Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024 | 1:31 p.m.
The Clark County School District teachers union is ratcheting up pressure on the School Board after Superintendent Jesus Jara proposed a plan to resign, declaring it wants Jara fired for cause.
The Clark County Education Association doesn’t want Jara, whose contract runs through June 2026, to be allowed to resign with a severance package worth at least one year of his $395,000 salary, as outlined in an agenda for a School Board meeting next week. It also doesn’t want him terminated “for convenience,” an option that comes with an even heftier buyout.
“What he’s asking the trustees to do is not honor his current contract. He’s asking them to modify his current contract to get a buyout on his terms,” CCEA Executive Director John Vellardita said today at a news conference. “The trustees have to have the courage to say no and terminate him or ask him to resign.”
CCEA did not invite the Sun to its event at union headquarters, but the news conference was livestreamed by media outlets that were allowed to attend.
Jara submitted a “conditional resignation” letter to School Board President Evelyn Garcia Morales on Tuesday. He did not give a reason why he is seeking to resign.
Jara said his resignation would be conditioned on the board accepting an amendment to his contract that would grant a buyout of one year of his $395,000 salary, plus the value of benefits and unused sick and vacation time. The resignation would be effective Feb. 21.
If the board, which oversees Jara as its sole employee, does not accept his resignation at a meeting Wednesday, it could consider terminating Jara “for convenience” or no given reason.
If the Board accepts the resignation, it would have to amend Jara’s contract to allow the short notice and payout.
Under his current contract, Jara is not due a severance if he resigns or if he is fired for cause. He would only be bought out if terminated for convenience; that term, which pays him all remaining salary and the value of benefits through his 2026 contract end date, is not proposed to change.
Marie Neisess, the CCEA president, said the timing of Jara’s proposed departure is suspicious. A deadline is approaching in a pending lawsuit for Jara’s attorney to hand over the superintendent’s social media records. Neisess and the union filed the lawsuit in response to a now-deleted disparaging and misogynistic post Jara allegedly made about her on X.
CCEA and Jara used to have a copacetic relationship. Vellardita alluded to this today when he said the union had given Jara the benefit of the doubt, including during the challenges of the COVID-19 crisis. Vellardita called the 2021 attempt by the School Board to oust Jara a failed “coup d’état” that the district didn’t need during a pandemic with an “unstable” School Board.
When some board members sought to fire Jara in July 2020, during the thick of the pandemic, CCEA submitted a four-page letter that started like this: “CCEA is against the removal of Superintendent Jara. The effort to do so is both careless and reckless. It is being driven by a political agenda.”
But Vellardita now says there’s enough evidence from the five-plus years Jara has been at the helm that he failed in his leadership.
The former allies’ relationship broke down early last year. Vellardita said this happened when the union met with Jara and was told that the district was going in the right direction. The relationship further deteriorated during bruising teacher contract negotiations that didn’t end until December.
The union voted “no confidence” for Jara to handle an influx of state funding, then called for his resignation or firing. Later last year, Nevada’s two top lawmakers called for Jara’s resignation or firing. Jara said the calls were politically motivated because CCEA is a major campaign donor. The legislative leaders denied coordinating with the union.
At the time, Jara said he would stay in CCSD as long as the School Board would have him.
Vellardita said the union wants to “derail this deal” to allow Jara to leave on his terms, and he has no confidence the School Board will bring in the right leadership. The union is staunchly against the possible appointment next week of Deputy Superintendent Brenda Larsen-Mitchell as the next superintendent and called her the same as Jara.
“We’re asking that the governor and the legislative leadership pay close attention to what’s going on,” Vellardita said. “We would not rule out requesting a special session if things go south and the wrong decisions are made.”
Neisess said concerns teachers have previously shared with Larsen-Mitchell, who oversees instruction, have fallen on deaf ears.
“Last night in our private member-only Facebook group, the educators were going ballistic over this idea that the trustees are going to appoint her as the next superintendent without any real process where there’s community input, where there’s educator input, where there is a process of interviewing for the best candidate,” she said. “They really feel that it will be much of the same. It will be a continued example of failed leadership.”
Vellardita said the public should be “very alarmed” that the four trustees who he said are sympathetic to Jara — Lola Brooks, Evelyn Garcia Morales, Katie Williams and Irene Bustamante Adams — are empowered with determining who the next superintendent is going to be. He said community input and a strong idea of the qualifications for the next leader are vital.
“We’re not prepared to suggest a particular person as much as we think, for the first time, there needs to be a discussion around what should be the minimum qualifications for somebody to run this school district,” he said, calling Jara “a gym coach.”
CCSD has been plagued in recent years by stubbornly low student achievement, violence in schools, high teacher vacancies and other personnel turnover, poor labor relations, friction on the School Board, and other dramas like a crippling cyberattack last fall.
Assembly Speaker Steve Yeager — one of the legislative leaders who has called for Jara’s departure and who reacted to Jara’s announcement Wednesday night by saying it was “a great relief” — said today that “meaningful and lasting change at CCSD requires a change in leadership philosophy.”
“Continuation of the current regime under a different name will do nothing to instill confidence in parents, teachers, students and community leaders. It will only lead to the tacit approval and continuation of the issues that have plagued the district throughout Dr. Jara’s tenure.”
Yeager called for a nationwide search for a replacement and community input.
“I anticipate and look forward to a robust discussion at the next legislative session as we try to address structural issues at CCSD,” Yeager said. “In addition to funding, these discussions, at minimum, will include governance, accountability, personnel and the relationship between the state and the district.”
A spokesperson for Gov. Joe Lombardo — to whom CCEA has appealed in the recent past to intervene in relations with Jara — did not immediately return requests for comment.