Commentary

A CCSD Passion Play, Act 2: Waiting for God… Oh?

May 20, 2021 4:03 am

The Man. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Yesterday I wrote about the latest environmental performance piece produced by the Clark County School District Board of Trustees – otherwise known as their bi-weekly meeting.

Today we’re going to talk about the through-line of the piece, the central idea of the performance – whether to prop up The Man

Let’s go over the characters in this play. There are seven women and one man. And the women are supposed to be The Man’s boss, but it seems that with most of them, he is their boss. This is one of the central conflicts: who is in charge, and what “in charge” actually means.

Actors make choices. This is the essential tool of their job. Choices reveal character. In this play, some of the characters are obsequious. Some speak in riddles. Some bring in props no one on the production team has seen before. Some are comfortable with improvisation. Some hate it.

For a play to work, though, actors must listen to each other and give to each other.

In that sense, watching this show is like watching a train wreck. It is pure power struggle. There is no listening or collaboration. That, as I wrote yesterday, is forbidden by the rules. It also may be that some of the players want the chaos.

Also, I learned yesterday that the door off stage right does not lead to the parking lot. It leads to a series of rabbit warrens and, eventually, to the office of central casting, or HR. The shaft of light I saw when the door opened was indirect. This is a relief. I was going to call Actors’ Equity and complain about the actors not having enough backstage space.

Yesterday we focused on the women. Today we’ll talk about The Man.

The man’s name is Jesus. Which, if names create character, tells you how highly he thinks of himself. He has shown no signs, though, of giving himself over for others’ sins. This character is marked by a propensity to blame others for his sins, whether that be the principals who run the towns of the kingdom, or the governor who runs the state.

It is astonishing to me how many calls and texts I get from people who work for The Man, telling me about the verbal abuse and intimidation they have to deal with. There are people who are truly terrified that they will be fired simply for doing their jobs – and putting kids first.

After all, they work not just for Superintendent Jesus Jara, but for Jason Goudie, who told Bailey Middle School principal Darryl Wyatt and School Organizational Team president (and Bailey counselor) Lucas Partridge that “there are winners and losers in finance,” which is why Bailey – a school of 100% Title I free and reduced lunch – got $370,000 less this year, but Del Webb – in Anthem – got $136,000 more.

Admin and teachers know that for them “losers” can mean being out of a job.

One principal told me that in a recent meeting, principals were asked why they didn’t stand up and say something.

“One person said it’s because everyone is too afraid to say anything because the minute you do, he is at your campus, unannounced and intimidating. A whole bunch of people agreed because it had happened to them in recent months.”

In fact, this principal said, it had happened to them, for something they thought was innocent posted on social media.

And the principal said something else that I thought was interesting. They said that before The Man arrived, schools were in performance zones in which they met with each other in regional sections, which were then broken down into smaller workgroups. They could communicate with each other. The Man’s administrative changes abolished those communication sessions. 

“Now, we are in regions with 100+ schools,” the principal said.  “And our leveled meetings are just…preacher-in-the-pulpit types of meetings where we sit in rows and listen. We all noticed when the leveled meetings switched from having a focus on collaboration to being directed. People are much less likely to speak up and dissent when they have no idea whether their thoughts are the norm or an outlier. We can’t read the room when we are all facing the same way.”

I ran into a quote last week that I am framing and putting on my wall: “Leadership is not about being in charge. Leadership is about taking care of those in your charge.”

Like, you know… Jesus.

For The Man, like Richard III, leadership is about manipulation and authority. For principals – not all, mind you – it is about taking care of their staffs and students and their families.

It’s a fundamental disconnect that absolutely will affect student outcomes.

Let’s go back to our performance. On this night – May 13, 2021 – the actors were to decide if The Man should get a renewal extension on his contract. This is no small thing. The Man makes roughly $330,000 a year. In the end, The Man was given an 18 month extension, till February 2023.

That leaves him six months short of five years in the district.

Five years is exactly how much time a public employee of our fair state needs in order to be vested in the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS). A quick look at the benefit estimator at the PERS site reveals that if he works five years, after he turns 65, The Man will get roughly $3,000 a month from the state of Nevada for the rest of his life. Prior to coming here, he was the second in command at the Orlando, Florida school district for six years, and prior to that… well, suffice it to say that he is likely vested in enough retirement plans that he will have few financial worries as he gets older.

Hmm… let us think on this prospect. Why would The Man walk away from $36,000 a year for the rest of his life (after he turns 65)?

But wait. Haven’t we seen this story before? The Man lies to the Legislature in the summer of 2020. The actors convene to decide his fate. “But no,” chants his steadfast chorus in a monotone. “We are fighting for our lives! Tis not the right time!”

The Man tours the country, spreading fear and misdirection about suicide among teens in Las Vegas. “Stop attacking him,” chants his chorus. “Fair is foul and foul is fair.”

What does that even mean?

What is to stop this chorus from chanting at the end of 2022, “We cannot let our leader go in the midst of a school year.”

Et voila. Five years.

In fact, that was the kind of argument that led up to last week’s performance.

Even though the outcome was not surprising, you could feel the air shift in the theatre, er boardroom, when the play got to the part where the actors voted on The Man’s contract. It’s fair to say most of the audience wanted him gone. Three of the actors agreed. But three did not. That made two Trinities in opposition. And hopes were hinging on a fourth – whom we shall call The Enigmatic One, because it is her vote that everybody thinks is gettable, and nobody truly knows what she’s thinking. She is the Anthony Kennedy of the CCSD Board of Trustees.

I spoke to The Enigmatic One the day after the vote, and asked her the same question over and over again: since you acknowledged in your monologue the night before that you are aware of the abusive management practices by The Man, why did you vote for him? How do you square allowing The Man to keep treating people that way?

Her only answer was that there was more going on behind the scenes than I knew. I am aware only that the “behind the scenes” includes stage directions, which this group of players calls governance rules. The governance rules were not clear going forward for The Man, because there was a dispute between the General and Patience and Cassandra about how the General manipulated the proposed rules to give more power to The Man than to the cast members.

The Enigmatic One does not like to decide. This actor is a perfectly nice human being and, I have no doubt, good at her day job as an administrator. But she has been cast in a role that does not suit her. If we look at acting as having an objective, obstacles to that objective, and a strategy to get around those obstacles, then for The Enigmatic One, the objective is to have everything decided with the least drama to her. The obstacles come in the form of the General, who tries to bend the rules, and Cassandra, who calls the General out.

Remember what I wrote yesterday about why we don’t believe the Cassandras of the world, but we do believe the Generals. Remember also that the name of the main theatre the Trustees perform in is The Room of the Passive Aggressive.

Humans who form society have a stake in upholding the given rules of that society. Which is why we allow manipulation of those rules as long as the lie that undergirds them is that they are upholding the rules. We do not like people who don’t fit into the given rules. In other words, we are more forgiving of liars than we are the people who call them out.

Cassandra constantly calls The Man and the General out as liars. For The Enigmatic One then, Cassandra is the obstacle who creates the drama.

That played out in a previous performance on Feb. 3, 2021, the subtext of which I knew a bit about going in, but fully understood only after I went back and read the underlying correspondence. That made it clear that the General – not an outside contractor – wrote the new governance rules that the actors were considering to evaluate the job performance of The Man. The correspondence was dated Dec. 31, 2020 – just days before the General was to relinquish her role as director.

In the correspondence, The Production Manager of the play, Joe, wrote to the contractor: “Please see attached four current policies Trustees Brooks [the General] and I have revised…:”

All of the revisions are in red. Almost the entire attachment is revised.

It was actually Patience who discovered this. Cassandra was asked to deliver the information to the other performers in a meeting on Feb. 3. She was shut down.

I should also note that I have asked the General – in public, many times – why she wrote the rules when she wasn’t supposed to. She has denied writing them.

I do not know if that was what The Enigmatic One was referring to when she talked of “behind the scenes.” She wouldn’t go into details when I talked to her on May 14, and I got the distinct feeling at the end of the conversation that she wasn’t the only one on the call, as she revealed she was in her Trustee office in the CCSD admin building.

The Man has been retained. Fundamentally he was retained because he represents The Rules of Society, which four of the Trustees hold as sacred. Two of the other three Trustees are constantly denigrated for upholding other rules – like truth. (The third Trustee upholds truth, but she does it in a way that avoids the line of fire, which is kind of fascinating.) This is the number one governance rule that the General wants: “If The Man wants to lie and harm people, then the actors in the play must agree with his lies and countenance his harm. That is their role.”

Seven women supporting the problematic behavior of one man. Sounds about right.

I hope this is a fun little primer for a way to watch Trustee meetings in the future. It is all a play – a passion play at that – rolling out in real time. The themes are truth vs. lies, authoritarianism vs. democracy, and the myriad ways women try to hold down other women. It’s pretty high stakes. And incredibly entertaining.

Hope to see you at the next show, which has a special performance tonight, because the actors are all busy with graduation next week.. But remember, the house opens 30 minutes early, and if you don’t get there early enough, you may not get to choose which room you see the performance, and may be banish’d to a room full of people who literally believe that masks deprive them of oxygen. And that Jesus Jara can turn water into wine.

DRAMATIS PERSONAE

The Man – Supt. Jesus Jara

Patience – Board President Linda Cavazos

The General – Former Board President Lola Brooks

Cassandra – Trustee Danielle Ford

The Fool – Trustee Katie Williams

The Enigmatic One – Trustee Irene Cepeda

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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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