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CCSD board reverses firing of Superintendent Jesus Jara

Updated November 19, 2021 - 1:14 am

The Clark County School Board voted late Thursday and early Friday to reconsider termination of Superintendent Jesus Jara’s contract — essentially paving the road for a new vote on the topic — and then decided not to rescind his contract.

Both motions passed 4-3, with Board President Linda Cavazos and Trustees Danielle Ford and Lisa Guzman opposed.

The vote reverses a split decision on Oct. 28 to end Jara’s contract “for convenience,” meaning the board didn’t need to provide a reason. The board previously decided in May to extend his contract until Jan. 15, 2023.

Jara, who has been on the job since 2018, was set to leave his post on Dec. 1. Now, it’s unclear whether he’ll stay on the job.

Cavazos said Jara wasn’t in attendance at the meeting — which lasted past 1 a.m. Friday — nor had he designated any representatives to speak on his behalf.

School board attorney Mary-Anne Miller said no communication has been received as to whether Jara wants to be reinstated.

The board voted 5-2, with Cavazos and Ford opposed, to postpone an agenda item about the interim superintendent search process until confirmation can be received from Jara about whether he to intends to stay on the job.

If he doesn’t, the motion calls for Jara providing three to four names to the board attorney for the board to consider as interim superintendent.

In response to a question from Ford, Miller said Jara’s contract isn’t terminated until Dec. 1.

“I feel like we need a different opinion,” Ford said, such as from a private attorney. This is the most dysfunctional thing the board has participated in, she added.

Vice President Irene Cepeda said she’s begging for a proper transition plan with a proper search “so we don’t have to throw things into chaos.”

She said she’s not sure Jara is going to stick around.

She expressed frustration, saying “who sets this agenda?”, noting it’s at the point where it takes three trustees to put anything on an agenda. And the board hasn’t considered student outcomes this year, she said.

It’s so frustrating “to be on this Titanic” and it seems like the board can’t move forward, Cepeda said.

Cavazos said there was a plan during a board meeting earlier this month trustees discussed about appointing an interim superintendent. But the meeting was adjourned and no vote was taken.

“You are phony baloney,” Ford told her. An argument broke out among some board members.

Two of the agenda items for Thursday’s meeting — reconsidering Jara’s contract and investigating hostile work environment allegations raised by the superintendent — were requested by Cepeda and Trustees Lola Brooks and Evelyn Garcia Morales.

Cepeda was the swing vote last month in deciding to terminate Jara’s contract, while Brooks and Garcia Morales opposed the motion. On Thursday, Cepeda reversed her position by voting to not rescind Jara’s contract termination.

In a statement this month, Cepeda said she voted to terminate the contract in late October due to the “toxic environment” on the School Board and noted “more and more troubling information” had come out since the vote.

After the vote to reconsider the contract termination, a handful of public commenters said they were disappointed, saying the community had spoken about wanting Jara gone. They said they were disappointed.

“I’m disgusted that you don’t listen to the public,” teacher Sarah Comroe said, adding the school board doesn’t care about its employees.

Cepeda said she brought forward the item seeking to remedy open meeting law violations.

Ford said she wanted to know what the violations are. She said the correct procedure is to file a complaint with the Nevada Attorney General’s Office.

Cepeda said she got the OK from Miller for the agenda item, but hasn’t filed a complaint.

Cepeda said she knows four trustees communicated regarding Jara’s contract, noting there were unethical communications.

If no evidence is presented about an open meeting law violation, the agenda item should be dismissed, Ford said.

But if the item moves forward, Ford said she wanted her open meeting law complaint — which she says is pending with the Nevada Attorney General’s Office — included with reference material.

The complaint is regarding an item during a May meeting where the board decided in a split vote to extend Jara’s contract. Ford said she’s seeking to invalidate that vote.

During a public comment period, S.S. Rogers of the Ministers Alliance of Southern Nevada said he doesn’t support reconsidering Jara’s contract termination.

Jara has lost the confidence and trust of Las Vegas’ Historic Westside, Rogers said, noting he’s requesting new leadership.

Diana Battista also said she doesn’t support reconsidering Jara’s contract, adding the board has already voted and needs to move on.

But Roger West, a school principal, said he wanted to encourage the board to rescind the contract termination.

He said he wanted to share the positive impact of systems put into place by Jara, pointing to the superintendent’s focus on the teaching and learning process.

“Dr. Jara is not perfect,” West said, adding he has agreed with many of the decisions the superintendent has made and disagreed with some as well.

West said he has never been afraid or discouraged from pushing back and asking questions, noting that’s the opposite of a toxic and hostile work environment.

District employee Hannah Comroe said that when she saw news about the agenda item to reconsider the contract termination, she thought no-one on the school board could be that careless. But, she said, nothing surprises her anymore.

Comroe asked how reconsidering Jara’s contract termination will help the district heal, noting many commenters have expressed concerns about the superintendent and talked about the environment he has created.

Hostile work environment allegations

For the item about hostile work enviornment allegations, Garcia Morales made a motion to authorize up to four members who are not named in a demand letter from Jara’s attorney to work with the school district to identify an outside firm, with a cost not to exceed $100,000, to investigate allegations at the executive and administrative levels of the school district.

The board voted 4-3 to approve the motion, with Cavazos, Ford and Guzman opposed.

Jara’s attorney sent a letter to the board saying the superintendent is owed $2.6 million to pay out the rest of his contract and to settle other allegations, including a hostile work environment.

Guzman said the motion would lead to further division on the board.

Ford asked if the motion was intended to target three trustees — herself, Cavazos and Guzman — who were named in Jara’s letter.

When she didn’t get a direct answer, Ford said the board often gaslights her, noting her question is reasonable.

The purpose of the investigation would be to look at the whole board and how it functions with the superintendent, Cepeda said.

Cavazos said she doesn’t think the agenda item is clear enough to even make a motion, also noting it will be divisive for the board. She also thinks the cost would far exceed $100,000.

Cavazos also said she’s struggling with the connection between Cepeda’s intention behind the agenda item and Garcia Morales’ motion.

Cepeda said the school district has cycled through five superintendents over the past 20 years.

It’s clear there’s a relationship and culture problem, she said, noting “we still haven’t done anything about it” and it’s something that needs to be finally addressed.

The school board sets the tone and its actions ripple across the community, Cepeda said.

She said she wants to know if the board wants an investigation.

Many of the public speakers said they’re unclear what and who the school board would be investigating, and many opposed the item. Many also said there are hostile work environment issues districtwide, including at schools.

Kamilah Bywaters with the Las Vegas Alliance of Black School Educators said the wording of the agenda item was “actually really confusing” and seemed consistent with retaliation.

Also, the agenda item was only to investigate at the executive and administrative levels of the school district, which is a slap in the face to students and employees who share real-life personal experiences of a toxic culture and environment, Bywaters said.

The community has been clear, she said, telling the school board they’ve failed.

Jara not in attendance

Jara didn’t attend the meeting Thursday. Cavazos said she was informed Thursday morning that Jara wouldn’t be in attendance but wasn’t told why.

“He has his own reasons. I really don’t know,” she said in a brief telephone interview hours before the meeting was scheduled to begin.

A spokesman for the district said later that Jara had elected instead to attend the NIAA high school football state championship game at Allegiant Stadium “to support and applaud CCSD’s teams.”

“Playing in an NFL stadium is the thrill of a lifetime for many of our student-athletes who otherwise would not have this opportunity,” the spokesman quoted Jara as saying. “The generosity of the Las Vegas Raiders and Allegiant Stadium shows how a community can come together in support of education by focusing on our kids.”

With or without Jara’s presence, Cavazos said she was expecting a “challenging” meeting, but added that “we’ll get through it.”

During a public comment period at the meeting, school district employee Terri Shuman said she works in a preschool classroom and that 3-to-5-year-olds haven’t acted out in the manner the School Board has with its bickering.

If the children had, they would have been placed in time out and school employees would have talked with their parents, she said, noting maybe there’s not sufficient discipline across the School Board.

Quincey Williams said about the Jara situation: “Y’all need to get this stuff resolved.”

Other meeting items

During the first several hours of the meeting Thursday, trustees moved through a long list of business items.

That included giving final approval for an anti-racism policy, appointing members to a sex education advisory committee for a two-year term, and approving spending $2.8 million in federal money to continue using an emocha Mobile Health COVID-19 symptom screening tool in 2022.

The board also approved calendars for the 2022-23 and 2023-24 school years. It also approved an amendment to this school year’s calendar for staff to include the Juneteenth holiday.

There was discussion about considering a full week off for Thanksgiving, but the board opted against it. There were concerns about the lack of pay for support staff and lack of access to school meals for students in need.

The board was also slated to consider a tentative collective bargaining agreement with the Education Support Employees Association that runs through 2023.

The agreement includes a 3.5 percent salary increase effective Dec. 1 and yearly step increases. It also calls for the school district to increase health insurance contributions by 5 percent each contract year.

The changes will cost the school district an estimated $42.4 million.

There were open seats in the meeting room throughout Thursday night, unlike a full house and overflow room in late October when the board voted terminate Jara’s contract.

Public comment periods were interrupted a couple of times due to disturbances in the audience, including one woman who was yelling and was escorted out.

Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at jgreener@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on Twitter. Review-Journal staff writer Ricardo Torres-Cortez contributed to this report.

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