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EDITORIAL: On the way out, Jara plays Santa Claus

There are few endeavors more profitable in Nevada than running a failing school district, particularly one that functions under minimal oversight.

As the Review-Journal’s Mary Hynes recently reported, former Superintendent Jesus Jara’s top lieutenants received hefty pay hikes shortly before he left. The most egregious was a $68,000 annual pay hike — 40 percent! — for Clark County School District Police Chief Henry Blackeye. His base pay is now $235,000.

That’s a lot of money, but Mr. Blackeye doesn’t oversee a large department. It has just 180 people. Sheriff Kevin McMahill’s base pay is under $180,000, although he’s also collecting more than $215,000 annually from PERS. The sheriff leads a department of more than 6,000. Base pay for Henderson Chief of Police Hollie Chadwick is $220,000. She leads a department of more than 700 people.

Mr. Blackeye’s pay is similar to Adam Garcia, the director of University Police Services Southern Command. He makes $233,000 in base pay despite his department having only 133 positions and 72 contract security guards. But Garcia is obviously an outlier. Mr. Blackeye’s previous pay was more than sufficient for his level of responsibility.

But this is how government often works. Public employees leverage their salaries against government employees in different agencies. The pay keeps going higher, but performance doesn’t. Compensation quickly winds up widely out of line with what’s happening in the private sector.

On the way out the door, Mr. Jara also doled out a $51,000 raise to Chief Financial Officer Jason Goudie and almost $60,000 to then-deputy and now-interim superintendent Brenda Larsen-Mitchell. The other 10 members of his executive cabinet received 8 percent hikes, in line with what administrators received. The total cost of the raises is more than $320,000.

The move parallels what Mr. Jara did after the Board of Trustees temporarily fired him in fall 2021. He handed out more than $400,000 in base pay hikes to his cabinet. The board had previously given him the ability to approve raises in a bid to attract top-level talent, but this should have been a red flag.

It’s hard to find evidence that the talent is producing many results. Mr. Goudie did help steer the district off the edge of financial insolvency. But student achievement remains dismal. If these leaders had succeeded in that regard, $320,000 or even $3.2 million in raises might have been a bargain.

Instead, the system struggles, but the adults make more. Flush with cash from Carson City, the district doled out significant pay hikes to teachers and administrators, too.

There’s nothing wrong, of course, with rewarding employees for performance or offering pay hikes to workers. But paying the same people more to do the same thing, especially when they aren’t in the classroom, won’t improve educational outcomes. It also looks particularly bad that Mr. Jara was able to be so cavalier with taxpayer money after he and the district had decided to go their separate ways.

This is just more evidence that these elected trustees are in over their heads when it comes to supervising the nation’s fifth-largest district. Is it too much for Clark County taxpayers to ask that future contracts be written to prevent lame duck superintendents from playing Santa Claus?

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