting featured eight public speakers, nearly all who spoke out against Jara’s tenure, and urged the board to let him go. 

“You're right, we do need stability, but this is not the stability we need,” said parent Jacqueline Davinia Williamson. “We need something for our children. We need a fresh start, and this is not it.” 

The National Association of Education of Southern Nevada released a Tuesday statement in opposition to renewing Jara’s contract. The statement included a list of actions by Jara that the association believes contributed to the district’s teacher turnover. 

“NEA of Southern Nevada has supported the termination of Superintendent Jara on numerous occasions,” Kreidel said. “Our position has not changed. It’s one thing after another with his performance; meanwhile our students, our teachers and our community are left to wonder why this one man cannot be held accountable at any level.” 

Frustrations over the vote boiled over during a press conference organized by education advocates following the meeting. Rodney Smith, president of the Black Leadership Summit, called on the governor and state lawmakers to disband the school board. 

“The school board has proven they can’t work together as a cohesive team,” he said. “They need to go now.” 

But those in the business community believe keeping Jara is exactly what’s needed, said Dylan Keith, assistant director of government affairs at the Las Vegas Chamber. 

“Leadership from the Board of Trustees and superintendent is essential for our students to succeed, especially now as our local schools recover from the very adverse impacts of the pandemic on K-12 education,” he said. “Turnover and operational leadership at this juncture will not enhance student outcomes and will cause instability in the district.” 

The Clark County Education Association, the bargaining unit for district teachers, declined to comment on the vote. 

‘Ill timing’

Before the vote, trustees revealed more details on how the discussion and vote on the superintendent’s contract was added to the work session’s agenda. According to Brooks, the recent evaluation was held earlier than previous years in order to get ahead of the superintendent's Jan. 15 contract end date, which she said was chosen by the board and took place months earlier than the end date (June 2021) of Jara’s original contract.

But Brooks said the January date was not ideal because it meant the current board would have to decide on the superintendent’s contract before any newly elected trustees could take their seats.

“This ill timing was pointed out numerous times,” she said. “Originally some of us suggested ending the contract in June of 2023, however, we compromised and landed on Jan. 15.”

During the meeting, Cepeda said Wednesday was the only day where the board could accommodate the contract discussion into the agenda. She said future meetings will feature presentations on student outcomes. 

Furthermore, Cepeda said in her statement that it’s difficult to schedule meetings in November and December because of the holidays. 

However, Cavazos said the hearing was not the way superintendent contracts are typically handled, based on her five years of board experience and time as a former board president. 

“This is not normally an item that would be on a work session,” she said. “This would be on a regular board meeting, because the work sessions are specifically for trustee business and directly related to trustees.” 

The only time she remembered when a superintendent contract was discussed in a work session was to correct a single line on the document that had nothing to do with extending the length of the contract or a salary raise.   

Cavazos suggested Cepeda could have chosen to hold a discussion on the contract on Wednesday, but scheduled the vote during a regular meeting, or even organized a special meeting outside of the board’s regularly scheduled meetings similar to what was done for Jara’s evaluation. 

She also criticized the decision by the board president to hold the meeting before the November election. According to Cavazos, it’s a common practice for most school boards to wait until after an election to decide on a superintendent’s contract, outside of circumstances such as a superintendent's resignation or retirement. 

“If you look at the major urban districts in the country, just about all of them would wait until after the election,” Cavazos said. 

But Cepeda said in her statement that waiting that long would be an unreasonable expectation for the Clark County school board. 

“We need a decision and action on the superintendent employment contract because an executive leadership search for an organization of our size is a very lengthy process,” Cepeda said. “Waiting to discuss this item after elections is purely political and poor governance.” 

At the meeting, Ford asked the board’s attorney what would happen if the board did not come to an agreement on the contract. Malich could not immediately answer the question, but later informed the board that if they didn’t vote to extend the contract, there was nothing barring Jara from continuing to stay on as superintendent, if he chose, on a month-to-month basis. Ford argued that answer added to the reasons not to rush through the contract vote.

“This is unnecessary, and (is) causing a lot of chaos for the board and for the district,” she said.

Update: Oct. 5, 2022 at 4:42 p.m. This article was updated to add more details about the meeting."

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