Will Jara’s dictatorial tendencies come back to bite him?

October 28, 2021 5:05 am

This will be the third time the trustees have considered removing CCSD Supt. Jesus Jara. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

“Don’t use my name.”

“I never spoke to you.”

“Somebody’s got to expose what’s happening here, Carrie.”

“It’s a culture of retaliation.”

“They give us responsibility, then set out to undermine us so we will fail.”

These are actual quotes – chosen from a bevy I’ve collected over the last couple of years – that I hear every week from teachers and admin who work at CCSD.

I’ve talked to a principal who expressed skepticism in a regional meeting in 2020 about whether the district should administer standardized tests in a pandemic. After the meeting, this principal was given a warning to get in line or she would face discipline.

I’ve talked to principals who HAVE faced discipline for talking on social media or disagreeing with Jara in front of their peers.

Short of actually being written up, I have been told by more principals than I can count that if they say something on social media, Jara shows up to their school, without warning. Maybe what they said was critical, maybe it was just advice on how the district works and how parents can navigate something. Maybe it’s something critical one of their teachers said online. Without fail, sometime the next school day, Jara pulls up in the parking lot. He doesn’t say anything about the online comments, but it’s happened so many times to so many principals that the pattern is clear. It’s now a dark joke among building leaders. Except it’s not funny.

“That’s intimidation,” one principal told me. “That’s a dictatorship.”

CCSD Trustees know this. Or they’ve been told this. Yet they have ignored it, or been silenced themselves under the dictate that trustees cannot interfere in operations. Strangely, that dictate has been interpreted to strip the trustees of all oversight. “It’s operational,” is bandied around so much by Jara, Trustee Lola Brooks and her lapdog, Trustee Katie Williams, that I half expect for a trustee to say, “I have to pee,” and Jara turning on his mic and saying, “Um… that’s operational.”

But the operations came directly to the trustees on October 6, when CCSD attorney and chief negotiator Fikisha Miller asked for a closed session.

It took me a couple of weeks to piece together what happened in that closed session, but I was able to confirm with people in the room after a blogger revealed some of the information last week that was clearly leaked by a trustee, after it was revealed that the Clark County Education Association used some info from the closed session just days after it happened, and after Brooks wrote a public letter revealing information that was discussed in previous closed sessions.

Miller told the trustees in that October 6 meeting that she was leaving. That she had the upper hand in negotiations with CCEA before taking a 4-day sick leave to have a procedure. Nothing was supposed to happen with negotiations during those four days. How could they? Their chief negotiator was not there.

But, according to many sources who talked to Miller in the last few weeks, when Miller returned, she found that CFO Jason Goudie had spent those four days negotiating with CCEA’s John Vellardita – who had refused to return Miller’s calls in the time between the previous board meeting and her sick leave. She handed the trustees the contract that had been negotiated in her absence and said, according to two trustees, “I ethically have to let you know that this agreement was not an agreement that I negotiated.”

She then told the trustees that it was Jara who ordered the negotiations to take place without her, that those orders violated legal restrictions, that she was tendering her 30-day resignation, and that she fully expected to be fired the moment she walked out of the room.

I checked all of this with Fikisha Miller. She did not deny any of it, but she also said she could not talk because of attorney/client privilege.

Colleagues of Miller’s have told me she has not been fired, but her 30-day notice of resignation was accepted, and she has been working from home.

I do not know if the agreement the district signed with CCEA is the one Miller negotiated or the one Goudie negotiated. That agreement is up for a vote at tonight’s trustee meeting.

Of course, also on the agenda for tonight’s meeting is the future employment of Jesus Jara. This will be the third time the trustees have considered removing him. The first was the summer of 2020, when Jara was chastised for lying by Governor Sisolak, State Superintendent Jhone Ebert, and Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson. Trustee Irene Cepeda indicated she didn’t think she could vote to terminate him, and the meeting was summarily cut short.

The second time was when the trustees voted to extend Jara’s contract, after many lawsuit threats from Jara’s attorneys. Trustees decided on a year and a half extension, which was half of what Jara was asking. I am told this was a compromise negotiated by Cepeda.

Cepeda is still the wild card. She can and has changed her mind on important issues. And she’s being pressured hard by factions in the district who support Jara. Including the Public Education Foundation, which Jara tried to close down last year simply because he thought someone who works there called him an asshole during an online meeting, and CEO Judi Steele refused to fire the offender.

This I do know: If Jara keeps his job because Cepeda voted for him, Jara will solidify his dictatorial tendencies. And Cepeda will lose all credibility. She is up for reelection, and it’s widely known Cepeda wants to be board president – whether that happens tonight if Linda Cavazos is removed or in January after Cavazos’ term runs out. If she is seen as wishy-washy, both of those goals will be in jeopardy.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This column has been updated to correct Jason Frierson’s title. He is Assembly Speaker.

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Carrie Kaufman
Carrie Kaufman

Broadcast, digital and print journalist Carrie Kaufman writes the You're Overthinking It newsletter on Substack. She has covered the Clark County School District for public radio and The Nevada Voice since 2015. Follow Carrie on Twitter: @CarrieKaufman