Las Vegas Sun

June 27, 2019

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Hear us now’: School Board feels backlash over elimination of deans

CCSD School Safety News Conference

Steve Marcus

Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara responds to questions during a news conference on school safety at CCSD administrative offices on West Sahara Avenue Wednesday, May 15, 2019.

When it was Alexis Salt’s turn to speak during Thursday’s Clark County School District board meeting, the educator echoed the displeasure shared by many of her colleagues this week in response to an announcement that 170 dean positions would be cut in a cost-saving measure.

Deans handle discipline at Las Vegas-area middle schools and high schools, meaning Superintendent Jesus Jara’s decision to eliminate the position would put students in harm’s way, Salt said.

She bemoaned what she saw as a school board that does not listen to educators.

“Hear us now,” she said, banging her hand for emphasis.

Salt indicated that many parents would like to pull their children from the district for a private school, but they can't afford to do so.

“My daughter is less safe, and I don’t make $300,000,” she said. “I can’t isolate myself from this problem.”

The cuts would help compensate for a $17 million funding shortfall for the next school year, which begins in mid-August.

“The decision was difficult. It was not a cavalier, quick ‘this is what we do,’” Jara said.

Jara said the dean position came from a list of six potential cuts, including the elimination of magnet programs, performing arts programs, athletics and cutting various levels of transportation.

Many of the deans in attendance elected not to speak, instead rising to make themselves visible when Cristal Boisseau, the dean at Shadow Ridge High School, stood up to speak. She’s been one of the most outspoken about the cuts.

The announcement came after the end of the legislative session, which, despite a revamping of the state’s 52-year-old funding formula, left the Clark County School District with a deficit.

Officials from the Clark County Education Association, the union that represents many teachers in the district, said it would strike if the district was not fully funded, saying they would accept no budget cuts or pay freezes.

Meghann Peterson, a teacher at Arbor View High School, said she couldn’t tell students they would be safe in the same way as previous school years. Two at Arbor View during the last school year were arrested for racially motivated threats toward black students on social media — an incident where the school dean was utilized to investigate the claims and keep students safe.

“My daughter remained in class and I assured others because I truly believed we had an administration that was keeping us safe,” Peterson said.

Peterson stressed the removal of the deans will take away a safety measure for students.

“There will be fewer eyes watching our children and fewer adults to confide in when scary things happen,” she said.

Suynn Davis, also from Arbor View, said educators are not going to be able to defend administrators to students when they don’t keep promises, including promises to make Arbor View safer.

“Our students are not safer, and when they find out that what you told us you’re not going to hold to, how are we going to stand with you?,” she said.

Deborah Whitt, the chair of the English department at Spring Valley High School, discussed the tense moments last year when the school was on lockdown.

“I remember thinking that maybe this was the day that our school made the news,” she said.

Administrators also acted Wednesday when middle and high school principals passed a vote of no confidence in the superintendent.

Stephen Augspurger, the executive director of the Clark County Association of School Administrators and Professional-Technical Employees, said the union did not think the school board went about the decision in the correct way, accusing them of violating open-meeting statutes by discussing the decision in the past in a closed session.

He said the union will file a complaint with the state.

Not all who spoke were against the measure.

James Frazee, a member of the CCEA executive board, said that Jara has kept his promises during his tenure.

“This is the first superintendent, at least in my generation, to live up to his word,” Frazee said.

He also said he wished there was as much public outcry during the session as there was at the school board meeting.

“I wish I could’ve seen half of you up in Carson City fighting for funds in our communities as are here,” he said.