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VICTOR JOECKS: Why Jara failed as CCSD superintendent

The greatest magic act in Las Vegas isn’t on the Strip. It’s the Clark County Education Association’s sleight-of-hand regarding its role in the repeated failures of the Clark County School District.

On Wednesday, Superintendent Jesus Jara announced his resignation, effective later this month. That was unexpected. The union and Democrat legislative leaders previously called for his ouster. But the district and union recently agreed to a new contract for teachers, resolving the most heated conflict.

His resignation might stem from a post on the social media site X that disparaged union President Marie Neisess. The union is due to receive records about that by Feb. 5.

“The school district needed new leadership,” CCEA Executive Director John Vellardita said in a Thursday news conference. There was five years of evidence that demonstrated Jara’s leadership “was a failure.”

Jara did fail. He didn’t meet the Focus 2024 achievement goals he sent after taking the position. Yes, the pandemic played a part in that, but the post-pandemic recovery has been anemic. The chronic absenteeism crisis means many students don’t even bother to show up to class. Many students that do attend don’t have full-time teachers.

Jara made many terrible policy decisions. He gutted school discipline, which increased school violence. Many teachers have been injured or don’t feel safe at school. He lowered grading standards. Even for assignments that aren’t turned in, the minimum grade is now 50 percent. Teachers can’t penalize students for missing class or cheating. These issues — not teacher pay — are the top reasons why the district can’t retain enough teachers.

But even if Jara had gotten these decisions right, he still would have failed. That’s because the union exerts de facto control over much of the district’s salary and personnel decisions thanks to Nevada’s collective bargaining laws.

Jara wore the mantle of responsibility but lacked the power to make substantial changes without the union’s blessing. For instance, a year ago, the union even opposed Jara’s plan to pay teachers more to work in less desirable schools.

This isn’t 20/20 hindsight. Six years ago, I wrote, “CCSD’s next superintendent is going to fail.” Months before Jara began his tenure, I noted, “Union leadership has spent decades perfecting this bait-and-switch. Thanks to state law, union officials hold most of the power, but the superintendent gets the blame when things don’t go well.

“The job description says ‘superintendent,’ but the district will really be hiring another fall guy.”

That’s what happened. Jara took the fall to distract the public from the union’s failures.

For the sake of the almost 300,000 kids attending district schools, I beg you — especially my moderate and liberal readers — to consider this. Dwight Jones was the business community’s choice. Pat Skorkowsky was the union’s choice. Jara was the outsider. They all failed as superintendent because what needs to be fixed is the union’s outsized influence.

There is a glimmer of hope on this front. Jara took steps to decertify CCEA. If the board continues that effort, the union should lose its status as teachers’ bargaining agent. If that happens, Jara will give the next superintendent something he never had — a real chance to succeed.

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

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