Commentary

Chaos is the point

December 8, 2021 5:17 am

“…the transfer of responsibility for all remaining responsibilities currently transferred to schools under a service level agreement from schools back to central office, is recommended.” (Screenshot from CCSD Supt. Jesus Jara’s 2018 “welcome video”)

It’s deja vu all over again at the Clark County School district, where Supt. Jesus Jara is still in charge (or maybe was never not in charge) after a protracted negotiation with CCSD Trustees.

Presumably, the negotiation included, “I can do anything I want and no one can stop me,” because that is the gauntlet Jara laid down with this Thursday’s agenda, which came out last week, before he even announced that he was staying.

The agenda item is 5.01. Jara is the only contact. It’s about Service Level Agreements (SLAs)- the part of the reorg law (AB469) that allows schools, with their organizational teams, to hire the contractors they see fit. 

Jara wants to take all of those Service Level Agreements away from schools.

Yes, the agenda item starts out giving schools more responsibility for ELL testing, and makes indeterminate determinations about landscaping and trash pickup. Then it ends with this:

…the transfer of responsibility for all remaining responsibilities currently transferred to schools under a service level agreement from schools back to central office, is recommended.

The grammar in that sentence confirms for me why we are one of the worst school districts in the nation. Or perhaps the grammar is confusing and badly written on purpose, so board members’ eyes would glaze over and they wouldn’t really understand its meaning.

This is the meaning: We are re-centralizing everything. We are ignoring the reorganization law. Schools can pound sand.

The reorg law – and SLAs in particular – is the core issue of the recent meetings between CCSD and the State Board of Education, which has been overseeing the rollout of the reorganization. In the past, state board members have been pretty clear they are not happy with answers CCSD has given them about why they aren’t following the law.

We’ll get to that in a minute. First, I want to point out here the similarity between 

…the transfer of responsibility for all remaining responsibilities currently transferred to schools under a service level agreement from schools back to central office…

and

Said placement is at the discretion of the Superintendent.

The latter sentence was used in this document to justify $431,500 in annual raises to Jara’s top cabinet members that was announced just days after the vote to terminate Jara on Oct. 28. This sum, which I wrote about before, surprised trustees, who were led to believe the raises for top admin, who do not have a union contract, would be in line with raises given to regular admin that negotiated with their union.

Let’s be clear, trustees were all briefed on the new compensation policy earlier in the fall – in serial closed sessions which I believe violate open meeting law – and some asked HR director Nadine Jones about the “sole discretion” line. As I reported before, Trustee Danielle Ford asked to have that sentence struck, as it was not in any other policy the trustees have seen. Jones told her it wasn’t a “substantial change.”

Jones came out with a $25,000 raise from that “insubstantial” change in policy.

Trustee Lisa Guzman told me last week that trustees had been told that this week’s agenda item on Service Level Agreements was just to answer questions the state Board of Ed had put to them. The accompanying documentation to the agenda does that. The agenda item, with that horribly written sentence, goes much further.

So, again, trustees were lied to. Why am I not surprised?

Look at the Birdie, Look at the Birdie! (Grabs purse and runs.)

Maybe I’ve been watching too many Oceans movies, but it sure seems to me that CCSD leadership – read Jara and Trustee Lola Brooks – are purposefully creating a series of diversions that makes it incredibly hard for people to follow what’s really going on.

Let’s look at the last two months:

Oct. 6: Fikisha Miller, who had been holding the Clark County Education Association’s feet to the fire regarding the future of the Teachers’ Health Trust, goes to the trustees and tells them that Jara undermined negotiations behind her back when she was on sick leave to give CCEA more favorable terms. She also tells trustees that Jara created a hostile environment for employees and was retaliatory. This is not the first time trustees have heard these kinds of stories. But it is the first time they have not been able to ignore them. The trustees decide to put Fikisha Miller under their purview so Jara can’t fire her before her 30 days are up, and they start the proceedings to terminate Jara.

Oct. 22: After a few days of writing, re-writing, and haggling with board attorney Mary-Anne Miller, the agenda item for Jara’s termination goes up.

Oct. 22: Hours later, an agenda item to remove Linda Cavazos as president goes up.

Earlier in the day the TV stations were reporting, “They’re terminating Jara!” By that night, the narrative had changed to, “There’s infighting amongst the board.”

Neat how that works, isn’t it?

Let’s continue with our timeline.

Oct. 28: In a 4-3 vote, Jara’s contract is terminated. Trustee Evelyn Garcia-Morales cries. Trustee Katie Williams creates another diversion, then stomps out of the meeting, reportedly going to a bar with the CCSD cabinet members who had just left. Former Assemblywoman and County Commissioner Chris Giunchilgliani – who had attended and spoke at the meeting – sends me a text after the vote: “Check their procedures to make sure they can’t come back and reconsider.”

Nov. 2: An email detailing raises for 16 cabinet positions goes out to Trustees. It starts making the rounds of principals and, that night, Channel 3 confirms with Ford that the email is legit.

I need to cut into this narrative for a minute, ‘cause in the email, CCSD said the raises added up to $408,000. Clearly the admin who put that list together weren’t math teachers. The raises added up to $419,000 and change BEFORE the across the board 3% that the admin union had negotiated were added on. That brought the final total to over $431,500. Per year. For eternity or when CCSD ceases to exist, whichever comes first.

Again, back to our timeline.

Nov. 4: Trustee Irene Cepeda abstains from the vote and, therefore, stops the process for finding an interim superintendent – on the pretense that Ford shouldn’t have shared the email about the cabinet raises.

Team Lola generates outrage about Ford sharing the cabinet raises. Which was sent in an email. Which is a public record.

Trustees Guzman, Cavazos and Ford get bombarded with public records requests from trustees Brooks, Cepeda and Garcia-Morales.

Reality Check: We are no longer talking about Fikisha Miller and the realities of CCSD’s working environment she brought to the board. We are not talking about why Jara would want to undermine the negotiating position of CCSD in favor of CCEA. We are not talking about almost half a million dollars in raises for 16 people. We aren’t even talking about vaccine mandates – which were passed in August. We are talking about infighting amongst the board.

Diversion at its finest.

And it goes on.

Nov. 5: Jara sends out a demand letter, asking for $2.65 million in small bills with no markings and he will go away quietly. (OK, maybe I exaggerated about the small bills.)

Nov. 5: Cepeda puts out an agenda item to rehire Jara on the grounds that HE has faced a hostile work environment from his board – well, really just Guzman, Cavazos and Ford. Well, really just Ford. Because Jara sees women who challenge him as hostile.

Now we are talking about what constitutes harassment under the law, and whether Jara qualifies as a member of a protected class (he does not).

Nov. 18: Jara’s termination is rescinded. Nobody on the board of trustees actually knows what that means. Has he been fired and rehired, or is he just still on the job? Jara does not return emails and texts from Cavazos to clarify.

Let me repeat that: The superintendent has not returned any emails or texts from the president of the board that oversees him. According to Cavazos, he had stopped meeting one on one with her months ago. Now he won’t even answer her emails.

Dec 1: Before his status is even decided, Jara puts out an agenda item in which he gives himself broad powers to ignore AB469, and the trustees get a (non-public) briefing telling them that the agenda item is just answering questions that the state board put to them – exactly what Jara did with the “at the discretion of the superintendent” for the raises.

We are now leagues away from Fikisha Miller, Jara’s interference with CCEA negotiations, morale among teachers, admin and staff – who are leaving mid-year in rates never seen before – and the raises that were given to top admin.

We are also not talking about what is happening with ARP Covid funding from the federal government. Who is getting it? Who is deciding? Will that information be made public before the money is handed out?

Nowhere are we talking about REAL student mental health, which means hiring more mental health professionals, and looking at district practices which are contributing to the mental health issues of educators and students.

Teachers are still complaining about not being able to get medical treatment with Teachers Health Trust, which has still not paid off doctors. Now, we’re hearing that teachers are having trouble getting medications. But we’re not hearing that from the board of trustees, which putatively oversees the district.

There are seemingly daily reports of students – and parents – found with guns on campus. Trustees have not addressed that. Maybe they’ve talked about that in the numerous closed sessions they’ve held in the last couple of weeks. But judging by Ford’s tweet this week that she’s been kicked out of those closed sessions, we can be pretty sure they’re not talking about actual issues.

If past is prologue, Team Lola is spending all of their time and energy trying to figure out how to get Ford off the board. As Trustee Cepeda has pointed out to me, board policies are so lax, they weren’t able to kick Kevin Child off the board, despite principals being so concerned about inappropriate behavior, they barred him from their campuses. But mark my words, Team Lola will do everything in its power to get Ford off the board before the Nov. 2022 election. They will also work to get Cavazos and Guzman off the board. They have already started that, voting on Nov. 18 to hire an outside investigator to, as Linda Cavazos put it, “target” her, Guzman and Ford.

THIS is the board’s focus at the moment: make sure the people who disagree with Lola Brooks and ask Jesus Jara tough questions are gone. Make sure there are no naysayers, that there are no people standing up for teachers and admin and staff, that there’s no one who points out the diversions and smoke bombs.

Chaos is the point. Diversionary tactics are the point. Getting journalists to chase the birdie is the point – whether they do that by creating sensation or by whispering that sensationalism leaves a bad taste.

We have no idea what is going to happen with the reorg. The Board of Ed is in a holding pattern, waiting to see if trustees even pass the broad language Jara has proposed on Thursday. Ultimately, this will end up with the Legislature. I have confidence that state Supt. Jhone Ebert will keep her team’s eye on the ball leading up to the 2023 session. But what diversions will we enjoy between now and then in the Jara/Brooks universe?

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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

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