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EDITORIAL: Jara’s tenure uninspiring, but he’s also a scapegoat

Jesus Jara’s stormy tenure as superintendent of the Clark County School District now draws to a close. Notably, Mr. Jara doesn’t leave because he did nothing to improve student outcomes. Instead, he hits the highway because he got sideways with union interests and the Democratic politicians they carry around in their back pockets.

On Tuesday, Mr. Jara submitted his resignation to the Board of Trustees. He departs effective Feb. 22, contingent upon approval of a separation agreement and severance package. In reality, however, there’s no turning back for the superintendent. Whether the district meets his terms or not — anything beyond the provisions of his current contract should be out of the question — Mr. Jara has no effective means of governing at this point.

The details behind his decision remain murky, but the superintendent had been the target of vitriol from union interests and Democratic lawmakers when he dared stand up to the Clark County Education Association during contract negotiations. Both gleefully piled on upon learning of Mr. Jara’s resignation. A union statement accused Mr. Jara of “misleadership.” Assembly Speaker Steve Yeager, a Las Vegas Democrat, called the decision a “great relief.”

Mr. Jara’s four-year stint in the top spot was indeed uninspiring. He gutted school discipline in the name of “equity.” He imposed a dumbed-down and destructive grading system that rewarded sloth and helped disguise the district’s failure to educate thousands of students. He made enemies during legislative sessions. Student test scores remained abysmal.

But blaming Mr. Jara for the district’s entrenched mediocrity is laughable. Mr. Jara’s fatal offense was to perturb the union and the lawmakers who pad their re-election coffers with its cash. The icy relationship hit a low point in December when Democratic legislators withheld legally authorized raises to district support personnel in order to pressure Mr. Jara into caving to the contract demands of teachers. Days later, the union made generous contributions to one of the lawmakers involved and the Senate majority leader.

The district’s problems stem far beyond Mr. Jara and predate his time as superintendent by decades. Among the most prominent issues are a School Board that would have a hard time running a lemonade stand, let alone the fifth-largest district in the country, and Democratic lawmakers who for years have tolerated failure by catering to the education establishment and watering down or gutting reforms that might upset the status quo.

Going forward, the new superintendent should be an aggressive reformer willing to confront the forces of inertia and to set high standards for educators and students while welcoming accountability and transparency. The question is, do the School Board, the union and state lawmakers seek the same?

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