The Clark County school board is responsible for hiring and firing the superintendent and overseeing the district’s budget and policies — responsibilities that will be put to the test next year with reopening schools and Superintendent Jesus Jara’s contract on the table.
Two candidates are in the running to replace Chris Garvey on the District B seat representing northeast Las Vegas, as well as rural communities in Moapa, Logandale and Mesquite: Katie Williams, an Army National Guard veteran; and Jeff Proffitt, business manager for Sheet Metal Workers Local 88.
Williams is a 13-year veteran of the Army National Guard who moved to Nevada to work as a recruiter — an experience she said provided her insight into high school students’ motivations and what they need to succeed. As a wife and mother, Williams said she’s also looking to improve the educational landscape for her young daughter, who will someday attend the district’s schools.
As the school year begins virtually, Williams said she’s heard from both students and staff who are struggling with expectations, including staying on task and working from home, which can be a distracting environment. She said she ultimately wants to see school buildings open, but understands that not everyone agrees.
“I know the virus has scared people and I know it’s real,” Williams said.
Asked about the cuts to education made in the special session of the state Legislature this summer, as well as future budgeting, Williams said she first would like to see a forensic audit of the district’s books with an eye to determining which programs have provided the most value to students and which could be cut.
“I’m not sure more funding is the solution; in fact, I think more funding creates more issues sometimes,” she said. She added that she also plans to donate her trustee salary to the district.
Along with the cuts, the board saw this summer a contentious meeting on Jara’s role in a bill to revert school-level funds to the district, a meeting which ended abruptly against the wishes of three trustees.
Williams said what hurt her the most as a parent and a community member was the board members reminding Jara he didn’t have to answer questions during this meeting, and Jara taking advantage of that privilege. She said she currently would not vote to renew Jara’s contract when it comes up next year, adding that his $320,000 salary-plus-benefits has not matched up to his actions and the answers he gives to the board.
Williams’ active social media presence — including support for school reopening and right-wing figures and issues — has drawn both supporters and vocal critics, to the point that she trended nationally on Twitter in March. Responding to a tweet from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez that encouraged people to stop crowding bars and restaurants, Williams replied: “I just went to a crowded Red Robin and I’m 30. It was delicious and I took my sweet time eating my meal.”
She said she stands by what she says and does as long as she can own up to it to her family and sleep at night.
“But I’ve also made mistakes, I’m human,” she said.
Ultimately she said she’d like voters to get in touch and have a conversation with her rather than draw conclusions based off her social media posts. The pandemic has isolated people, which she said she believes contributes to polarization.
She said she also hopes voters in this election remember the down-ballot candidates, who ultimately make decisions that affect local communities.
Proffitt is a graduate of the district’s schools, married to a district teacher, father of three district students and also worked with CCSD on the apprenticeship program. Working in the sheet metal trade provided him with a good life, he said, and he’d like to see opportunities for career technical education expanded to more students.
Said Proffitt: “There are so many opportunities for these kids and they just don’t know it. Seventy percent of our kids don’t go to college, and these are avenues for them to have a good life and living.”
Proffitt said that while teachers and school site administrators have done a heroic job transitioning to distance learning, students ultimately belong in the classroom, and that he hopes that all CCSD schools will soon be able to follow the example set by schools in Moapa Valley, which began the school year under a hybrid learning model.
“We’re seeing really good numbers in flattening the curve,” he said. “If the numbers continue to go down, it’s a serious ‘stop moving the goal posts moment.’”
Students in special education should go back first, Proffitt said, followed by younger kids, and finally older students, with regular updates on health conditions in between. Also key will be providing safety equipment and offering flexibility for teachers and students who don’t feel comfortable going back, he added.
On funding cuts, Proffitt says he hopes there are no future cuts, but that ultimately decisions about how to spend allocated dollars should rest with School Organizational Teams.
Proffitt said he would not have been on board with calling the July 29 meeting to discuss Jara’s contract in the midst of the uncertainty created by the pandemic. But once it was called, it should have been completed, he said.
He said he doesn’t support the auto-renewal clause of Jara’s contract, but would ultimately give the superintendent a fair chance to answer questions — including about what went on during the special legislative session — during a future evaluation.
With campaigning and community engagement pushed online due to the pandemic, Proffitt said he’s not engaging with the negative posts put out by his opponent, and instead prioritizing amassing support from both sides of the aisle in the nonpartisan race.
As a trustee, he said he hopes to govern like Linda Young, who listens to her constituents instead of dictating.
“They can come to me and be comfortable in talking about their issue and know someone will be honest with them,” Proffit said. “Everybody wants their kids educated. It’s not a left-right issue.”