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Clark County superintendent Jara to look at options to cutting deans

Updated July 11, 2019 - 11:26 pm

The Clark County School Board discussed publicly Thursday a plan to eliminate 170 dean positions from the district and reassign those administrators to teaching roles.

The discussion was a way to bring the decision on the deans into the public forum after a complaint filed by the administrators’ union argued that the district had violated open meeting laws by voting to eliminate the positions behind closed doors.

Superintendent Jesus Jara rejected the notion that the June 5 closed session meeting was a violation of open meeting laws. He said he was opening the issue to public discussion “out of an abundance of caution.”

The board heard nearly an hour of public comment before board president Lola Brooks asked Jara if he wanted to reconsider his options. Brooks said trustees could not vote to overrule Jara’s decision.

Jara agreed to look at other possibilities and return to the board.

Board comments

Jara justified his decision to eliminate the dean positions by sharing the district’s other options to balance the budget, which he said would adversely affect students. Jara’s list of options included eliminating magnet programs at a savings of $19 million, as well as eliminating transportation for secondary schools at $31 million.

“I still believe, as your superintendent, that this is the best option possible,” Jara said.

After a speaker suggested that the district had received a cash infusion from the Nevada Legislature this week, Jara said he was unaware of any additional money but would check with his staff.

Trustee Linda Young apologized to the deans, characterizing the situation as “hurtful,” and attempted to make a motion to strike down Jara’s plan.

Other trustees asked to explore options to keep the deans, including using attrition money or reopening the budget, while expressing frustration with the Legislature for leaving the district underfunded. A majority of trustees ultimately concluded that they could not overturn Jara’s decision without violating board policies or micromanaging.

Public comments

The meeting drew heated remarks during the public comment period, with deans and their supporters detailing the losses and uncertainty they’re facing, as well as their anger at the manner in which the decision was made.

Stephen Augspurger, executive director of the Clark County Association of School Administrators and Professional-Technical Employees, told board members they had a legal duty to ensure the superintendent was acting in the best interest of the district.

“We’re talking about 170 human beings who work in schools and deliver a service that, despite what you may have heard, is needed,” he said.

Augspurger said he disagreed with Jara that Thursday’s meeting would serve to correct a potential open meeting violation. However, he said he was pleased with the outcome.

Some teachers spoke in favor of cutting the dean positions as a way to prevent cuts in the classroom, connecting the issue of the deans to a possible forthcoming strike.

“The decision to cut the dean position is the right one for kids,” said William Campf, a kindergarten teacher. “We don’t have enough licensed and qualified teachers in the classroom.”

James Frazee, a teacher at a comprehensive high school, said the conversation around the dean positions was reaching near-hysteria due more to ill will toward Jara than support for the deans themselves.

“Many schools large and small operate without the dean position,” Frazee said.

Campus safety

Speakers also criticized Jara’s plan to add more police officers to school campuses as a way to offset the loss of the deans, who often dealt with matters of discipline.

Green Valley High School principal Kent Roberts asked the board to leave the administrators in their positions for the next year, and spend the time looking for alternative solutions at each campus. A need for a site-based solution was later echoed by board Vice president Linda Cavazos and Trustees Deanna Wright and Linda Young.

“The two guns found at my school this year were found by deans, not dogs,” Roberts said.

Middle school teacher Alexis Salt also said the plan would put students of color at risk because of implicit biases that lead to higher incarceration rates for Black and Latinx youth.

“When my kid misbehaves, she doesn’t need a social worker, and she sure as hell doesn’t need a cop,” Salt said. “Why would we introduce kids to police who otherwise would not be introduced to police?”

Contact Aleksandra Appleton at aappleton@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0218 or follow her on Twitter @aleksappleton.

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