Clark County school board wants to negotiate new terms for Jara’s departure
The Clark County School Board voted 5-2 Wednesday to direct its legal counsel to negotiate new terms for the pending termination of Superintendent Jesus Jara’s contract, after a vote to accept his original departure proposal failed.
The move to go back to the drawing board came after a proposal to accept Jara’s resignation and award him a payout estimated at $500,000 failed by a 3-4 vote after numerous community members spoke out against the proposed terms. Several instead wanted to see the board terminate Jara’s contract without any buyout.
Jara was not present at the meeting held at Henderson City Council chambers, which were packed with Clark County School District (CCSD) staff, union representatives and community members. The board will get a chance to vote on the future terms negotiated by Jara and the board’s legal counsel at a future meeting. Because Jara’s termination was not finalized Wednesday, the board voted to table a proposal to appoint Deputy Superintendent Brenda Larsen-Mitchell to lead the district as his replacement.
The board is looking to terminate Jara’s contract “for convenience,” meaning trustees won’t need to cite particular reasons for the action. Under the current terms of his contract, if Jara is terminated for convenience, he would receive his full salary and benefits through the end of his contract in June 2026, which could amount to about $1 million.
Rather than terminate Jara under the current contract terms, board Clerk Lisa Guzman recommended the board instead direct its legal counsel to negotiate alternative terms. Guzman said in an interview after the meeting that she made the motion because she believed the community wanted to board to negotiate a lesser amount than what Jara was initially asking for.
“He’s going to come back with the same amount. This gives us an opportunity to counter,” she said. “Will we end up with nothing? Probably not. But at least it won't be the same amount that the community is upset with.”
Jara announced his intention to resign in late January contingent on the board approving an amendment to his contract that will allow him to receive a payout that includes one year’s worth of salary — about $400,000 — unused vacation and sick time and other benefits for a total of about $500,000.
That amendment was criticized during public comment Wednesday by some speakers who criticized it as a golden parachute for Jara, who has had a tumultuous tenure in the district. Instead, several community members urged the board to terminate Jara’s contract for cause without any kind of payout, citing recent controversies surrounding the superintendent including questions on the district’s use of federal COVID relief funds to pay for teacher recruitment trips to Florida and Hawaii.
Earlier this year, the Clark County Education Association teachers union filed a suit alleging that Jara used his account on X, formerly known as Twitter, to make disparaging remarks about union leadership.
“He's created this mess. Please don't use our dollars to help him get out of it,” said National Education Association of Southern Nevada President Vicki Kreidel at the meeting.
Before the failed vote on the amendment, Board President Evelyn Garcia Morales explained how the agenda item for Jara’s conditional resignation came about. She said she and other board members became concerned late last year about the “ongoing vitriol and disrespect” Jara faced from some community members. She said she spoke with Jara earlier this year and asked him to consider a mutual agreement that would allow him to step aside and allow the district to focus on moving forward.
She added that her conversation with Jara came after a meeting with Assembly Speaker Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas), who last year called on Jara to resign or for the school board to terminate him amidst the district’s contract battle with the Clark County Education Association.
Trustee Lola Brooks said she thinks Jara has been used as a “scapegoat” for long-standing systemic issues within the district.
“If we continue to focus on these interpersonal power shows, we're never going to actually talk about students and student success,” she said during the meeting. “So this is an act of kindness. It is a chance to give people freedom to focus on the things that they need to focus on so that we can all move together.”
But other trustees urged the board not to rush into the decision, and said they supported accepting Jara’s resignation but opposed giving him a payout.
“I don’t see this request as conditional; I see it as a demand,” said Trustee Linda Cavazos. “Are you going to let the superintendent just slide out of the district with this big payout? Why does he get to dictate that?”
Trustee Ramona Esparza-Stoffregan, the City of Henderson’s nonvoting representative on the board, also pushed back on the deal.
“I don't have a vote, but if I had one, I would not be paying him out,” she said. “I would say let's stop, let's investigate, let's review all that's on the table and not use his timeline because we supervise him.”
Some community members questioned whether Yeager was involved in crafting the $500,000 buyout in Jara’s resignation terms, and suggested the Legislature pay for it.
But Yeager said in a statement he didn’t advocate for a buyout for Jara “as that is a decision vested with the board, in consultation with legal counsel, after considering all of the relevant facts surrounding his performance and the many scandals that have riddled his tenure.”
In addition, he urged the board to listen to parents, teachers and community members who are advocating for a nationwide search for a new superintendent.
“Meaningful and lasting change at CCSD requires a change in leadership philosophy,” Yeager said in his statement.
This story was updated on 2/8/24 at 4:35 p.m. to add a statement from Assembly Speaker Steve Yeager.