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Clark County School District Draws Ire After Cutting Dean Positions

Parents and teachers had reason to celebrate after the passage of significant education bills two weeks ago in the Nevada Legislature.

But over the past week, they’ve been seeing red over the latest development at the Clark County School District.

In order to overcome a $17 million gap in the budget for this coming school year, Superintendent Jesus Jara announced the elimination of all 170 middle and high school dean positions through a viral video. Those employees will be sent back into the classroom as teachers come August.

Besides the money issue, Jara said the district will be implementing a new plan to address school safety now that the dean positions were eliminated.

At both a UNLV education town hall and a school board meeting last week, deans, educators, parents, and other community members lashed out at Jara. They’re worried the move will make students less safe at school and endanger teacher jobs that could go to new administrative positions.

And two days after the decision, the Clark County Association of School Administrators and Professional-Technical Employees unanimously passed a no-confidence vote for Jara -- the first time the group has ever given a vote of no confidence to a CCSD superintendent.

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Cristal Boisseau is a dean at Shadow Ridge High School. She explained that deans work as an assistant to the principal in any way that is needed, from supervising athletics and extracurricular activities to working one-on-one with students on behavior issues.

"It is extremely important we provide a safe learning environment where teachers can teach students and students can learn," she said.

She said students come to her with reports of drugs or potential fights. Boisseau has given her cell phone number out to students and they will text her information about what needs to be addressed in the school.

She doesn't believe that adding another police officer -- one of the school safety solutions considered for implementation -- would be the same thing.

"When I go to the school every single day, I don't even see myself as a dean. I don't see myself as an administrator. I see myself as an individual, a person, that my kids can come to me and they do. They come to me," she said. "They reach out for me and they reach out for other deans as well."

Besides the elimination of the job she feels is important for the students in her school, Boisseau is unhappy with the way it was announced, and that, instead of deans' positions being eliminated gradually, they are being given two weeks notice.

Dave Wilson is also unhappy with the way the decision was made and announced. 

Wilson is the president of the Clark County Association of School Administrators and Professional-Technical Employees. He is also the principal at El Dorado High School.

One of Wilson's biggest problems with the decision is that Superintendent Jara did not come to the principals to ask about alternatives to covering the shortfall.

"He failed to ask us for other ways that we could have made these cuts before he unilaterally made that decision," Wilson said.

Wilson said there was money that principals could have agreed to turn back over to the district to help make up for budget holes, had they been asked.

John Vellardita, the executive director of the Clark County Education Association, which represents the teachers, called into KNPR's State of Nevada to express his support for the superintendent's plan. 

"We believe in the superintendent's approach in general and specific to this because we want to see what rollout there's going to be in the alternative around the safety issue," he said.

Vellardita believes the administrators' union is using the safety issue for "self-serving purposes to protect their bargaining unit." 

Wilson said administrators have fought against education cuts and increases in classroom size, and are trying to support teachers by having deans in the schools to help them with behavior issues.

Wilson also said with the cuts in place, it will only be him and two assistant principals to deal with a school with 2,200 students. Principals in other schools have said they will have to eliminate teachers to hire administrators to take the place of deans.

"We can't meet all the [requirements] under the law that we have to do without additional help. So, we have to figure out where those dollars come from and the vast majority of our budget is in personnel," he said.

Emily Richmond has been reporting on education for many years. She used to cover the topic for the Las Vegas Sun, but now she is the public editor for the Education Writers Association.

Richmond said that Nevada is far from alone when it comes to funding. She said from Massachusetts to Texas, states are locked in battles over the best way to appropriately fund schools. 

"I do think it feels more extreme for Nevada just because Nevada is a place of extremes," she said, "It's been a place of tremendous growth and then a place that's really been hurt by things like the recession."

She did say it is unusual to see a whole job description cut and that in other places, entire job categories that have been eliminated usually do not get reinstated.

One of the big questions during the debate has centered around safety. Superintendent Jara said there will be a new safety plan to cover what the deans have been doing, but the details are not known.

Richmond would like to know what that is exactly because other districts that have tried alternative plans for discipline have had mixed results.

"What he hinted at sounds a lot like some elements of what's called restorative justice, where rather than sending kids out of the building for suspension, they are asked to be held accountable for their behavior by their peers within a school," she said. "It ... has [had] good success in some places, but in some places it's been very rocky because it is all about the implementation."

Richmond also noted that the amount of time for a new program to be rolled out and have staff trained for it is very limited, with school starting back up the first part of August.

Boisseau is also skeptical, and stressed her concerns came from being a mother. "I do not trust that they have a plan," she said. "If they had a plan the same day [Jara] rolled out the video, he would have rolled out his plan. Where's the plan? When am I going to learn about this plan?"

Guests

Cristal Boisseau, dean, Shadow Ridge High School; Dave Wilson, president, Clark County Association of School Administrators and Professional-Technical Employees; Emily Richmond, Public Editor, Education Writers Association

 

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