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[COMMENTARY] Las Vegas Has a School District in Crisis: Time to Have Some Hard Conversations

[COMMENTARY] Las Vegas Has a School District in Crisis: Time to Have Some Hard Conversations

The Clark County School District doesn’t appear to do crisis management very well. Last year around this same time, the nation’s fifth-largest district was going through a different crisis, when Superintendent Dr. Jesus Jara decided to cut 170 Dean positions from the district. This led to a strike threat. And even then, it was the imminent threat of budget cuts upstate that caused that mess. Ultimately, after much public outcry, Dr. Jara reversed himself and reinstated the deans, but only temporarily. He eventually cut the positions anyway, and today the positions no longer exist.

Dr. Jesus Jara
Photo: Las Vegas Review-Journal

And here we are, a year later, in the midst of a global pandemic, where Nevada is facing millions of dollars in state budget cuts and state lawmakers expect children to pay the state’s bills. And once again, the Superintendent of Schools in Clark County may have made a fatal mistake.

Dr. Jara has to answer now for his actions on Assembly Bill 2. Frankly, he has now been called “dishonest,” and not just by anyone. The Governor and the state’s top educator, Jhone Ebert have called Jara out on the carpet, and they have done so in the most public way. Here are the details as to what has led up to the calls for Jara’s resignation.

From the snow day debacle (the snow that never came) to a general lack of or poor communication, to the equity report that never mentioned anything about a digital divide, people want Dr. Jesus Jara to pack his bags. Today, Stephen Augspurger, the Executive Director of the Clark County Association of School Administrators and Profession Employees,  (CCASAPE) requested his walking papers again today in a vote of no confidence.

Add in the fact that today, the Clark County Education Association told CCASAPE to back off, calling their statement “a distraction,” and now you have a wild clusterf**k beyond all proportions. No one is winning in this dogfight. And the only ones losing are the children, who are innocent pawns.

Who’s right and who’s wrong? It depends on whose side you agree with.

Some are saying that Dr. Jara was set up to fail by the Governor. Some are asking why John Vellardita, CCEA’s Executive Director was involved in the first place. Some are saying to ignore the tug-of-war altogether and fix the revenue/funding problem upstate before dealing with this drama.

It’s a perfect storm. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Most certainly, Dr. Jara needs to own up to some recent heavy-duty mistakes in judgment. From him cutting the Title 1 money to cutting AVID, to stacking task forces/commissions/panels together with central office cronies instead of actual stakeholders. Why can’t we ever hear from that 4th-grade teacher down the hall? Why isn’t her opinion welcomed at the stakeholder’s table?

Point blank: the mistakes have been fatal and they have cost the District, the 5th largest in the country, a bit of respect. Matter of fact, the ink hasn’t dried on his evaluation just weeks ago when it’s clear that some of those same conversations need to be reprised. Trustees: the ball is in your court. You have some decisions to make and some conversations to have. Now is not the time to roll your eyes or whine and moan and groan. Jesus Jara only has a few months left on his contract. I agree that now may not be the appropriate time to have these conversations, but if not now, then when?

In fact, three trustees are getting the ball rolling on this:

CCSD has not done a good job picking superintendents lately and some are saying this is another example in a string of bad choices, while others are saying that he hasn’t been here long enough to make such a rash judgment.

Where will it end? It won’t be pretty. Tempers will flare. Public eye-rolling and moaning and groaning via Zoom are likely to occur. But the quicker we restore trust, accountability, and transparency in the superintendent’s office, the quicker we can move on from this mess.

It’s all about the leadership and our children deserve no less. Meanwhile, parents want answers and the public wants answers. Teachers and administrators want to know what school will look like in the Fall. You need to have an adult in the room in order to have these conversations. If it is decided to punt the issue for a few months until a new Board is seated, then the new trustees will need to decide if Jara is worthy of a contract renewal.

The drama has been distracting and now is not the time for any more distractions. Whether discipline is warranted or resignation is demanded, either way, it won’t be pretty.

But for the sake of the District and the children, the conversations must be had…and soon.

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