Las Vegas Sun

November 20, 2018

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education:

Q+A: New CCSD superintendent prioritizes curriculum, funding for his first year

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Christopher DeVargas

Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara meets with the Las Vegas Sun editorial board on Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018.

The new leader of the country’s fifth-largest school district wants to work with lawmakers to update the state’s decades-old funding formula and maximize current funds by streamlining curriculum.

Superintendent Jesus Jara, who spent six years in Florida as the deputy superintendent of Orange County Public Schools, has been meeting with district employees and learning the intricacies of a $2.4 billion district.

Jara sat down with the Sun news staff and editorial board less than a week before today’s start of the new school year and shared some of his priorities. His comments below have been edited for length and clarity.

How are you getting along with the trustees so far?

We’re building our relationship. We had our first board retreat, it was more of a meeting, just to really understand as a new person coming in I’m the new element into the equation, if you will.

We had some time and discussion about what they expect from their new superintendent and then what I expect from the trustees, and then started really looking at the roles and responsibilities of the superintendent as the executive officer of the organization and the board as the policy and governance. … It’s just building on our relationships to become one team.

How can the district better fund education and give teachers and support staff raises?

It seems pretty simple, (and) I wish it was all that simple. The challenge is a couple things.

Having a clear understanding of our internal fiscal house, that’s number one as we go back and start looking for money. We have to build that trust within CCSD internally and also within this community. We need to just really get our fiscal house in order.

If governors do ask me, “how much money do you need?” I’m going to first of all have that clear understanding of how much I’m going to ask for ... to then build an educational system that our children deserve.

The other thing is ... we really need to build a coalition or an effort in Carson City around changing the funding formula. We have 17 studies that tell us that we don’t fund education appropriately, and the inequities. Seventeen. We don’t need another study. What we need to do is take action.

If we all really want to invest in our kids and our teachers, then we need to modernize the formula so that it’s equitable for the children in Clark County. It’s going to take us some time.

Can the district improve on its contract negotiations with district employees?

Absolutely, and that’s what we’re working on. We have a vacant position right now that we’ve advertised. Right now our CFO and interim general counsel are the ones sitting at the table as negotiating for the school system, for the board.

Right now my role as a superintendent is to really help with the strategy and then have the chief negotiator as the one that’s going to be negotiating with the chief negotiator for all the bargaining units. So my role would be more as really creating the vision, working with the board, and then how does that impact our employees (and) then also how does it impact our classroom, our support staff, our buses.

What do you think of CCSD’s class sizes, which were the nation’s largest in 2017?

As I’m building relationship and understanding the folks in the Assembly and the Senate so they get to know me and who I am and where we’re going, that’s one of the things that I’m looking at to prepare, is what’s it going to cost us to bring the class sizes down to a manageable number, and then fund it. We make to make sure that those are some of the things I’m looking at because we don’t want them to just say we’ll lower class size — that comes with cost, so what’s the funding mechanism?

Parents have said they’re concerned about class size as well. Children are coming monday whether (faculty) have a raise or all this other noise, so as I was meeting with them to say my job is to make sure that I’m advocating for more resources in Carson City and then also to make sure that what we get, we utilize efficiently and effectively internally as well. That’s the challenge, is I’m trying to pep them up to come into work on Monday.

How does CCSD’s reorganization compare to your old Florida district?

That’s how they do business, it’s been historically their history, you decentralize, you give the money closest to the classroom and make decisions at the school level.

In Florida there (are) only two employees in a school system that automatically get fired if they are unsatisfactory in their evaluations: the classroom teacher and the principal. So we always believe that the principal, if you’re going to be held accountable, you make the decisions on your budget to run your school.

The challenge that … they have, is that when you have new principals, even though you’re in that system, it’s just the continued training and support.

Is there any other service you think the district should centralize like Florida did?

Principals … had the autonomy to purchase their own curriculum when I first got there. When I first got there we had 188 different reading programs in 123 elementary schools, because every principal was buying their own. We had about a 31 percent transient population as well. So we centralized our curriculum. When I say centralized … we’ll negotiate the price, lower the price, and then you pay for it, but it was at least a central core curriculum. That’s a conversation that now I’m having here. That’s a conversation that principals want to have here. They’re asking for it because they’re seeing kids, a third grade student going from one school to another, and then they have to start over.

We’re going to then start having conversations here, about how do we centralize our curriculum, our professional development. Now obviously (principals) have to fund it from their (school) budget, but at least it’s vetted with their involvement, it’s not taking that authority away from them, but it’s really more creating that system of support for schools.

When we start doing that, it’s not going to get us to the millions that we need, but at least it’ll show the public that now we’re going to be efficient with our dollars. And then, at least, if you want to do business with the fifth-largest district in the country, you’re going to lower your price.