The Clark County School Board adjourned a special meeting Wednesday night without taking up the key agenda item to possibly terminate Superintendent Jesus Jara's contract.
Supporters of the idea felt it needed to be addressed for full transparency but those who voted to adjourn the meeting before hearing the agenda item said it was time to focus on the upcoming school year.
That is also the opinion of the Clark County Education Association, which represents teachers in Clark County. The union sent a letter to the board in support of Jara.
However, Executive Director John Vellardita made it clear to KNPR’s State of Nevada that it was not “defending” Jara in this controversy. Instead, the union wants to move past the whole thing and focus on the school year ahead.
“We’ve been in the business of working with the school district to… educate 320,000 kids,” he said, “Under what conditions? The worst in a lifetime. COVID-19. With what kind of model? Distance learning that leaves 100,000 kids at risk because they don’t have connectivity or devices to get online. That’s where our focus is.”
The whole controversy surrounds a bill that would have allowed CCSD to take money, which had not been spent but was already allocated to individual schools, back to cover district-wide budget shortfalls.
However, that is currently illegal under state law, Vellardita said, because under the district reorganization plan the funds known as carry-over dollars stay with the individual schools to use for their individual priorities.
Vellardita explained that discussions about the idea had started long before the special session but the district ultimately decided not to pursue the plan. However, the bill stayed in the governor’s budget proposal that went before the Legislature.
“It ultimately became a bill that nobody sponsored,” he said, “It became a bill that nobody showed up to present. And we wound up presenting an amendment to the bill because, if it was going to get passed, we wanted to make sure it was one time and it was going to be repurposed - those dollars from these school budgets that were not used… to backfill the lost money for SB 178, Read by 3.”
When the bill came before the Legislature during the special session, lawmakers strongly criticized it. Many people viewed it as a money and power grab by the district.
During the hearing on the bill, Superintendent Jara said the bill wasn’t the district’s and it was neutral on it.
From there, Gov. Steve Sisolak and the Department of Education Superintendent of Public Instruction Jhone Ebert sent out a statement calling Jara “dishonest” about how the bill was created and who supported it.
Vellardita said Jara could have used clearer language when talking about the issue to lawmakers but the whole thing was blown out proportion.
“It then became, what we would describe as, a very public political spat,” he said.
Vellardita said the governor’s comments “set the stage” for what has been going on between the school board trustees and Superintendent Jara.
“It was then framed as dishonest superintendent, somebody who’s misrepresenting the district and somebody who doesn’t have good relations with the governor,” he said.
In addition to all of that, Vellardita said there was a push by some to use the carry-over money to pay unemployment benefits to school support staff – not for education programs like Read by 3.
Jara opposed that idea, which added to the political spat, Vellardita said. The union representing Clark County School District administrators sent a letter condemning Jara and asking for his resignation.
“There’s a faction of the administrators' union that never wanted [Jara] hired from the word go. They wanted somebody else,” Vellardita said, “Ever since he’s been here, they’ve been picking fights and making a case to try to get rid of him and when they saw this happen they seized on it and said, ‘Let’s get rid of [him].’”
While the bill to move the carry-over funds back into district hands didn’t go anywhere, Vellardita questions why it didn’t get any support.
“People should be asking: how are these are schools sitting on $120 million this year when they didn’t use it last year? That money is supposed to be for students’ education,” he said, “Nobody asked that. We clearly wanted to make sure that money got used for backfilling the budget cuts that Gov. Sisolak was purposing.”
For Vellardita and the teachers’ union, the political spat needs to end and the focus of the district and the school board needs to move back to the challenging school year ahead.
“This chapter has to end,” he said, “There’s factions on that board. It’s counter-productive. It’s a distraction and this moment that we saw, that came on the brink of calling for the firing of this guy, when we’re trying to deal with all of these issues was what we would call reckless and irresponsible.”
He hopes everyone moves on and gets “down to the business of teaching our kids under these extreme circumstances.”
John Vellardita, executive director, Clark County Education Association
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