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EDITORIAL: School Board should explore all available options

If anything good came out of the Jesus Jara mess this week, it’s that the Clark County School Board took a skeptical view of the superintendent’s departure demands while hitting the brakes on a plan to immediately slide his deputy into the corner suite.

In a Jan. 31 resignation letter, Mr. Jara signaled his intention to step down this month if the trustees agreed to his buyout terms. Board members on Wednesday instead voted 5-2 to begin negotiations with Mr. Jara over his outgoing financial package.

The ultimate goal, of course, should be to spare the taxpayers any exorbitant costs.

Under the terms of Mr. Jara’s contract — which runs through June 30, 2026 — he would have been entitled to full pay and benefits through his last day had he given 90 days’ notice. Mr. Jara seeks new contract language that provides accrued benefits — vacation time, sick days and such worth about $400,000 — and a full year’s salary — $395,000 — upon only a week’s notice of departure.

The board is under no obligation to accept Mr. Jara’s terms. If he continues to demand close to $1 million to walk away, it might be cheaper for the trustees to cease negotiations and simply fire him for cause. His contract includes provisions regarding “malfeasance or nonfeasance in office” and “neglect … of substantial duties” that could reasonably be used as legal justification.

The last thing this embattled school district needs is a superintendent who doesn’t want to be here.

As for the next district chief, the board also tabled a proposal to replace Mr. Jara with Deputy Superintendent Brenda Larsen-Mitchell. Obviously, there’s no point moving forward in that regard until Mr. Jara’s situation is settled. But the trustees would be making a mistake to not investigate a wide range of potential candidates, from near and far.

This is the fifth-largest school district in the country, and it faces a number of unique challenges, the most pressing of which is the academic improvement of the 290,000 students it serves. The next superintendent should be open to reform, unafraid to confront the entrenched education establishment, a staunch proponent of setting high standards for students and educators and a champion of transparency. He or she should prioritize academic achievement above all else, while promoting a safe learning environment for teachers and kids.

If Ms. Larsen-Mitchell wants to apply for the top job, that’s up to her. But the School Board would be doing the community a disservice by taking the path of least resistance and not exploring all available options.

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