A public apology from Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara was not enough to calm concerns from a rowdy crowd of parents, teachers and students who came out Thursday night to protest the decision to eliminate 170 secondary deans.
The cut was meant to close a $17 million deficit, the latest in a string of cuts that have occurred year after year — amounting to more than $120 million in cuts in the last two years alone.
But this time, Jara’s move to eliminate 170 middle and high school dean positions and announce it in an online video prompted anger from district employees blindsided by the decision. On Wednesday, district principals voted “no confidence” in Jara.
On Thursday, Jara apologized for the way he made the announcement this week, noting that he wanted everyone to find out from him at the same time.
“I made a calculated decision and obviously it didn’t go as planned — so to you, everyone here, I’m sorry,” he said. “And to this community and to our board, I will do better in our communication, especially when we are talking about employment of our dedicated staff.”
‘Fewer eyes watching our children’
Jara’s words did little to ease worries of parents, grandparents, teachers and other staff at Thursday’s School Board meeting.
Meghann Peterson, a parent and an Arbor View High School teacher, said that after the racial threats she told worried students that everything was being done to ensure they were safe as possible.
“This is no longer a response I can offer in good conscience,” she said. “There will be fewer eyes watching our children and fewer trusted adults to confide in when scary things happen.”
Suynn Davis, an Arbor View High School grandparent, wondered how the district would eliminate racism in schools without a dean.
She argued that parents there were told they would receive another dean after a recent racist incident in which two students threatened to shoot up the school in social media attacks geared toward black students.
“Which one of these deans in here is going to come to our school?” she said, motioning to the CCSD room full of deans. “… This is Arbor View, and our students are not safe. And when they found out that what you told us, you’re not going to hold to — how are we going to stand with you?”
Jara cited other funding sources that might help boost school safety. Statewide, that includes roughly $38 million statewide for school police officers and mental health professionals in one piece of legislation, about $17 million for school facility improvements in another, and roughly $13 million in another for more mental health workers, police officers and a social-emotional program.
The district is working to get two officers on every high school campus and has identified money for more K9 dogs to join its team that screens for weapons, he said.
Schools are also expected to get $25 million to $30 million in money from unfilled positions from last year that they may use for safety, Jara noted.
But staff members still wonder how they will keep schools safe without the deans, who handle discipline but also a wide array of administrative duties that now must be absorbed by other school administrators.
“There are schools in CCSD that have had multiple fights in a single day or even a single lunch period this year,” Spring Valley High School Principal Tam Larnerd said. “I wonder who broke up those fights — hmm. I wonder who met with the parents after the fights. We all know the answer: It was the dean of students.”
Fear of cuts elsewhere
Some schools might use money from vacant positions to pay for an employee that will do the work of a dean — which also prompted concern.
Foothill High School student Madison Flick worried about her school’s performing arts program being hit with the brunt of a $300,000 shortfall there. She noted the school’s band is one of the best in Nevada, and program directors have helped give students unique opportunities.
“These directors are now under the threat of being cut from our school,” she said. “Our program is under direct fire when it comes to the possibility of taking out performing arts programs in order finance Foothill and the assistant principal.”
Yet the move did get support from some attendees.
Clark County Education Association President Vikki Courtney voiced support for Jara’s collaboration during the legislative session.
The cut to deans was among a list of unpleasant options on the table as the district tries to cut a total of roughly $33 million to $35 million over the biennium in total.
Other options included cutting magnet programs, performing arts programs, athletics and related athletic transportation, and transportation for all schools.