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VICTOR JOECKS: What CCSD can learn from Juden’s legacy in NLV

It may be hard to believe, but a decade ago the Clark County School District wasn’t the most troubled government entity in Southern Nevada.

That would have been the city of North Las Vegas. Its remarkable turnaround offers lessons for the still-struggling district.

Thursday is Ryann Juden’s last day as NLV city manager. He’s leaving to help start a private equity fund. Today, the municipality is thriving and one of the fastest-growing cities in the country. That’s a stark contrast from when he started in 2013.

NLV is “on the brink of financial insolvency,” the Review-Journal reported in January 2014. A state takeover loomed. John Lee, who’s now running for Congress in Nevada’s 4th Congressional District, won election as mayor in 2013. He didn’t sugarcoat the situation.

“I believe in our team, but I understand the severity of the challenges,” Lee said in his State of the City speech in early 2014. “Never forget, I am a plumber, and I have dealt with lots of crap over the years.”

For Lee and Juden, who joined the city shortly after Lee’s victory, that would prove to be an understatement. They faced a number of smears and attacks from disgruntled employees. The city was close to imploding, and some entrenched bureaucrats still cared primarily about protecting their turf.

He recalled that “about half the workforce had been laid off” before Lee took office. That resulted in some people being put in positions based on “seniority, through bumping rights.” We had to “deconstruct” the city and “figure out how to do government better,” Juden said in an interview.

One thing that Juden did was streamline wait times for city permits and licenses. He once took some senior directors on a “field trip.” They tracked the paperwork submitted by the public through city hall to “identify bottlenecks” and eliminate them. Some of the things “that used to take months” are now done over-the-counter, Juden said.

One of NLV’s most remarkable recent accomplishments was the creation of the Southern Nevada Urban Micro Academy during COVID. Most of the students who attended the micro school began the year below grade level in reading. At the end of the year, most were above grade level.

“That school was put together in a day,” Juden said after describing the group meeting that created it.

The contrast with the district couldn’t be greater. Here are some key differences.

First, voters wanted a change. Lee defeated an incumbent mayor and voters stuck with him. School Board races receive little voter interest — the fine readers of this column excluded — and it shows.

Next, failure led to reform, not financial gain. NLV’s fiscal crisis made the status quo untenable, giving Lee, Juden and their team cover to metaphorically tear down the city and rebuild it. When politicians dump money into the district, they only solidify its failure.

Finally, leadership. Lee and Juden had the courage to withstand nasty public attacks and an understanding of what would improve things. Former Superintendent Jesus Jara showed bravery in taking on the teachers union, but he kept pursuing the wrong policies.

Juden leaves a legacy of success in NLV and has set an example for others to follow.

Contact Victor Joecks at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on X.

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