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June 22, 2024 8:23 am

Opinion

The Worm Squirms: Nevada Senators Show What CCSD Oversight Can Look Like | Opinion

Credit: iStock

by Carrie Kaufman, Nevada Current

Superintendent Jesus Jara and CCSD Police Chief Mike Blackeye were called to a joint meeting of the Senate Judiciary and Education committees on Wednesday. The ostensible reason was to answer for the abuse of force at Durango High School shown in this viral video.

But senators were told at the outset that they couldn’t talk about an “ongoing investigation.” So they used their time to conduct a science experiment, which consisted of this hypothesis: How long can a worm squirm when you repeatedly stick pins in it?

And boy, there are some experienced surgeons in this group of lawmakers.

Jara’s strategy for this meeting seemed to be “lie and obfuscate.” This is something he is good at. Damn, can that man speak without saying anything.

His first approach was to turn things around and talk about AB469, which he has been trying to change or simply ignore since he arrived in 2018. Teachers would be safer, he argued, if that damned reorg law didn’t exist.

“If you recall in 2017, the legislature passed AB469, which really limits the superintendent’s position control.” He then noted, “In the outer ring of the suburbs, that’s where we see an increase in teachers, but in our tougher areas, this is where we have our vacancies.”

This, to put it nicely, is utter steer poop.

First, this was a meeting about police misconduct, not student misconduct. The hearings on teacher safety bills, which would allow allegedly violent students to be kicked out of school, were held in separate hearings on different days. Jara wasn’t there. He didn’t even call in. 

Second, there are lots of reasons Title 1 schools in poor areas can’t attract or keep teachers. And the shortages in those schools have been happening for at least a decade. Probably longer. A quick Google search for “CCSD teacher vacancies for 2015” brings up reports and news articles like this one from The Sun, which had this interesting tidbit:

Shortages are especially persistent at inner city schools like Long, where 76 percent of the student body is Latino and 77 percent qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. At Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary, near Nellis Air Force Base, 93 percent of students qualify for free and reduced lunch. The school is also short 20 full-time teachers, the worst shortage in the district. (Emphasis mine)

In 2022, according to numbers compiled from CCSD’s Open Book by reorganization guru Ed Gonzalez, and confirmed by me, the school with the highest vacancy rate was Valley High School, with 13 teachers missing from their budgeted 91 slots. This is, arguably, not as impactful as, say, Jo Mackey’s 11 teacher vacancies from its budgeted 39 slots.

I want to note some statistics regarding Valley that Jara – not AB469 – is responsible for. In 2019, Valley had two teacher vacancies. In 2020 – which I do see as statistically anomalous – they had eight unfilled teacher slots. In 2021 they had five vacancies. But in 2022, they had 13. What changed? The principal, Ramona Esparza – who had drastically lowered rates of student violence and raised graduation rates through implementation of Restorative Justice practices – took the administrative buyout offered by Jara to get rid of building leaders and central staff he didn’t like. The buyout applied to leaders with at least 27 years of experience. Not only did Esparza leave, but the principals of Lake and Park elementary schools and Fremont Middle School – Valley’s feeder schools – also left, taking their decades of experience in education and school safety with them.

Teacher vacancies doubled in Lake and Fremont from 2021 to 2022.

That’s something that’s not talked about regarding safety – and something I am looking into: How many schools who have safety issues have inexperienced leadership due to Jara’s buyouts?

At least Valley has teachers. Sen. Dina Neal indicated that Peterson Behavioral School did not. “It might as well have been East Side High [from the movie “Lean on Me”] replayed at Peterson… there is no education happening at all.”

Jara’s answer: AB469

Neal was on the reorg committee for two years, and she wasn’t having this argument.

“This is a safety concern, and if you’re trying to tell me that 469 stripped away your power to manage safety, I would disagree and I would argue.”

Jara didn’t seem to be able to answer one question without blaming the reorg law. Honestly, when Chief Blackeye asked for a bathroom break, I thought Jara was going to say, “He wouldn’t need to pee if AB469 was repealed!”

To be fair, there is one aspect of AB469 that is problematic – the fact that teacher salaries are budgeted to each school not by how much each of their teachers are paid, but by average teacher salary. Currently, the average teacher salary is $89,000, including benefits. Take home pay at this level is about $61,000. Veteran teachers, who have navigated the Byzantine credit system that gets them pay raises, can make quite a bit above that average. New teachers are paid just shy of $65,000 with benefits, which translates to $43,000 take-home. But the school they work for gets charged $89,000. And the schools the veteran teachers work for – which is mostly those suburban schools Jara refers to – get paid more than the average teacher salary. So Coronado is getting higher paid and more experienced teachers than, say, Valley or Eldorado, but paying the same amount per teacher.

That needs to be fixed. Individual school budgets should reflect the actual salaries of the teachers and support staff in their buildings. And schools with struggling populations should be able to offer teachers more to come there. The fact that this doesn’t happen is not an AB469 problem, it’s a Clark County Education Association problem.

But the Wednesday joint hearing was not about CCEA, it was about police use of force. And the best “surgeon” of the bunch was Sen. Melanie Scheible, who worked as a prosecutor until last year. Her cuts, in the form of questions, were methodical and devastating. This video is worth watching, but my favorite part starts about four minutes in, when she asked if the district has “ever asked CCSD students if they feel safer with police officers on campus.”

Blackeye: “Students are surveyed each year regarding their feeling of safety on campuses with police officers.”

Jara: “I don’t have that data in front of me, but we can get that to you.”

Scheible then repeated her question: “Do students generally feel safer with police on campus or not?”

“Yes, that would be important to know,” answered Blackeye, who also allowed that perhaps the surveys didn’t ask about police officers specifically.

Scheible did not stop. But I’m not going to put the entire exchange here. Watch the video.

The exchange I do want to put here is one I had with former Global Community School principal Elena Fabunan, who was in the room in Carson City.

Let me set this up. The day before, Jara rolled a new data dashboard that he said would go a long way toward transparency. But when the Review Journal’s Brett Clarkson asked about the investigation of police use of force at Durango High School, Jara refused to answer. “Transparency” being a word only he is authorized to define.

So, this was my conversation with Fabunan:

So, I looked it up.

Chief Blackeye was right on his second thought. They didn’t ask students at all about safety and school police. And Jara – since he had just rolled out the dashboard the day before – could have easily looked it up and answered Senator Scheible’s question. Instead, he squirmed.

I would also like to point out here that asking these kinds of questions and getting these kinds of answers is also the job of the Board of Trustees. Former Trustee Danielle Ford suggested on Twitter that the Trustees be called in and subjected to the same grilling about their oversight. They are the ones who are accountable for Jara’s decisions. I agree.

This story was written by Carrie Kaufman, a Clark County-based reporter and contributor to the Nevada Current, where this story first appeared.

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