Opinion of Jara key difference between trustee and the former state legislator challenging her

By: - October 11, 2022 6:05 am

Incumbent Danielle Ford (left) and Irene Bustamante Adams are competing to represent District F on the Clark County School Board (Ford photo courtesy CCSD, Bustamante Adams photo courtesy of candidate)

If anyone thought Clark County School Board Trustee Danielle Ford would back down from public criticism of Superintendent Jesus Jara now that his contract has been extended until 2026, they would be wrong.

The outspoken trustee, who represents the southwest part of the Las Vegas Valley, doesn’t hesitate when offering her opinion that the contract extension, which secures the superintendent a $395,000 annual salary with the possibility of bonuses, was pushed through earlier this month out of concerns that the upcoming election may shift the balance of power away from his supporters. (School Board President Irene Cepeda, who is also up for reelection this year, has denied that accusation, saying the timing came down to meeting scheduling and wanting to have enough time to secure a successor superintendent if board members voted not to renew the contract.)

Ford says the contract extension “changes the narrative” from being about whether Jara is an effective leader to being about money.

“They will say it would waste money (to get rid of him),” she says, “but oh well.”

Whatever the district would pay for Jara to leave would be worth it, Ford says.

Ford says she believes there may be “alternative routes” that don’t involve simply paying out the contract and letting Jara walk away with “bags of money like the Monopoly Guy.” Whether she has the ability to pursue any of those, however, relies in part on her retaining her seat against a formidable challenger — Irene Bustamante Adams.

Bustamante Adams is a former state legislator who says she has no problem with the decision to extend Jara’s contract or the process that was used.

“It’s alway easy to be a Monday morning quarterback when you’re on the sidelines,” she adds. “I don’t make it a practice to think I know what has happened on the inside.”

In a crowded field of 10 candidates during the June primary, Ford placed second, receiving 18% of votes. Bustamante Adams received 22%.

Since then, Bustamante Adams has raised significantly more than Ford, according to campaign reports filed with the state. She brought in $23,058 in cash and in-kind contributions, as of June 30. Ford meanwhile raised $3,793 from just three individual donors.

(Third quarter campaign reports, which cover candidate contributions and spending between July 1 and Sept. 30, are due to the state on Oct. 15.)

Ford says she doesn’t take much stock in those numbers, pointing out that in 2018 she defeated Kali Fox Miller, who had raised more than $53,000 — three and a half times what she had as a mostly self-funded candidate. Ford this year has also received endorsements from several prominent groups, including the Nevada State Education Association, Culinary Union, SEIU and PLAN.

Bustamante Adams’s campaign reports show donations from both groups and individuals. The largest amount — $5,000 — came from the Clark County Education Association. Other notable contributors include Laborers Local 872, Vegas Chamber, Golden Gaming and Boyd Gaming.

Bustamante Adams is the deputy director and chief strategy officer of Workforce Connections, which is Southern Nevada’s Local Workforce Development Board. She says Jara has brought the district in better alignment with the business community.

“The things I deal with the superintendent and school district from workforce development are moving forward at a good pace,” she says.

One example she cites is a career center attached to a new vocational school — “the first of its kind,” she says. Another example: the recent launch of a “workforce blueprint for kids” — an activity book for elementary-aged kids that teaches them about potential careers in areas like advanced manufacturing, healthcare and software development that are expected to be in high demand in the decades to come. That effort builds off a larger workforce blueprint created by the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance.

Bustamante Adams, a Democrat who served eight years in the Nevada State Assembly, says she wants to help rebuild the community’s faith in the school board. She thinks trustees could do that by focusing on student success and being transparent with data.

That lack of faith in the board has boosted calls to move away from a fully elected board and instead adopt an appointed or hybrid appointed/elected board similar to the State Board of Education. Bustamate Adams says she knows those concerns come out of frustrations with the district and board, and she’s open to rethinking the board structure, noting that several options exist.

“I don’t know what model is best for Southern Nevada,” she said, “but we need to increase communication and transparency and accountability. That’s what the public wants to see. We need to work on that.”

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

April Corbin Girnus
April Corbin Girnus

April Corbin Girnus is an award-winning journalist with a decade of media experience. She has been a beat writer at Las Vegas Sun, a staff writer at LEO Weekly, web editor of Las Vegas Weekly and a blogger documenting North American bike share systems’ efforts to increase ridership in underserved communities. An occasional adjunct journalism professor, April steadfastly rejects the notion that journalism is a worthless major. Amid the Great Recession, she earned a B.A. in journalism from the University of Nevada Las Vegas, where she served as editor-in-chief of the student newspaper. She later earned an M.A. in media studies and a graduate certificate in media management from The New School for Public Engagement. A stickler about municipal boundary lines, April enjoys teaching people about unincorporated Clark County. She grew up in Sunrise Manor and currently resides in Paradise with her husband, three children and one mutt.