CARSON CITY — Gov. Steve Sisolak is accusing Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara of “misleading the communities he represents” as the two leaders disagree on funding proposals being considered during the ongoing special session of the Nevada Legislature.
Assembly Bill 2 would have allowed a school district with more than 100,000 students to use the year-end balance of local school precincts as unrestricted funds for the current fiscal year to shore up instructional programs losing funds. The bill was heard Saturday as lawmakers address a $1.2 billion budget deficit caused by the coronavirus crisis.
State officials have said the bill was brought forward at the request of CCSD, though Jara on Monday denied that he recommended the bill. Sisolak called Jara dishonest and said “Clark County students, staff and families deserve better.”
“I cannot sit back and remain silent as Superintendent Jara tries to wrongfully place blame rather than taking responsibility for his actions. Enough is enough,” Sisolak said in a statement. “While I’m not surprised, I’m incredibly disappointed that once again Superintendent Jara has tried to mislead the communities he represents and blame others in order to avoid the repercussion of his poor decisions.”
Nevada Superintendent of Public Instruction Jhone Ebert said Jara disrespected elected officials and “the entire CCSD community.”
“As a leader in education, he has a responsibility to set an example for our children. Blatantly altering the truth is not only a bad example, but it’s a disservice to the educators, students and families he represents,” Ebert said.
Jara did not present on the bill during the Saturday Assembly hearing, but instead called in during the public comment discussion to tell officials he didn’t want the bill to advance.
Speaker Jason Frierson, D-Las Vegas, reiterated that CCSD had “exclusively” requested that the bill be placed on the agenda. Frierson, who was visibly irritated, said the district’s request was withdrawn two hours before the session proclamation was issued, which was “too late.”
“You don’t get to light a firecracker and then run just before it goes off,” Frierson said. He called it “unfortunate” that Jara responded to the bill in public comment.
“I don’t believe that there’s going to be any reason to really belabor Assembly Bill 2, but I want to make it very clear who initiated this request, and I think it’s unfortunate to respond in a public comment forum as opposed to taking responsibility,” Frierson continued.
Jara released a statement Tuesday evening that did not explicitly respond to Sisolak’s claims, which were issued in a joint statement with Ebert, but stressed that he wanted to work with state leaders and “get to a place of true collaboration.” Jara expressed “regret” that the conversation was “deterred” away from education and said the focus should be redirected to students.
“Working collaboratively with leadership, we want to find ways to implement a comprehensive plan utilizing the federal CARES Act funds ... to close the digital divide and implement an effective distance learning program for all students, as well as COVID-19 testing for all our employees,” Jara said in the statement. “We stand ready to continue the discussion. Our kids are counting on us to get this right.”
On Monday, Jara tweeted, "The State needs to invest in our children! Clark County is the lowest funded urban school system in America. COVID-19 has put a magnifying glass in the inequities created by the leadership in our Capital."
It wasn’t the first time the governor and Jara have clashed, including last August when Sisolak was critical during a dispute with the district and the teachers union in contract negotiations.
Sisolak and legislative leadership criticized CCSD for not bringing budget holes to the attention of legislators after they had spent months drafting a budget in Carson City, with Sisolak calling the situation a “mess.”
"Get in a room, lock the door and figure it out,” Sisolak told CCSD officials last summer.
The conflict could get worse.
Lawmakers are considering $190 million in cuts to K-12 education during the special session to help overcome the budget deficit. Additionally, the district is asking for $85 million in new funding as part of its reopening plan after COVID-19 closures in mid-March. The additional funding is needed to provide teachers with personal protective equipment, additional transportation and help with sanitizing campus.