Commentary

CCSD: If you can’t beat ‘em, bribe ‘em

April 29, 2021 6:17 am

The $761 billion measure, approved on a party-line 28-22 vote, will be combined with other pieces of Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation measure, regarded as the biggest change in U.S. social policy in decades. (Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay)

Supt. Jesus Jara has tried since he arrived in 2018 to undermine both the school reorganization law (AB469) and the administrators who have been defending it.

Regular readers know he tried an end run around principals last summer, attempting to con the Legislature into centralizing control over carryover funds, which are now controlled by individual schools.

He failed. Humiliatingly.

He’s tried punishing principals. He put 40 principals of Title 1 schools on an “improvement plan” because their schools have low achievement numbers. Many of the principals who were told they needed to “improve” have won awards and accolades for the improvement their schools have seen since they took over. Many were moved to those schools BECAUSE of their leadership abilities and vision. And, completely coincidentally, many of them have been pretty outspoken against the attempts by Jara and CFO Jason Goudie to undermine the reorganization.

One of the principals told me, “We fight for our kids, so we’re being targeted.”

Now, Jara and Goudie have pulled a Godfather tactic, giving administrators who are close to retirement an offer they can’t refuse. CCSD has offered to buy out PERS retirement for admins with at least 28 years, so they will be fully vested. And they will leave.

A few weeks ago, 75 administrators showed up to a meeting to get information on the buyout. A spokesperson from PERS says about that many have contacted them. Many of the employees on the call are high level administrators who run entire departments. At least 40 of them are building principals. CCSD has 336 schools. If 40 building leaders leave, we will lose 12 percent of our principals over the summer.

And, while I don’t have a breakdown of how many years each administrator has in the district, the usual path is to start at the elementary level, then move to a middle school, then move to a high school, then move to a centralized department. There are definitely variations. I have great admiration for admin who stay the rest of their career at the elementary level, and even more for those who stay at the middle school level. The point is, the people this buyout is targeting are likely on the higher end of the salary scale.

My spreadsheet tells me that the district will be on the hook for at least $10 million, maybe even double that. To pay administrators to leave their jobs early.

This also shifts the balance of personnel in schools. The building principals who are left will move up to central admin. The assistant principals will move to lead buildings. And teachers will move into assistant principal positions. In the middle of a teacher shortage. Where will the new teachers come from?

Beyond what happens to CCSD is what happens to PERS. The state employee retirement system, like almost every public employee retirement system in the country, is not exactly flush. In fact, PERS has changed eligibility rules twice in the last 11 years. But anyone who has 28 or more years was here before 2010, when there were no age restrictions on when people can retire. So, they’re going to be paying out a lot of folks in their early to mid 50s. For the rest of their lives.

I gotta hand it to CCSD. This is a brilliant move. High school principals make about $150,000 a year. The PERS payout varies by age, but for someone in their early 50s, the PERS portion is 40 percent of their salary. Forty percent of $150,000, times two years, is $120,000.

CCSD says this will save them money. I’m not seeing that. CCSD can pay $120,000 for a principal who would have cost them $300,000 if the principal had stayed. But they will have to pay a new principal, or central administrator, to take their place. Maybe at a slightly lower pay level, for a few years. But not enough to really save them money.

The other part here is that the argument against firing Supt. Jara last summer, and the argument for keeping him now, is that we are in the middle of a crisis, and we can’t change leadership. But we are going to get rid of what could be a tenth of our entire admin pool – specifically the people who have the most knowledge and experience – during a crisis?

This is clearly an attempt to get rid of people who are a thorn in Jara’s side. And control people who have their eyes on the soon to be open administrative positions.

And it’s working. The school district says a handful of administrators have thus far filed the full paperwork to leave. PERS estimates the final number could be between 80 and 100. The deadline to decide is May 10.

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Open Meeting Violation

On April 14, 2021, the office of Attorney General Aaron Ford issued a decision on whether or not the CCSD Board of Trustees violated the open meeting law regarding public comments during the pandemic. 

Their conclusion: yes, the trustees did violate the law. Specifically, they violated the provision which ensures that people can make comments in real time.

The penalty? Uh… nothing. The law only requires the public body to fix the violation, and the violation was fixed when Linda Cavazos took over as president.

Which is too bad, because this open meeting law violation was willful.

Back in May of 2020, the Board of Trustees talked about what to do about public comment. Listen here, starting at 42 minutes in.

I had a number of conversations with then-president Lola Brooks about public comment during this time. I also filed a complaint with the AG’s office and started an online petition to get the board to fix the issue. I know other people who complained about the lack of real-time public comment. And at least one other person filed a complaint with the AG, because mine was not the one that was acted upon.

A little creativity, and perhaps some dedicated funds, could have solved this problem easily. The Greer Center – the old building on Flamingo where the board meets – went through an upgrade to their communications system in the summer of 2019. That’s why the board had meetings at the county building and at various high schools. They didn’t think about creating a way for people who couldn’t make the meeting in person to submit comments by phone? That’s pretty near-sighted thinking. Don’t we want as many people as possible to participate?

How much would it have cost to make that upgrade? I have scoured minutes from Trustee meetings since the beginning of the pandemic. As far as I can tell, the school district never asked for a bid.

OK, then. What about setting up a dedicated Google form, where people can make public comments in real time before or after an agenda item, or during general comment. Those comments – limited by time or word count, as the law allows – would then be read by the trustees, or perhaps someone on the support staff. They could have also – as Trustee Ford suggests in the above link from May – solicited videos, and run them as if the person was actually in the room, cutting them off when their time ran out, just like they do when the person is in the room.

The point is, there were creative solutions that would have welcomed the public to share their voices and opinions during the pandemic. Lola Brooks would hear of none of them. She was more content to be stopped by obstacles than to find ways around them, as, apparently, was our CCSD leadership. That concerns me on a larger scale. Because not being stopped by obstacles and finding creative solutions is exactly what we should be teaching and modeling to our kids.

Those creative solutions still need to be put in place. Right now, we have real-time public comment only for people who can come in person. Cavazos has allowed unlimited pre-recorded comment at 90 seconds, but that’s not enough. This pandemic has expanded our notion of connectivity and participation. The Trustees need to move with the times.

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The Suicide Wave That Never Was

A few months after Supt. Jara appeared in national print and TV news pieces warning of the supposed pandemic induced increase in teen suicides in Las Vegas, the Atlantic weighed in with some statistics. And what do you know… the statistics showed the same thing that Dana Gentry reported in this publication in November. Statistics that I verified before interviewing Gentry on IMPACT.

“For the record,” writes Tom Bartlett, “there was no spike in teen suicides in Clark County last year.”

Duh.

Which is not to say that people have not been affected by the pandemic. It’s a pandemic! Our lives have been disrupted in ways even those of us who have been around for a few decades have never experienced. Parents of many students are out of work. And may have gotten sick or died. Everybody is suddenly at home – even those who still had jobs – and on top of each other. Some LGBTQ students who are not out to their families, but are to their friends, find themselves hiding 24/7. And we know that LGBTQ teens are more likely to have suicide ideation if they are not accepted in their homes.

Then again, kids who are bullied in school and accepted at home seem to have done very well with remote education.

The issue here is not whether teens are depressed, but whether they’re depressed because they are not in school – which is the message Jara drove in every interview he did in January and February. Both at-home school and the rise in depression are results of the pandemic. They are not the results of each other.

As suicidologist Tyler Black says about Jara in the Atlantic piece: “The part of it that bothers me the most is the fact that suicides were politicized as a tool to argue for particular outcomes.”

I agree. What Jara did in his “suicide tour” was unconscionable. But it doesn’t seem to make a difference. Violating law and ethics are overlooked with a slap on the wrist, and maybe a bit of public opprobrium. But not enough. Some days I wonder if Jara shot someone in the middle of the Strip, if his supporters would rationalize his actions. Eh, they’d probably blame it on me. “He shouldn’t have killed anyone, but you shouldn’t have been writing how violent he was!”

Should that be something we model for our children?

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Carrie Kaufman
Carrie Kaufman

Broadcast, digital and print journalist Carrie Kaufman has covered the Clark County School District for public radio and The Nevada Voice since 2015.

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