A District Court judge’s ruling on Wednesday temporarily freezes the Clark County superintendent’s decision to cut 170 dean positions, relieving affected employees from having to accept new job assignments for the time being.
District Court Judge Nancy Allf issued a temporary restraining order Wednesday following a lawsuit filed by the administrators’ union last month that alleged Superintendent Jesus Jara and the School Board of Trustees violated the state’s Open Meeting Law while making the decision to eliminate deans at middle and high schools. Her decision means deans can’t be reassigned to other jobs for at least two weeks.
The Clark County School District had directed deans to accept new assignments by Wednesday or face termination, but the judge’s order temporarily restrains the district from taking any action on that order. The ruling, however, doesn’t mean the matter has been settled.
“Now, that means it won’t be effective until further order of this court. That doesn’t mean you win,” Allf said.
A telephonic conference with counsel is planned for Tuesday afternoon to determine the date of an evidentiary hearing and other matters, including whether discovery will be ordered.
The oral arguments Wednesday focused on whether the superintendent and the School Board of Trustees had a right to unilaterally eliminate dean positions and other things that happened at the closed meeting.
During the hourlong court hearing, attorneys representing the superintendent and the school board could not say whether minutes were taken at the meeting or whether there was a notice sent out prior. But attorney Jackie Nichols said there is an audio recording.
“It’s reasonable for me to assume, even from the affidavits provided by the defendant, the matter was deliberated in that meeting,” Allf said.
Attorney Adam Segal, who’s representing the Clark County Association of School Administrators and Professional-Technical Employees, said the board members were presented with other options for the $17 million budget deficit. He said eliminating deans was not the best option financially or for the students.
“It is a fundamental shift and restructuring of the school district that is going on here,” he said.
Segal said the decision doesn’t just move deans to lower-rank positions — it also ejects them from the health plan they are in, which would force many to change doctors.
“It’s essentially a rounding error,” said Segal. “You could make up $17 million in a budget of that size 1,000 other places that don’t have as much impact.”
But Nichols said Jara has the authority to reassign personnel and the responsibility of overseeing the school district’s budget. She said the meeting was closed because of a collective bargaining agreement exception and that Jara considered the dean elimination the option that would least affect students in the classroom.
Jara announced the decision to eliminate deans in a video message June 10. The decision, which he attributed to shoring up a $17 million deficit for the upcoming academic year, triggered immediate outrage from many educators and community members who worried about the effect on school safety. Shortly after, 72 principals took a vote of no confidence in Jara, marking the first such action in the administrator union’s history.
The controversy spilled into an education town hall and two school board meetings last month, drawing emotional public testimony about the decision. Jara has apologized for the way the decision was communicated, but he hasn’t backed down from the decision itself. Instead, he unveiled a school safety plan last week that involves additional firearm-detecting canine officers, more police officers at high schools and career and technical academies and the creation of positions called student success project facilitators and coordinators.
Cristal Boisseau, a dean at Shadow Ridge High School for five years, said she felt relieved after the court hearing.
“I don’t want to leave Clark County School District. I don’t want to leave my students. I love what I am doing and that’s why I chose to be a dean,” she said.
Boisseau said she expected more from those who are making decisions of this magnitude. She heard rumors that dean jobs would be recategorized but had no idea they would be let go until she saw Jara’s video announcement, huddled around a table at an administrators conference in Lake Tahoe.
“Many cried and some are still crying,” she said. “I believe our union is going to represent us, as well as our lawyers, in making sure that this is done according to the law and all of us will be able to keep our jobs.”