A District Court judge in Las Vegas has at least temporarily stopped the Clark County School District from eliminating 170 dean positions for this upcoming school year.
The decision Wednesday by Judge Nancy Allf came in response to a complaint filed last month by the administrators union alleging that the School Board violated Nevada’s open meeting law by voting behind closed doors to eliminate the deans positions to help close a $17 million deficit.
The temporary restraining order will give both sides time to present their cases to the court ahead of a ruling on the merits of the union’s complaint and the possible issuance of an injunction.
“I’d like to say I feel really good about this, but the fact of the matter is what’s happened is a travesty,” said Stephen Augspurger, executive director of the Clark County Association of School Administrators and Professional-Technical Employees. “I think what happened today is at least the first step in putting this thing back on the right track.”
The decision, which Augspurger said will be in effect for 14 days, also freezes efforts to reassign deans to schools as teachers, which were already underway.
School staffing in flux
That leaves school staffing for this upcoming school year in flux, while providing at least temporary relief for displaced deans.
Stephanie Harris, who was a dean at West Preparatory Academy, said she felt powerless when she received an email reassigning her as a teacher to a different school.
“More than anything I think that what’s concerning to me is the fact that if a superintendent has this unilateral power, then who’s to say in the future that assistant principals or other valued members necessary to the teaching community won’t be diminished in value?” she said. “So I hope this sets a precedent that this power, this autonomy that the superintendent has is again monitored closely.”
After losing roughly $111,000 per dean— which is the average annual cost of a dean — middle and high schools across the valley have been finding ways to fund assistant principal positions to perform the duties of the deans by shifting money in their budgets.
That is typically easier for the higher-needs, impoverished schools that receive a variety of funds from the state. But schools with less poverty in their student populations have a harder time getting creative with their financing to spare an administrative position.
The district said in a statement that it will comply with the temporary order pending a hearing.
The district argued in filings that the court can’t issue an injunction to reverse Superintendent Jesus Jara’s decision because he is vested with the complete authority to hire, fire and reassign employees — as well as control the school budget — as he sees fit.
It also criticized what it characterized as an “instant lawsuit” seeking to “collaterally attack Dr. Jara’s authority to eliminate the dean of students position at all costs.”
“Dr. Jara has never been required to consult the Board of Trustees to eliminate a position within CCSD and was not required to consult the Board of Trustees in making his decision to eliminate the dean of schools position,” the opposition filing said. “This decision was taken unilaterally by Dr. Jara based on power delegated to him under Nevada law.”
The district also argued that the closed-door meeting was exempt from open meeting law because it concerned labor negotiations and strategies.
The School Board still could convene in open session and vote on the elimination of the deans — bringing the matter to a public forum with public comment.
Plans to take up slack
The district has contended that other safety measures implemented for the upcoming school year will make schools more secure and reduce the need for the deans, who typically handled disciplinary matters among other areas.
Jara plans to add four more K-9 officers to the school police force to help detect firearms in schools. He also plans to increase the number of police officers at high schools from one to two.
He also announced two new positions — a licensed student success project facilitator and an administrative student success coordinator — who will rotate among schools to help take up the slack if the deans are eliminated.
The district is expecting to receive state money appropriated during the recent legislative session for mental health professionals and police officers in schools. It also plans to meet with the Clark County Commission to discuss a possible sales tax increase that could fund certain education measures.
But the administrators union has argued that those measures are not enough to replace a dean position that connects with students.
“Anyone with any common sense knows that that’s not a fair trade-off,” Augspurger said, noting that officers are unlikely to have the same kind of relationship with students that deans do.
Contact Amelia Pak-Harvey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4630. Follow @AmeliaPakHarvey on Twitter.