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School board candidates criticize timing of Jara evaluation, contract renewal

Updated October 3, 2022 - 6:01 pm

Ahead of a potential vote to renew embattled Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara’s contract, three of the candidates who are running for seats on the School Board in November’s election have called the process inadequate, disheartening and “a sham.”

Three seats will be up for grabs in November’s general election, which has the potential to flip or maintain the current balance of power on a board where decisions are consistently decided with a 4-3 vote.

That includes two decisions made by the board last fall to fire Jara and subsequently rehire him after he leveled claims of a hostile work environment against certain board members.

In November’s election, board incumbents Linda Cavazos, Irene Cepeda and Danielle Ford will face off against challengers Greg Wieman, Brenda Zamora and Irene Bustamante Adams, respectively.

Following the announcement by the district that they planned to move forward with a discussion and possible vote about renewing Jara’s contract this week – just hours after completing his evaluation – Ford, Wieman and Zamora called the expedited process and the metrics that were used for Jara’s evaluation into question.

Ford, who has been one of Jara’s loudest critics on the board, said the board had no right to make a decision of this magnitude right before an election that could change the makeup of the board.

“They’re cutting out tens of thousands of voters’ voices, if not more,” she said.

Cavazos, Cepeda and Bustamante Adams did not respond to requests for comment about Jara’s potential contract renewal. Jara declined a request for comment Monday but said through a spokesperson that he remains focused on the stability of the district and the academic performance and success of its students.

Board members are set to discuss Jara’s contract at a work session at 9 a.m. on Wednesday at the Edward A. Greer Education Center, 2832 E. Flamingo Road.

Timeline for Jara’s evaluation moved up

At a board work session last month, Jara’s evaluation process was moved up after Trustee Lola Brooks asked that the board complete it by Oct. 1. Jara’s contract stipulated only that the evaluation be completed by Dec. 15.

The evaluation was completed last Thursday, after the board scored Jara on three metrics that they approved earlier this year and found him to be “highly effective.”

But Ford questioned whether those metrics – which focused on students’ reading and math proficiency, suspensions and expulsions among Black students and the hiring of teachers – captured the full breadth of the superintendent’s performance.

Jara has had a controversial tenure with the board that culminated last fall in his ouster. Following his firing, he gave more than $400,000 in base salary increases to senior members of his executive cabinet, and later told the board he was seeking $2 million over allegations of harassment and retaliation, claims that the board settled earlier this year.

On Thursday, Ford questioned whether there should be other factors that the board should consider in evaluating Jara.

“I mean, how do you say, ‘I would like a superintendent that doesn’t sue the board,’ without knowing that might happen?” she said.

Wieman said the board showed a lack of professionalism by not having a consistent measurement tool and process in place to evaluate the superintendent.

Board President Irene Cepeda, who was the swing vote to fire and rehire Jara last fall, acknowledged on Thursday that there has not been a consistent process for evaluating the superintendent over the last several years.

Wieman also called the data used for the evaluation limited and inadequate.

“It does little to reveal the effectiveness and overall performance of the superintendent,” he said.

Timing of contract renewal called into question

The proposed contract extension being considered by the board on Wednesday would run through June 30, 2026, and would see Jara’s pay increased to $395,000 a year. Jara joined the district in June 2018 at a salary of $320,000. If the board terminates Jara before the end of the proposed contract, the district would be obligated to pay him his remaining salary for the entire contract term.

Ford said that by moving up Jara’s evaluation and voting on his contract renewal so quickly, the current board is attempting to control the trajectory of the district for the next four years, the same amount of time that trustees who would be elected or re-elected in November would serve.

After Ford questioned the timing of Jara’s contract renewal last week, Trustee Katie Williams said on Twitter that if Ford would “start coming to closed sessions you’d know all about the things that are being discussed.”

Closed sessions are meetings that can be held by public bodies behind closed doors, out of view of the public, to discuss matters like personnel issues or potential lawsuits. Ford said she was not in a closed session held on Thursday before Jara’s evaluation.

Ford called the process “a sham” designed to give the appearance that the board cares about public opinion.

“Clearly there was nothing that could have stopped this,” she said. “Clearly his evaluation didn’t mean anything because they already worked out the logistics of his contract renewal.”

Wieman said the current board was trying to take decisions out of the hands of a new board.

Zamora, who is running in District D to challenge Cepeda, called it frustrating that, as the district inches closer to the election, actions already seem to be planned out with no regard for input from teachers or the public.

The progressive advocate and first-time candidate said that she’s heard from several teachers who have said they will leave the district if Jara’s contract is renewed.

At a roundtable discussion between educators and Gov. Steve Sisolak last week, several teachers expressed frustration with the current management of the district, which they described as too top-heavy, led by toxic administrators.

Robert Taylor Elementary counselor Brittany Robertson and McCaw STEAM Academy teacher Megan Carque were two of the educators who said they do not support a contract renewal for Jara.

“He is draining our district,” Carque said. “He’s there for him. He is there to get his income for as long as he can have it.”

For Zamora, a vote to renew Jara’s contract doesn’t come down to politics or the election, but what is ultimately best for the district’s students.

“We cannot lose any more teachers,” Zamora said. “It makes me nervous. What is that going to mean for the district if they do this?

Contact Lorraine Longhi at 702-387-5298 or llonghi@reviewjournal.com. Follow her at @lolonghi on Twitter.

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