November 19, 2021 - 3:57 pm
Updated November 19, 2021 - 7:42 pm
Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara said Friday that he and his legal counsel are reviewing the School Board’s decision to reverse its previous termination of his contract but did not state whether he intends to stay on the job.
“After last night’s vote by the Board of Trustees to reverse its prior termination decision, which would potentially allow me to continue as CCSD’s superintendent, I am working with my legal counsel to review this development,” the resurrected superintendent said in a statement.
“Given the concerns that I have previously expressed, we intend to work with the board and its legal counsel to determine if there is a pathway that would allow me to continue as superintendent while also implementing appropriate assurances to address and eliminate the harassment and hostile work environment.”
Jara was responding to the Clark County School Board’s 4-3 vote much earlier in the day to reverse its decision on Oct. 28.
It also appeared to reference a letter his attorney sent to the board saying the superintendent is owed more than $2.6 million to pay out the rest of his contract and to settle other allegations, including those that trustees created a hostile work environment.
In a meeting that began early Thursday evening and continued into the wee hours of Friday, the board rescinded its earlier termination of Jara’s contract, allowing him to retain the top administrative job of the nation’s fifth-largest public school district until Jan. 15. 2023, if he so desires.
Board Vice President Irene Cepeda was again the swing vote, joining Trustees Lola Brooks, Evelyn Garcia Morales and Katie Williams in voting to rescind the earlier termination and keep Jara on the job. Three weeks earlier she had voted to end his tenure “for convenience,” meaning the trustees did not have to reveal the reasons the contract was ended.
Board President Linda Cavazos, and Trustees Danielle Ford and Lisa Guzman opposed the motion.
Jara, who became superintendent in June 2018, wasn’t in attendance at the board meeting, opting instead to attend a high school football state championship at Allegiant Stadium to support school district teams. He didn’t have any designated representatives at the meeting, either.
John Bailey, Jara’s attorney, wasn’t available to comment Friday.
The Review-Journal reached out to all seven trustees Friday and received comments from five:
— Cavazos said she was “deeply disappointed and disheartened about how things were handled last night.”
She said numerous agenda items were “ambiguous,” including the item to reconsider Jara’s contract termination, in which Cepeda alleged that an open meeting law violation had occurred.
The underlying allegation was never clearly spelled out or discussed, Cavazos said, noting the same was true for the item about investigating hostile work environment allegations.
Cavazos also addressed an exchange she had during the meeting with board attorney Mary-Anne Miller after hearing that Jara hasn’t indicated whether he wants to be reinstated. She said she was shocked to learn during the meeting that Miller had a conversation with Jara’s attorney that she didn’t disclose during a meeting with Cavazos earlier in the day.
— Guzman said in a statement that she, too, was shocked Miller had a conversation with Jara’s lawyer prior to the meeting.
“I can only come to one conclusion — she knew the vote,” Guzman said. “I did not.”
Miller wasn’t available to comment Friday since she works for Clark County and offices were closed.
Guzman also said the thought process behind the contact termination hadn’t changed and Thursday’s change of course only deepened divisions among the trustees.
“Therefore, in my mind, this further separates the board and puts us behind the eight ball,” she said.
— Brooks said Friday she can’t speak on behalf of Jara or his intentions and is withholding comment at this time.
— Williams said the vote paved the way for the board to move forward: “After last night’s votes, I am confident the district can move forward with stability and focus on our kids. As Superintendent Jara considers his options, the Board of Trustees must consider its role and what we could have done differently to ensure we can work together focused on student outcomes.”
— Ford said the outcome of the vote on Jara’s contract did not surprise her and alleged that some trustees have “basically been bought out by their bosses,” suggesting that their employers have influence over Jara.
She also said she initiated the original agenda item to terminate the superintendent’s contract for convenience in October because she felt it was her duty to have a public meeting on the topic and get trustees on the record regarding his employment status.
She called the decision Thursday to pursue an investigation into Jara’s hostile work environment allegations “very concerning” and she was seeking more clarity during the meeting.
She was referring to a separate 4-3 vote — with Cavazos, Ford and Guzman opposed — to authorize trustees who aren’t named in a demand letter from Jara’s attorney to work with the school district to identify an outside firm, with a cost not to exceed $100,000, to investigate hostile work environment allegations at the executive and administrative levels of the school district.
Cepeda and Garcia Morales did not respond to a request for comment.
While much remained uncertain after the marathon meeting, one thing seemed clear as parents and employees digested the news Friday, according to Rebecca Garcia, president of the Nevada PTA and an administrator for the “CCSD Parents” Facebook group.
“Parents still seem frustrated and unsure of what will actually happen next,” she said. “While decisions were made, the divisions on the board are still readily apparent and many wonder how this will be resolved so that the district can move forward with a focus on serving the needs of students.”
Cepeda brought forth two of the agenda items for Thursday’s meeting — reconsidering Jara’s contract and investigating hostile work environment allegations raised by the superintendent — with backing from Brooks and Garcia Morales.
Cepeda was the swing vote last month in deciding to terminate Jara’s contract, but reversed her position Thursday and voted not to terminate the contract.
In a statement this month, Cepeda said she voted to terminate the contract in late October due to the “toxic environment” on the School Board and noted “more and more troubling information” had come out since the vote.
Cepeda said Thursday she brought forward the item to reconsider Jara’s contract termination to seek to remedy open meeting law violations.
After questions from Ford about the nature of the violations, Cepeda said she knows four trustees communicated regarding Jara’s contract, noting there were unethical communications.
Ford said she filed an open meeting law complaint this spring — which she says is pending with the Nevada Attorney General’s Office — regarding an item during a May meeting where the board decided in a split vote to extend Jara’s contract. Ford said the complaint seeks to invalidate that vote.
A spokesman with the AG’s Office said Friday that Ford’s complaint is still in the “investigative stage” and parties will be notified when an opinion has been issued.
The state hasn’t seen a complaint from Cepeda, he said.
During the Thursday meeting, the board also voted 5-2 — with Cavazos and Ford opposed — to an postpone an agenda item about an interim superintendent search process. The majority of trustees said they first wanted to know whether Jara plans to stay on the job.
The motion also called for asking Jara to provide three to four names to the board attorney of possible people to consider for interim superintendent if he plans to depart.
Cavazos said Friday she’s not in favor of Jara picking possible interim superintendents, but said having some framework for the replacement process is better than nothing.