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Clark County Superintendent Jesus Jara, left, explains why he eliminated deans positions during a Legislative Education Town Hall at UNLV on Wednesday, June 12, 2019. (Jeff Scheid/Nevada Independent)

Clark County Superintendent Jesus Jara has reversed his controversial decision to eliminate deans and, instead, has left budget cuts up to principals and school organizational teams.

Jara announced the decision to reinstate the dean position during a news conference Wednesday afternoon following more than six weeks of public outcry, a lawsuit and private meetings with principals, teachers and support staff. He framed the decision as a collaborative effort that would result in a more equitable distribution of the $17 million in budget cuts.

“These decisions will allow for schools to start on time and ensure that students will have the support they need for the first day,” he said.

Under the new plan, middle and high schools will need to reduce their budgets by $98 per student. That decision will be made by principals and school organizational teams (SOTs), which consist of parents, staff and community members who help guide decision-making at schools. The budget cuts range from $7,057 at Indian Springs Middle School, which has 72 students, to $339,639 at Coronado High School, which has 3,465 students.

In an apparent attempt to avoid a teacher strike, Jara said schools would not be cutting teachers or support staff or enlarging class sizes. He also vowed that attrition funds — money left over from unfilled staff positions — would remain with each school.

“I want to be very clear: We will not be pulling or transferring of attrition dollars across schools,” he said. “Funding will follow the students. I trust our principals, in collaboration with their SOTs, to be able to balance their budgets as they see fit. We believe that this is an equitable way of reaching our desirable outcomes.”

Deans — who handle student discipline and attendance issues, bullying investigations and campus safety matters, among other tasks —will be placed wherever they were working prior to Jara’s initial decision on June 10 to remove those positions. The district also plans to contact deans who resigned or retired since then and offer them a chance to rescind that decision.

Their jobs aren’t necessarily set in stone, though. The principals and SOTs are not obligated to keep the dean position as they balance the school budgets for the 2019-2010 academic year. Schools have until the close of business on Tuesday to adjust their budgets.

Jara’s change of course also stands to increase the number of teaching vacancies now that deans won’t be pushed down to classroom jobs. 

Nadine Jones, the district’s chief human resources officer, said roughly 640 teacher vacancies existed before the decision to restore the dean positions. The district has 170 dean positions but only about 140 actual deans, meaning teacher vacancies likely will exceed 750.

The longevity of the dean position also remains a question. Jara said the district would continue rethinking how it approaches discipline, including moving forward with the transition to student success project facilitators at select schools. Project facilitators were one of two new positions Jara suggested to enhance safety instead of deans. He did not disclose an exact timeline for a full transition to a new disciplinary approach.

The restoration of the dean position, however, comes the same day a District Court judge dissolved a temporary restraining order related to a lawsuit filed by the administrators’ union. The order had temporarily prevented the district from removing deans pending the outcome of the lawsuit, which accuses Jara and the School Board of Trustees of violating Nevada’s Open Meeting Law while making the decision. 

A court spokeswoman said Judge Nancy Allf granted the school district’s motion to dissolve the order given the changing circumstances of the dean position.

But the Clark County Association of School Administrators and Professional-Technical Employees doesn’t plan to drop the lawsuit. The union’s executive director, Stephen Augspurger, said he was “ecstatic” that Jara decided to restore the dean position, but it doesn’t undo other concerns articulated in the litigation, including the alleged Open Meeting Law violation. 

Augspurger said the union also wants to secure a recording of the closed meeting where Jara and the trustees discussed the dean elimination and gain clarity about how much power the superintendent has in making budget decisions.

“We think there are still really pressing problems that need to be sorted out,” he said.

Jara declined to comment on the lawsuit during the news conference.

The Clark County Education Association also hasn’t closed the door on a possible teacher strike. Vikki Courtney, the president of the teachers’ union, said the strike threat remains until a labor contract has been signed on the dotted line.

For months, the teachers’ union has threatened to strike if the district made any cuts affecting the classroom. Courtney expressed hope that principals and SOTs would follow Jara’s directive and not make cuts affecting teachers, support staff or class sizes.

“I’m confident the superintendent will, you know, be doing his job to make sure they do what they are supposed to do,” she said.

The legislative session ended with the school district facing a $33 million to $35 million deficit over the next biennium, forcing roughly $17 million in cuts for the upcoming academic year. Clark County School District students return to class on Aug. 12.

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