Embattled superintendent overseeing Las Vegas-area public schools steps down

LAS VEGAS (AP) — The embattled superintendent overseeing public schools in the Las Vegas area stepped down Friday after more than five years at the helm of the nation's fifth-largest school district.

School board members in Clark County voted 5-2 Thursday evening to accept Superintendent Jesus Jara's resignation and a $250,000 buyout, equivalent to half of his annual salary. The district has around 380 schools in Las Vegas and surrounding Clark County.

Jara turned in his resignation last month after the school board's president asked if he would be willing to step down on the heels of a highly contentious contract battle that pitted district teachers represented by their union — the Clark County Education Association — against the superintendent and the district’s School Board of Trustees.

It also comes amid a federal investigation into the district’s use of COVID-19 relief money for so-called recruiting trips to beach destinations, including Honolulu, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.

Jara was hired in 2018 to lead the school district with about 300,000 students in Nevada's most populous county. His tenure was tumultuous.

The school board tried twice to terminate his contract since 2020, and earlier this month, the initial vote to accept Jara's resignation failed amid public outrage over a $500,000 severance package. He also drew sharp criticism and calls for his resignation from state lawmakers last year during the legislative session over the school district's proficiency and teacher retention rates.

Deputy Superintendent Brenda Larsen-Mitchell will take the helm in the interim.

“I express my genuine gratitude to the 42,000 employees of the Clark County School District who show up every day to provide for our students,” Larsen-Mitchell said in a statement. “As I have throughout my career as an educator, I will continue to model passion and enthusiasm for education.”

In its own statement Thursday night, the teachers union urged the school district to begin an immediate search for Jara's replacement. “The only positive takeaway from the Jara administration is that we must set a higher standard of performance and qualification for the next Superintendent,” the statement said.

The union and school district reached a contract agreement in December through an arbitrator, ending a brutal and highly publicized fight that included lawsuits and what one judge deemed an illegal strike by a wave of teachers who called in sick, forcing many Las Vegas-area schools to close in a state where public employees can't strike.

The new contract includes base salary increases of 10% in the first year and 8% in the second year, with additional pay for special education teachers.