Superintendent Jesus Jara did plenty to justify his firing. Just don’t expect his replacement to be any more successful.
Last Thursday, the Board of Trustees voted 4-3 to can Jara. It was an inglorious, but predictable, ending. He’s the third superintendent in a row to leave ignominiously.
In 2013, Dwight Jones abruptly quit after being hired in October 2010. The business community strongly backed him as a reformer. The Clark County Education Association bitterly fought his proposed improvements and efforts to stabilize district finances in the aftermath of the economic downturn.
Then came Pat Skorkowsky, a district insider backed by the union. But after a few years, the CCEA wanted him out, and the district was on the verge of financial collapse.
Jara had an impressive resume but lacked what he needed to be successful — authority. Thanks to Nevada’s collective bargaining laws, the CCEA and other unions had more control over the district’s budget than he did. Removing ineffective teachers was all but impossible for the same reason.
Plus, he had to deal with the School Board. Turnover alone makes that challenging. In addition, board members rarely have the background you’d expect from those responsible for multibillion-dollar budgets.
Here’s what may be my most unpopular opinion ever. If the district stays this big, trustees should make $150,000 a year, not $9,000. That would attract more experienced candidates to replace the current members. Imagine the difference it would make having someone such Clark County Commission Chair Marilyn Kirkpatrick as a trustee. She made $121,000 last year in total compensation.
This isn’t a defense of Jara. He almost always made the wrong choice on the issues he could control. He led the push to dumb down the district’s grading policy. He championed “restorative justice” discipline policies because he didn’t like the demographics of those receiving suspensions and expulsions. Even evidence that lax discipline led to more violence and disruptions for other students didn’t change his mind.
Just 4 percent of African American students tested proficient in math last year. Instead of addressing that, the district has a new “anti-racism” policy that is full of critical race theory concepts.
In the fall of 2019, the CCEA threatened an illegal strike. Jara could have sued the union into submission. Instead, he capitulated. Then he bailed out the floundering union-run THT Health plan.
Jara’s most notable accomplishment was restoring the district’s ending fund balance. He also deserves credit for publicly pushing to reopen schools before trustees were willing to do so.
But three consecutive failed superintendents is a pattern. It’s strong evidence that what ails the district goes deeper than the superintendent.
If you’ll indulge me, here’s what I wrote in January 2018. Months before Jara was hired, I correctly predicted that the “CCSD’s next superintendent is going to fail.” I wrote, “The job description says ‘superintendent,’ but the district will really be hiring another fall guy.”
Jara is getting the blame — and deserves plenty of it. But don’t let the unions, Democrats, labor law and the School Board escape responsibility. Unless there are fundamental changes or widespread school choice, the next superintendent is going to fail, too.