Superintendent Jesus Jara announced Thursday night that he will explore ways to make up for a projected $17 million budget deficit for the 2019-2020 school year without eliminating the district’s deans.
The concession came four and a half hours into a packed Clark County School District Board of Trustees meeting and following testimony from more than half a dozen frustrated deans and members of the Clark County Association of School Administrators and Professional-Technical Employees.
Jara will consult relevant members of the district’s central administration Monday or Tuesday and present to the public “other options” for addressing the $17 million deficit, he said.
“I have some ideas, but I don’t want to overcommunicate tonight,” Jara said.
With school set to start in one month, the future of the district’s 170 deans remains in limbo. Jara shared his intention to eliminate the positions on June 12 in response to news of the budget deficit and promised to offer all affected deans placements as teachers.
But a judge ruled Monday to block the elimination of deans until an Aug. 14 hearing that will settle a lawsuit filed on behalf of CCASA. The lawsuit alleges that Jara and the school board violated the state’s open meeting law by deciding to eliminate the dean positions during a closed-door board meeting June 5.
Jara has insisted that the unannounced, private meeting was held to discuss collective bargaining issues, and that the school board didn’t vote on cutting dean positions at the meeting because he has the sole authority to make budgetary cuts.
“It was a meeting concerning confidential negotiations protected under the law,” he affirmed Thursday night.
Nonetheless, deans decried the process by which their positions were eliminated as insensitive and condemned the move as detrimental to student safety, success and well-being. Deans oversee a range of administrative and supportive tasks at middle and high schools, including discipline, conflict resolution, teacher and staff support and extracurricular activities.
“Other than the blatantly obvious safety issues, how do you expect that the elimination of the position will not impact students?” said middle school dean Dianne Bolton.
In addition to questioning the potential impacts of eliminating deans, critics of Jara’s decision, including some school board members, argued that he should have received more input, and even a vote of approval, from the school board. At Thursday’s meeting, Trustees Danielle Ford and Linda Young were particularly vocal in their criticisms, each calling for a reversal of the superintendent’s decision.
“This is a budget item, and for a budget item, you’ve got to have checks and balances,” Young said.
Ford suggested that the board vote to reinstate dean positions and bring forth other agenda items “very soon” to address necessary budget cuts and disciplinary positions in schools, despite advice from the board’s legal counsel that this would violate the board’s own policies.
“I’m going to support overturning the decision, and if I’m just the only one, then you can please send my opinion to my lawyer,” Ford said.
While Ford and Young’s comments received widespread applause from deans and administrators in the room, they were unpopular with another group: Teachers and, specifically, members of the Clark County Education Association.
Several teachers urged the board to uphold the superintendent’s decision, arguing that it would have a smaller direct impact on students than other potential cost-cutting measures. They also reminded board members of their promise to strike at the start of the 2019 school year if the district were to cut any existing classroom services.
“We finally have a superintendent who’s trying to change the focus and culture of this district from being administrator-centered to student-centered,” said Jim Frazee, teacher and CCEA board member. “The right choice and the only choice is supporting the superintendent.”
Comments from CCEA members were met with sounds of disapproval from CCASA members, and CCEA members showed similar contempt when Ford and Young suggested not cutting the deans.
Some in the room lamented that the divide between the educators’ unions was misguided and said blame should be placed on the Nevada Legislature for underfunding education for years. Although the Legislature succeeded in overhauling Nevada’s 50-year-old education funding formula this past session, Clark County will still face some of the highest class sizes in the nation this school year.
“This is not the time for us to be fighting against each other,” said Yvette Williams, chair of the Clark County Black Caucus. “We all know why we’re here today. We didn’t get enough funds.”