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Teachers union calls for board to fire Jara; says timing of resignation is ‘suspicious’

Updated February 1, 2024 - 7:29 pm

Teachers union officials called Thursday for the Clark County School Board to fire Superintendent Jesus Jara rather than buy out his contract.

“We do not believe he should be bought out,” Clark County Education Association President Marie Neisess said during a news conference at the union’s office.

Jara, who has led the nation’s fifth-largest school district since 2018, submitted his resignation letter Tuesday. His last day is Feb. 21.

The School Board will consider three items related to Jara’s resignation during a Wednesday work session, including whether to appoint current Deputy Superintendent Brenda Larsen-Mitchell as the district’s new top leader.

The timing of Jara’s resignation is “very suspicious,” Neisess said. “I believe that there’s a scandal brewing, and I believe it’s based on our pending litigation against Dr. Jara.”

If Jara was a decent person, he would walk away from the job and not accept a buyout, she said.

Jara should be relieved of his duties immediately, CCEA Executive Director John Vellardita said. “This guy is checked out. The only thing that he’s looking at is a checkbook.”

Lawsuit over Jara’s social media accounts

The teachers union, which represents more than 16,000 licensed employees, filed a petition last month in District Court against Jara and the district’s Chief Communications Officer Tod Story.

The union was seeking a court order to force the district to turn over records from Jara’s social media accounts.

It comes after a November post on the social media platform X from an account under Jara’s name, which was deactivated shortly thereafter, likened Neisess to a “mistress.”

The union also alleges that Jara and Story used a separate burner account to defame CCEA leadership.

The district agreed to turn over the public records the union requested by a Monday deadline. A hearing in the case is scheduled for Feb. 13.

School Board trustees should wait for evidence that Jara put out the “misogynistic tweet,” Neisess said.

She said that his social media posts should be cause for termination and the union doesn’t believe his account was hacked or that trustees conducted a true investigation.

School Board meeting

During Wednesday’s School Board meeting, trustees will consider Jara’s resignation and an amendment to his contract, which would allow him to provide only seven days’ notice of his departure instead of 90.

The proposed contract amendment also says he would be entitled to a lump sum severance payment of one year’s salary and benefits.

Jara’s salary is $395,000 annually. The value of his benefits was not available.

He also would receive payment for accrued but unused vacation days and sick leave.

The severance payment would be distributed to Jara “as soon as practicable after the effective date of his resignation,” according to the proposed amendment.

If the board terminates his contract “for convenience,” they must provide 30 days’ written notice and pay his salary and “monetary equivalent of employee benefits” for the remainder of his contract term.

The school district did not respond to questions from the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Thursday about agenda items for next week’s meeting, including why the board will consider authorizing its counsel to give written notification of “termination for convenience by board” of Jara’s existing employment agreement and amendments.

It also did not respond to questions about Larsen-Mitchell’s possible appointment.

What’s going to happen during the school board meeting is “not simply a narrative of a bad actor,” Vellardita said, but something more systemic that’s wrong with the school district.

Trustees have enabled bad leadership and are on the eve of “cutting a deal,” giving Jara a lot of money and not holding him accountable for things that should be grounds for his discharge, he said.

The public should be “very alarmed” that four trustees who control the board — Evelyn Garcia Morales, Irene Bustamante Adams, Lola Brooks and Katie Williams — will determine who will be next superintendent of the school district, Vellardita said.

He called on Gov. Joe Lombardo and state legislative leaders to pay close attention to the situation in the district.

The union believes what’s being proposed for Wednesday’s school board meeting is not good for the district or children, Vellardita said, and that it’s a deal cut by four trustees and Jara.

A buyout and a continuation of failed leadership is unacceptable, he said.

Vellardita said there should be a nationwide search to find the next superintendent and community meetings to seek input.

He said the union isn’t prepared to suggest any particular person who should be interim superintendent.

Call for ‘thorough and transparent process’

The Clark County Association of School Administrators and Professional-Technical Employees said Thursday that it “stands firm in its opposition” to the School Board’s agenda item next week seeking to appoint a superintendent.

The union said in a news release that it wants a comprehensive superintendent search, “seeking qualified candidates at both a local and national level.”

CCASAPE Executive Director Jeff Horn said it’s important to conduct a “thorough and transparent selection process” for the next superintendent.

The process needs to include input from employees, parents, students, community members and other stakeholders to identify the qualities and characteristics of the next leader, he said.

“If a school principal must participate in a rigorous selection process with multiple rounds of interviews, why would the vetting process be any less rigorous for the top administrator of the fifth-largest school district in the country?” Horn said.

Larsen-Mitchell as a possible next superintendent

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

School Board trustee Linda Cavazos wrote in a Wednesday night post on the social media platform X that she had no knowledge of an agenda item considering the appointment of Larsen-Mitchell as superintendent until the work session agenda was posted.

“I cannot respond to everyone individually,” she wrote in the post. “We are directed not to speak to media about pending items about which we’ve been informed. I will respect my agreement on those items. However, speaking only for myself, I had NO knowledge of item 2.03 until work session agenda posted.”

Larsen-Mitchell would be a continuation of Jara’s “failed leadership,” Neisess said.

Every time district administrators would roll something out — whether pertaining to curriculum or their “failed grading policy” — educators were upset because they saw on the front line what was happening, she said.

CCEA asked Larsen-Mitchell to meet with a group with educators to share their concerns, Neisess said. “But it fell on deaf ears. She was very adamant that everything that she was putting forward was going to work.”

Earlier calls for Jara’s resignation

The union first publicly called for Jara’s resignation in January 2023.

The union embraced and worked with Jara when he was first hired, Vellardita said, and gave him the benefit of the doubt during the COVID-19 pandemic.

He also said there were moments of instability on the school board, including in 2021 when the board voted to fire and then rehire Jara.

The union thought the worst thing that could happen at the time — particularly, during the pandemic — would be a change of leadership, Vellardita said.

Before the union publicly came out to say it wanted new leadership, CCEA had two conversations with Jara and talked with four trustees who are controlling the school board, he said.

They asked the superintendent and the four trustees what they’d do differently and they didn’t think anything was wrong, Vellardita said.

There has been contention between the union and school district, including a collective bargaining process that spanned about 10 months.

After 11 negotiation sessions over six months, the district declared an impasse in September. An arbitrator approved an agreement in December.

Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at jgreener@reviewjournal.com. Follow @julieswootton on X.

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