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Clark County School District Superintendent Dwight Jones announces resignation

With more of his reforms in shambles than in action, Superintendent Dwight Jones will leave the Clark County School District halfway through his four-year contract.

Jones — hired in October 2010 for a $358,000 annual compensation package — publicly announced his departure Tuesday night. His last day is March 22, well short of his contractual requirement to give 90 days’ notice, highly placed School District sources said.

Jones declined to comment, but he emailed district staff at 7:01 p.m. announcing his resignation.

Clark County School Board President Carolyn Edwards described Jones’ decision as based entirely on personal considerations.

Jones’ departure is attributed to concern about his ailing mother, who lives in Texas, sources said.

Other School Board members on Tuesday were apparently uninformed of Jones’ departure plans. Board member Deanna Wright said board members had discussed extending his contract as he continues reforms in the district, including a new school assessment system.

Board member Erin Cranor said, “I don’t have the information I need to comment. … I’m really happy with Dwight and the work he’s doing. I’d like him to be here as long as he can.”

Today Jones is expected to ask the board to abandon the centerpiece of his reform package, a costly school-ranking system called the School Performance Framework.

Although it has been in development for two years, the system that Jones said would be “a way for us to hold ourselves accountable for improved student performance” is already obsolete, destined to be cast aside before the ink has time to dry. That is because the district’s framework directly conflicts with the state’s method of grading schools. And the state framework is the only assessment system that the U.S. and Nevada departments of education will accept in making decisions.

The district’s system bolsters scores of low-performing schools by giving them the maximum amount of points allowed for just showing improvement in graduation rates, for example, even though the graduation rate may be dismal. The state system, replacing the requirements of No Child Left Behind, takes into account student improvement, as the district system does, but places a higher priority on meeting grade-level standards.

To build and implement the district’s system, Jones brought in a friend and former employee, Ken Turner, on a three-year, $750,000 consulting contract. The two worked together when Jones was Colorado education commissioner, before he became CCSD superintendent.

The renewal of Turner’s contract, including multiple $50,000 relocation fees, divided the School Board in February. On Tuesday, Turner declined to comment on whether he would remain as a district consultant without Jones at the helm.

Jones’s departure comes in the midst of a crucial legislative session that will determine future funding for the cash-strapped district.

Class sizes are at an all-time high, with an average of 34 students in elementary and middle school classes and 38 students in high school classes.

Nevada is one of the nation’s lowest-ranked states for student performance, and Clark County, the nation’s fifth-largest public school system, accounts for three-quarters of Silver State students.

Last school year ended with a teacher exodus after turbulence between Jones and the teacher’s union, the Clark County Education Association, over salaries. The union won in arbitration and teachers kept their pay raises for seniority and for earning continuing education credits. But an unusually large wave of 1,215 teachers voluntarily left the district last summer, twice the normal rate.

The district’s relationship with the union, which represents almost 18,000 teachers, remains tense after Jones won the battle this year for a freeze to teacher salaries, which means $23 million in annual savings.

Jones is also the first district superintendent in recent history to lose a campaign to increase property taxes. The district sought to collect $669 million for school improvements but that was rejected by 66 percent of county voters in November.

The day after the election, auditors reported that the balance of all district funds shrank by $295 million in 2011-12, marking a 28 percent drop in one fiscal year to a balance of $758 million.

“Voters not approving Question 2 puts us in a very serious situation,” Edwards said at the time, emphasizing that the district must consider returning to a year-round school schedule in 2013-14 to save money. “This will cost the community.”

Jones decided Friday to put southwest valley elementary schools Forbuss, Reedom and Wright on year-round schedules to alleviate crowding.

The board will consider rezoning more southwest elementary schools today because of crowding.

The School Board now will have to add another heavy job onto its plate — replacing Jones on short notice.

Contact reporter Trevon Milliard at tmilliard@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0279.

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