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Embattled CCSD superintendent receives $250k buyout in ‘compromise’ resignation

The school board is expected to determine how to proceed with a permanent superintendent search next month. (Credit: April Corbin Girnus/Nevada Current)

April Corbin Girnus, Nevada Current
February 23, 2024

Jesus Jara’s tumultuous time as superintendent of the nation’s fifth largest school district has come to an end. 

The Clark County School Board voted 5-2 on Thursday to allow the embattled leader to resign and receive a $250,000 buyout — equivalent to six months of his salary. The trustees also voted to appoint Deputy Superintendent Brenda Larsen-Mitchell as interim superintendent until a permanent leader is found.

Jara, whose contract ran through June 2026, first offered to resign in late January for a buyout around $500,000. Trustees in a split vote rejected that offer and directed the district’s lawyer to negotiate new terms for his departure.

School Board attorney lawyer Nicole Malich described the new resignation proposal as a “compromise” but said she could not disclose specifics about the confidential negotiation process. The resignation required an amendment to his contract to allow for the one-time $250,000 payout and the removal of provision requiring he give 90-days notice. His resignation is effective at 5 pm on Friday, Feb. 23.

Trustees Linda Cavazos and Brenda Zamora voted against the proposal. Trustees Lisa Guzman, Evelyn Garcia Morales, Katie Williams, Lola Brooks and Irene Bustamante Adams voted for approval.

Guzman noted that the existing terms of Jara’s contract would require a significantly larger payout of around $1 million if the board were to terminate his contract for convenience. Termination “for convenience” means the trustees would not have to give a reason for ending his contract early.

“If you are part of the labor community, you know when you negotiate for someone who is going to be terminated, you as the labor person try to negotiate for a resignation rather than a termination,” said Guzman, who is employed by the Nevada State Education Association.

The approved $250,000 buyout did not sit well with many educators who spoke in public comment to say Jara should be fired and receive no payout.

Educator Robert Cowles referenced recent reports that the district is being investigated for its use of covid relief dollars to pay for recruitment trips that bore no results, allegations that the superintendent may have made misogynist comments online about a teachers union leader, and a lawsuit related to the district withholding body cam footage.

Any of those incidents “should have been enough to terminate for cause,” he argued.

Vicki Kreidel, president of the National Education Association of Southern Nevadalikened the situation to being on a rapidly sinking ship and handing someone boarding a lifeboat a suitcase filled with money.

Jara has not publicly given a reason for wanting to depart the district after more than five and a half years at its helm. He was not present at the meeting Thursday.

Clark County Education Association, which represents the district’s licensed teachers, has been calling on Jara to resign for nearly a year. Several state lawmakers, including Assembly Speaker Steve Yeager and Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro, began publicly calling for his resignation in the fall of last year. At the time, Jara quickly countered that he intended to stay on despite their criticism.

In 2021, the school board fired him only to un-fire him several weeks later.

Superintendent Succession

In a memo provided to the School Board, Jara identified Deputy Superintendent Brenda Larsen-Mitchell and Chief Financial Officer Jason Goudie as capable interim superintendents.

Trustee Linda Cavazos asked whether the board could consider other possible candidates for the interim position. Malich, the board’s attorney, said they could not because only Larsen-Mitchell and Goudie were listed on the agenda.

Cavazos recommended appointing Larsen-Mitchell and Goudie as co-interim superintendents. But her motion was abandoned after Malich convened with the pair behind closed doors and reported back to the trustees that they “had concerns” about there not being one appointed head.

Goudie told the board during the meeting he supported the appointment of Larsen-Mitchell as interim superintendent.

Cavazos was one of two trustees to oppose Larsen-Mitchell’s appointment. Bustamante Adams, who expressed her preference for Goudie as interim superintendent, was the other.

The school board is expected to determine how to proceed with a permanent superintendent search next month, though they began those discussions in earnest Thursday. Trustees could opt to consider internal candidates only, a process that shortens the transitory interim period and costs less money. Or they could opt to conduct a nationwide search, a process that takes longer and comes with the cost of an outside firm.

When Jara first attempted to resign, an agenda item to appoint Larsen-Mitchell as superintendent was put before the trustees, leading to speculation that a majority of voting trustees want to immediately appoint her as the permanent superintendent. Because the trustees rejected Jara’s offer, they did not discuss that agenda item.

Only two school board trustees have previously participated in a superintendent search. Since the last superintendent search the board has also added four non-voting trustees — representing Clark County and the cities of Las Vegas, Henderson and North Las Vegas.

CCEA and the Vegas Chamber independently called on the trustees to conduct a nationwide search.

“Under the interim superintendent administration we will see more of the same,” read a statement from the teachers union. “CCEA believes an immediate search for new leadership should commence now with a new superintendent in place before next school year.”

Nevada Current is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nevada Current maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Hugh Jackson for questions: info@nevadacurrent.com. Follow Nevada Current on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Nevada Current under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.