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‘Proposed compromise’: School Board votes to accept Jara’s resignation, payout

Updated February 23, 2024 - 7:42 pm

The Clark County School Board voted 5-2 Thursday to approve Superintendent Jesus Jara’s conditional resignation and a $250,000 payout.

Trustees Brenda Zamora and Linda Cavazos voted against the contract amendment.

Jara, who has been the district’s top leader since 2018, announced in late January that he intends to leave the position. His last day on the job will be Friday.

The contract amendment calls for him to receive a single payment equal to about six months of pay — less than originally proposed. He won’t be paid for any unused leave or attorneys fees.

A statement from the School Board, which is included with meeting materials, calls it a “proposed compromise.”

After a failed motion during Thursday’s meeting to appoint Chief Financial Officer Jason Goudie as interim superintendent, trustees voted 5-2 to name Deputy Superintendent Brenda Larsen-Mitchell to the role. Trustees Irene Bustamante Adams and Cavazos were opposed.

Larsen-Mitchell told trustees she has served in the district for 30 years.

“I have always operated with a sense of kindness and integrity, morals and ethics, and a passion for education,” she said.

The hourslong meeting was largely taken up by impassioned public comment blocks.

Speakers — consisting mostly of educators — overwhelmingly spoke against letting Jara resign with a severance, with multiple people saying he would be allowed to depart with a “golden parachute.”

“Allowing him to resign and giving him a quarter-million dollar is not an acceptable outcome for this meeting,” said educator Robert Cowles.

“The superintendent has cost this district too much money already,” said Stephanie Valdez, a parent of school district students. “He’s not owed, nor does he deserve more money.”

A few others, like Ed Gonzalez, a member of Hickey Elementary School’s school organizational team, were more measured.

While Gonzalez agreed that Jara’s tenure should come to an end, he said that dragging the process further could lead to additional financial turmoil.

“It could be a lot worse,” he said. “If you’re ready to move on we need to move on.”

The Clark County Education Association expressed its displeasure in a Thursday statement saying that Jara’s administration continues on with the appointment of Larsen-Mitchell, his “hand picked replacement.”

“This is the continuation of a failed legacy administration,” the teachers union wrote.

Several thousand CCEA educators took a survey and 80 percent had no confidence in Larsen-Mitchell in leading the district as superintendent, the union said.

“CCEA believes an immediate search for new leadership should commence now with a new Superintendent in place before next school year,” the union wrote.

Finding a permanent replacement

Further public discussion about finding Jara’s replacement is slated to continue at the early March meeting.

Hiring a firm to recruit nationally could cost the district up to $100,000 and last between three and six months, according to a presentation of materials trustees received Thursday afternoon.

The firm would evaluate the applications, then the board would decide among three to five top candidates through a “series of public meetings.”

A search among Nevada candidates could cost up to $20,000 and take between one to two months, according to the presentation.

Under the second model, the board would publicly interview a few candidates, and select the next superintendent.

A tumultuous tenure

Earlier this month, the board decided in a split vote to reject a contract amendment that called for a severance payment equal to one year’s salary and benefits. Jara’s yearly salary is $395,000. It also proposed paying Jara for unused leave.

Trustees decided instead to terminate Jara’s contract — which was supposed to continue through June 2026 — “for convenience” and directed the board attorney to negotiate alternative terms.

During his tenure, Jara has faced criticism related to topics such as his handling of teacher contract negotiations and the COVID-19 pandemic, lagging student achievement, a teacher shortage and erroneous statements made to state legislators.

In fall 2021, a divided board voted to terminate Jara’s contract for convenience but then reversed course the following month.

There has been increasing public pressure for Jara to step down, including calls for his resignation beginning last year from the Clark County Education Association teachers union and top Democratic state lawmakers.

School Board President Evelyn Garcia Morales said during a Feb. 7 meeting that Jara was asked to consider a “mutual agreement” to step aside in order to help the district move forward.

She also said she was concerned about the “ongoing vitriol and disrespect that some people in the community have for Jara.”

Interim superintendent

Earlier in Thursday’s meeting, Cavazos made a motion to appoint Larsen-Mitchell and Goudie as co-interim superintendents.

Larsen-Mitchell and Goudie indicated they’d be each willing to be considered if there’s an emergency need, according to meeting materials.

Larsen-Mitchell has been employed by the school district since 1994 in a variety of roles. She has been deputy superintendent since 2020.

Goudie has served as chief financial officer since 2017.

Garcia Morales said she didn’t feel comfortable doing it in that way and the board would have to take a recess.

It’s a one-or-the other choice, she said, because a co-interim superintendent appointment isn’t written on the agenda as an option.

“All right, well, I thought it was worth a try,” Cavazos said.

Board attorney Nicole Malich said that co-superintendents would be allowed under the agenda item, but they would need to ask Larsen-Mitchell and Goudie if they’re willing to serve in the role together.

After a 10-minute recess, the board reconvened.

Malich said that Larsen-Mitchell and Goudie have concerns about being co-interim superintendents because of the high needs of the school district.

They believe there needs to be one clear interim leader so there’s consistent communication and expectations going forward, Malich said.

With Cavazos’ motion being declared null and void, discussion continued.

Garcia Morales said the board is focused on student outcomes and ensuring they continue to see “positive trends” in the school district, pointing to metrics such as student achievement and chronic absenteeism.

Larsen-Mitchell has played a huge role in that work, Garcia Morales said, adding she would love to see her in that role.

But there were differing opinions among trustees on who to select for the role, with some saying they’d prefer Goudie in the position.

A motion was made to appoint Goudie. But Goudie told trustees that while he was honored to be considered as interim superintendent, he felt Larsen-Mitchell was the best choice.

A motion to appoint Goudie failed in a 3-4 vote, with Trustees Evelyn Garcia Morales, Katie Williams, Lisa Guzman and Linda Cavazos voting “no.”

Garcia Morales said the board is focused on student outcomes and ensuring that “positive trends” in the school district continue, pointing to metrics such as student achievement and chronic absenteeism.

Larsen-Mitchell has played a huge role in that work, Garcia Morales said, adding she would love to see her in that role.

Remarks from top administrators

Both Larsen-Mitchell and Goudie addressed trustees. Goudie told trustees: “I know this is a challenging time for the district.”

He said he’s honored to be one of two people selected by Jara who would be qualified to act as interim superintendent.

“I feel like I’ve done a lot of good for the district in the financial world,” Goudie said.

He said he appreciates the support of trustees, and knows he could do the job as interim superintendent and is not afraid of it.

Goudie said he would be willing to do pretty much what is necessary for the district. But he said he truly doesn’t believe he would be the best option and said Larsen-Mitchell would.

He also said that serving as interim superintendent would put a little more strain on the financial component of the district.

It’s an honor to serve educators and children in the district, Larsen-Mitchell told trustees, noting she works hard every day.

She said she displays a relentless sense of urgency on behalf of children, who are depending on them to provide stability in “these trying times.”

Larsen-Mitchell said the district has an amazing team of educators and employees who give 120 percent every day to children.

She also said she will always listen and be solution-oriented.

Contact Ricardo Torres-Cortez at rtorres@reviewjournal.com. Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at jgreener@reviewjournal.com. Follow @julieswootton on X.

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