The CCSD shell game (which they are really bad at playing)

September 13, 2022 5:00 am

Keep your eyes on the truth. (Getty Images)

Step right up, hims and hers and theys and thems, to the greatest game in the world. The object of this game is to follow this kernel of truth, which I am putting under one of these three shells. Note the shell that truth is under, and keep track of it as I move the shells around.

Shell #1 

Kernel of Truth Under the Shell: We want to extend the superintendent’s contract before the end of the year.

At a Sept. 7 Clark County School District Board of Trustees work session, on an agenda item getting the ball rolling on Supt. Jesus Jara’s evaluation – which is due Dec. 15 – Trustee Lola Brooks threw a grenade into the middle of the discussion:

“I’m going to move to… move this evaluation up so we can complete it by Oct. 1.”

That’s three weeks away from the very moment they were meeting.

Check out the video of her making this motion. Notice her body language. She is looking down, not addressing her fellow trustees, or the room. She can’t sit still. She has to stop and start. She knows this is going to be a bombshell, and she’s pretending it’s not. Even using concerns about “alignment” – which refers to when in the year the superintendent should be evaluated – that trustees spoke about earlier as her “reason.” 

It’s important to know some backstory here. 

  1. Four trustees voted to fire Jara on October 28, 2021. Days later, he gave raises to his “cabinet” – to the tune of more than $430,000 a year. The email announcing that was leaked to the press by another trustee, and a couple of weeks after that, one of the trustees who voted to fire Jara rescinded her vote because the other trustee leaked the information about him giving raises. There’s been a rift on the board ever since, and honestly, there was a rift long before.
  2. Three trustee seats are up in this November’s election – that of two of the trustees who wanted to fire Jara, and that of the one who changed her mind.

I have said for months that this election is a referendum on Jara. If Trustees Linda Cavazos and Danielle Ford keep their seats, AND Brenda Zamora beats Trustee Irene Cepeda, then Jara will likely be gone. The board will turn from a 4-3 majority to keep Jara – and, eerily, do all of his bidding like a bunch of handmaids – to a 4-3 majority to let him go and find a superintendent who wasn’t accidentally installed.

Brooks was not hiding her desire to circumvent that election. In fact, she was telegraphing her intentions. If they have the evaluation done by October, they can then push through an extension of his contract – with a pretty hefty raise that will likely get him to $395,000 a year, and eligibility for PERS – before the election takes place. Even after the election takes place – even if the three anti-Jara candidates win – the current board has the majority. They can push through anything they want until the end of the year, a la Mitch McConnell and judges.

You can see a 5-minute edited video of the board discussion on Jara’s evaluation – including Cavazos noting that this was a surprise motion and “we have one thing on the agenda and all of a sudden it turns into something else, and then we have this expedited thing that seems to have been, maybe, predetermined, or certain people have talked about it, but the other people are not included.”

Cavazos is getting to the nut of the problem with this statement – which you can see and share here. She is calling out Brooks, Cepeda and Trustee Evelyn Garcia Morales for withholding information from her, Ford and Trustee Lisa Guzman. And she is calling out Brooks for playing a shell game. A rather obvious and clumsy one. But that doesn’t mean truth will win. Or that most people even care about it.

Brooks’s motion passed. The trustees will – depending on the availability of their facilitator – have Jara’s evaluation done on or about October 1.

Shell #2

Kernel of Truth Under the Shell: CCSD is going to lobby for, or at least not oppose, school privatization legislation in 2022

On Sept. 8, 2022, during a full board meeting, the CCSD trustees voted to hire Patricia Haddad as their new director of government relations. In other words, the district’s legislative lobbyist.

You would not be remiss for not knowing this. It was buried in the consent agenda, under “unified personnel employment.”

Here’s the possibly problematic part: Haddad worked in various leadership capacities for Opportunity 180 for four years, before leaving this past January. Opportunity 180 is a charter school granting and lobbying organization which has supported school privatization in the past. They also opposed the abolishment of the Achievement School District, which allowed charters to take over public schools to turn them around – without taking over the ownership obligations of the schools themselves. The law, passed in 2015, was rescinded in 2017 before it could take effect. 

Theoretically, this sounds bad – CCSD has hired a school privatizer to lobby for new laws in a state where public schools and legislators who support them have been fighting back privatization schemes for at least seven years.

In reporting on this, I found that the job has been open for months, and that people who were interested did not pass Jara’s muster. We don’t know why. The job was open to begin with because Brad Keating – who has done a stellar job lobbying for CCSD for the last two legislative cycles – was moved to a position which I can only describe as “pasture” because the realities Keating was trying to convey to Jara about the Legislature were not the ones the superintendent wanted to hear.

And the first person Jara DOES like is a privatizer?

I have not met Haddad, though she and I have been part of Twitter conversations. And I found her public interview to be appointed to the State Public Charter School Authority Governing Board back in June to be impressive.

Let me also note that I’m not against charter schools, per se, in terms of the fact that I see their mission as being an incubator for bringing new ideas to public schools. It just hasn’t worked that way. And now their mission seems to be as a front for creating schools that cater to students who are easier to teach.

Also, Opportunity 180 is my go-to website for getting an overview of school funding statistics. They do a really good job with that.

So, I’m not ready to just write Haddad off in her new role. I’m sure she can do the job she is asked to do. Even if it’s to lobby against privatization. But I wonder what Jara is asking her to do. Especially in light of the fact that he got rid of a government relations person who was able to stave off privatization efforts.

I reached out to Haddad and to Opportunity 180 executive director Jana Wilcox Lavin. Haddad referred me to CCSD director Tod Story, and Lavin did not return a text asking what priorities her organization was focusing on for the 2022 legislative session.

What bothers me about the appointment of Haddad is that it was snuck through, without a public briefing. Jara and his trustee sycophants have been doing this a lot lately – hiring people without letting the public know, and calling it “operational.” I will argue that their use of “operational” distinctions regarding the board are warped at best. But where in the policy does it say the public should be kept from knowing who the district is hiring for important positions?

Shell #3 

Kernel of Truth Under the Shell: Some political players are scam artists.

Last month, as the Current’s editor Hugh Jackson detailed, gubernatorial candidate Joe Lombardo used statements his campaigns had given journalists to make it look like those statements came from the journalists, themselves.

That’s right out of the Clark County Education Association’s playbook. CCEA is not just a union, it devotes millions of dollars to lobbying efforts. In 2020, when Guzman was elected trustee, CCEA filed an ethics complaint against her simply because she works for the support staff union, which is a sister organization to the Nevada State Education Association, which CCEA broke from in 2018. That complaint was dismissed. Still, Guzman recuses herself from any votes having anything to do with any union, out of an abundance of caution.

A year later – just after Jara was fired before he was reinstated – CCEA ran ads that attacked Guzman and Cavazos – using language from their dismissed complaint as if it was a conclusion by the board of ethics rather than an allegation by them. An allegation that was dismissed by the board of ethics.

This seems to be a shell game that desperate political players use a lot in Nevada – touting their own words as if they came from people or groups with more gravitas.

Ultimately, truth isn’t under any of these shells. We need to make sure people keep calling that out.

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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