Updated March 12, 2021 - 5:53 pm
Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara and the seven-member School Board are locked in a dispute over the length of Jara’s contract that could lead to his departure as early as this summer, documents obtained by the Review-Journal show.
The School Board and Jara “may have a different interpretation” of the term of service in the employment contract approved in 2018, according to a Jan. 7 email from board attorney Mary-Anne Miller, with trustees taking the position that his initial term ends on June 30, 2021, and representatives for Jara arguing that it ends on that date in 2023.
According to Miller’s letter, a renewal provision in Jara’s contract was intended to extend the agreement by additional terms of one year each if the board did not serve a notice of intent to terminate the agreement by the end of February 2021. The School Board voted unanimously on Feb. 3 to give notice to the superintendent that his employment contract would not be automatically renewed for another year.
But a Jan. 7 response to Miller signed by Mason Moses — an adviser at Trusted Capital Group, a Texas-based investment and consulting firm — said that because the board did not provide written notice of nonrenewal to the superintendent in 2019 and 2020, the three-year contract was automatically renewed each year and now expires on June 30, 2023.
The wording of the term of service provision reads as follows:
Automatic renewal clause
“The term of this agreement shall commence on June 19, 2018, and conclude on June 30, 2021. If the board determines that this agreement is not to be extended for an additional year beyond June 30 of each year, the board shall give written notice of the same to Dr. Jara no later than the last business day of February of each year. If no notice is received, this contract is automatically renewed for an additional year under the same terms and conditions.”
The Review-Journal requested communication related to Jara’s contract and employment on March 1, but received the documents referenced in this story from a source other than the district. Some of the documents were first reported Thursday by the Nevada Current.
The district had said it could not fulfill the Review-Journal’s request until March 23 at the earliest.
Included in the documents is a Jan. 27 letter to Miller, the School Board’s attorney, from Cory Hartsfield, an associate at Texas-based law firm Adams, Lynch & Loftin, which describes the clause in the contract as an automatic extension, or “evergreen clause.”
It claims that because the board failed to give notice of a nonrenewal to Jara in previous years, the agreement was extended by one year each in 2019 and 2020.
The letter proposed two resolution options: One, that Jara would consider discussing the terms of his employment contract in a closed session, or two, that the superintendent would waive this year’s automatic extension provision if the board agreed that the current term ended on June 30, 2023.
Representatives for Jara did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday.
Jara declined an interview request on the matter from the Review-Journal at Thursday’s School Board meeting and left the stage shortly after adjournment.
‘Engaged in discussion’
A district representative said that “the board and Dr. Jara are currently engaged in discussions regarding his contract” in response to a request for comment.
In previous statements, Jara indicated a desire to stay at the school district. After the board announced its intention to remove the auto-renewal clause from his contract, a Jan. 28 statement from the district said Jara’s “complete focus is on making sure that our students transition to face-to-face instruction as safely as possible.”
“As we continue to deal with an academic crisis, mental health crisis and health crisis, his focus remains on the children he is here to help and the community he loves,” the statement said.
In a media call following his Jan. 29 State of the Schools address, Jara again stated that he didn’t intend to leave.
“I will be here next year delivering the State of the Schools,” he said.
Board President Linda Cavazos said after the meeting Thursday that she was unable to comment on anything having to do with the superintendent’s contract.
Trustees Katie Williams, Lisa Guzman, Lola Brooks, Irene Cepeda, Danielle Ford and Evelyn Garcia Morales also said they were unable to comment Friday morning, citing issues of legality and attorney-client privilege.
Board attorney Miller did not reply to a request for comment Friday.
After the board voted to remove the auto-renewal clause in the contract at the February work session, Miller told the Review-Journal the board did not have a deadline to take further action until June.
“The board does not really have a firm deadline for additional action until the end of his current term (June 30, 2021),” Miller said in a Feb. 4 email. “If they want to take action (add a term, amend his contract, or do a whole new contract ), it will likely appear as an agenda item before that deadline.”
The board is in the process of hiring a new attorney after Miller announced she would step down from the role this summer.
An outside perspective
Las Vegas attorney Aviva Gordon, who specializes in business and employment practices and is not involved in the dispute, reviewed the contested renewal clause for the Review-Journal and said she understands the language to mean that Jara was hired for a three-year term with the possibility of one-year extensions.
The right to extend or not extend the contract kicked in only in 2021, she said, meaning the board wouldn’t have been able to take action on a renewal until this year. If the the trustees hadn’t acted, the annual extension would have been automatic.
“If, for example, the school district did not provide notice on or before February 2021, I would say he’d have another year,” Gordon said.
Gordon also said other sections of the contract make a distinction between “end of the term of this Agreement or any extension thereof,” indicating a finite initial term before an offer of extension would be made.
Finally, she said that if the board had attempted to terminate the contract last year, Jara likely would have made the case that he was still to be paid out for his final year by making the argument that the parties had agreed to a three-year term.