Clark County schools’ superintendent will remain after board rejects his resignation–for now

The Clark County School District Board of Trustees Wednesday, February 7, 2024. (Lorraine Longhi/The Nevadan / El Nevadense)

By Lorraine Longhi

February 8, 2024

The controversial tenure of Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara reached a fever pitch Wednesday night, as the board ultimately voted to not approve his resignation or pay out the remainder of his contract following public outcry.

Jara, who came on to lead the district in 2018 and has been fired and rehired in that time, submitted his resignation last week after several community members, teachers, union leaders, and state lawmakers called for his removal last year.

But the board narrowly voted to reject his resignation, along the same slim margin that high-profile decisions regarding Jara have been made in recent years. Dozens of community members spoke in protest, citing several pending investigations into the superintendent and their vehement disapproval of paying out the rest of his contract.

At the beginning of the meeting, Board President Evelyn Garcia Morales said discussion of Jara’s contract did not have to be contentious, even if “external voices have a lot to gain or are strongly encouraging us to make it one.”

But her wishes soon evaporated over the course of a volatile four-hour meeting where community members slammed the board and accused trustees of a lack of transparency, and what teacher and union leader Jim Frazee described as an “attempted hijacking of taxpayer dollars.”

Michael Jahn, a teacher at Centennial High School, implored the board not to accept Jara’s resignation, calling the timing suspicious, with controversy over Jara’s social media use and an investigation from state and federal education officials into the district’s use of federal COVID-19 relief funds looming.

“I will be doing cartwheels along with the rest of Clark County when (Jara) finally leaves, however the idea of paying someone who has failed us so miserably over half a million dollars is something I cannot abide,” Jahn said.

The board ultimately voted 5-2 to continue negotiating Jara’s separation from the district, and a future vote to accept his resignation will depend on how negotiations go between the superintendent and the board’s attorney regarding compensation.

Jara remains in his current role until the matter is resolved, a district spokesperson confirmed following the meeting.

What were the criticisms?

At issue at Wednesday’s meeting was the timeline of when Jara was approached to step down.

Under his current contract, Jara makes $395,000 annually, excluding benefits, as part of a contract that was approved in 2022 and runs through June 2026.

But Garcia Morales said she had approached Jara earlier this year and asked him to consider a mutual agreement that would help him step aside and allow the district to move forward and refocus the community’s energy.

Garcia Morales called “the pressure” to ask Jara to leave “significant,” and said trustees had met with Assemblyman Steve Yeager about the issue.

Yeager and other Democratic lawmakers have called for Jara to resign, citing the squandered opportunities to improve education in the district.

In a statement Thursday, Yeager reiterated the need for Jara to resign or be relieved of his duties, but said that he did not advocate for a buyout of the superintendent’s contract. That is a decision that ultimately lies with the Board and their attorney “after considering all of the relevant facts surrounding his performance and the many scandals that have riddled his tenure,” he wrote.

The superintendent has faced criticism for flagging achievement in the district and receiving $95,000 to settle a lawsuit over claims of a hostile work environment.

Garcia Morales, who voted against firing Jara in 2021 and subsequently voted to rehire him and re-up his contract in 2022, said she was “personally concerned with the ongoing vitriol and disrespect that some people in our community have for Dr. Jara.”

Jara was not in attendance at Wednesday’s meeting, a move that Las Vegas Alliance of Black School Educators President Kamilah Bywaters highlighted as the real disrespect.

“…he divided us,” Bywaters said. “So now it’s us who have to apologize for the interpersonal conflict? Absolutely not … It is unacceptable to blame community members, the taxpayers, for an interpersonal conflict.”

Before voting to terminate his contract, Trustee Lola Brooks called Jara a “convenient scapegoat for some long-standing, systemic issues.”

“If we continue to focus on these interpersonal power struggles, we’re never going to actually talk about students or student success,” Brooks said. “So this is an act of kindness.”

The vote to accept Jara’s resignation ultimately failed–with Trustees Irene Bustamante Adams, Linda Cavazos and Brenda Zamora voting against–with cheers erupting from the audience. Garcia Morales immediately moved to recess the board into a closed session after the vote.

To Flor Diaz, a UNLV student and youth organizer with community organizing group Make the Road Nevada, the move was a sign of disrespect to the dozens of people who had gathered to speak and be a part of the process.

“Calling a recess for an hour? They knew what they were doing,” Diaz told The Nevadan. “They knew that we were to speak.”

What’s next?

The board was also set to consider a motion to name Deputy Superintendent Brenda Larsen-Mitchell as superintendent Wednesday, but did not take action on the item due to pending negotiations over Jara’s employment.

Henderson Mayor Michelle Romero slammed the board for their “lack of performance, communication or any real progress” at the end of the meeting, calling it infuriating and saying that settling for “more of the same” was unacceptable.

“The entire community is watching and they deserve to have their voices heard,” Romero said. “We need you to show true leadership in this moment by performing a fair, nationwide search to find the best superintendent for our schools.”

Yeager, in his Thursday statement, also urged the district to have a nationwide search to find Jara’s replacement.

“I have strongly encouraged the Board to listen and include parents, teachers, and community members in the search for a new superintendent in order to restore confidence in the Clark County School District,” he wrote.

Reach the reporter at [email protected].

  • Lorraine Longhi

    Lorraine Longhi is a reporter for The Nevadan and native of the southwest. A graduate of Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism & Mass Communication, she spent eight years reporting in Arizona, including at The Arizona Republic and The Copper Courier, where she covered education, health care and state politics. She returned to Las Vegas, her hometown, last year as an education reporter for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, where she was later promoted to assistant city editor

CATEGORIES: COMMUNITY | EDUCATION | POLITICS

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