In The News › Orleans Parish School Board president drops fight to oust interim superintendent

Aug 20, 2013

Source: | The Times-Picayune

Filed under: Governance, Orleans Parish, Schools

Orleans Parish School Board president drops fight to oust interim superintendent

By Danielle Dreilinger | The Times-Picayune

August 20, 2013

After an unusually short and calm Orleans Parish School Board meeting Tuesday, board President Ira Thomas told | The Times-Picayune that his fight to oust interim Superintendent Stan Smith is over. That would seem to end a months-long fracas and public embarrassment that has gravely undermined the board’s effort to get back the 70-plus schools that are now in the state takeover Recovery School District.

“I recognize and accept the decision of the majority of the board,” Thomas said.

Thomas had charged that Smith’s employment contract was not valid, that Smith may have engaged in fraud when he signed the contract last summer, and that the interim chief, who is white, had kneecapped black-owned firms from getting School Board construction business.

However, though Thomas had support from fellow School Board members Cynthia Cade and Leslie Ellison, he was never able to generate a majority, let alone the 5-2 super-majority required to fire a superintendent. That was in spite of stirring up the fire through appearances on WBOK talk radio and a press conference attended by a room full of angry African-American contractors and alumni.

The tensions culminated at the School Board’s July meeting, where member Seth Bloom’s attempt to ratify Smith’s contract devolved into hooting, booing and accusations of racism, causing the board to table the matter.

In a stunning contrast, Tuesday’s meeting contained not a single mention of Smith’s contract.

“I did my job as a board member to bring these issues to the board’s attention but again, this is a board of seven members,” Thomas said afterward. “It was not the pleasure of the board, by majority vote, to act on that.”

The status of Smith’s contract remains somewhat unclear. The board decided in February not to void the contract but said it would edit if necessary and then ratify. Smith had on-and-off discussions about its specific terms throughout the spring with Thomas and board counsel Ed Morris. He said Monday that no further conversations had taken place.

A community committee is currently reviewing applications from national firms to help the board choose a permanent superintendent. Smith was promoted from chief financial officer to the interim post as of July 1, 2012.

At the first meeting in months that did not call to mind late journalist Molly Ivins’ quip that it’s easy to enjoy the shenanigans of the Texas Legislature as long as you have a strong stomach and a total insensitivity to the needs of the people, the School Board approved its 2014-15 budget.

The budget projects $343.7 million in revenues and $341.9 million in expenditures. Revenues went up thanks to Super Bowl-inflated sales tax returns. Per-pupil funding is projected at $8,938 — a nearly $1,000 increase since 2011.

That said, only $45.2 million of those revenues comes directly to the School Board to run the central office and its five traditional schools — a figure dwarfed by the $142.4 million the district collects and distributes to the Recovery School District’s roughly 70 schools and the $80.7 million to its own 15 charter schools.

The Recovery School District was not given the power to levy taxes and thus, the local School Board does so on its behalf.

Janet Howard, president of the Bureau of Governmental Research, said the budget highlighted continuing deficiencies in the district’s record-keeping. It’s not possible to see exactly how the School Board manages money for charters and the Recovery School District, or how much for each of the five directly run schools.

Recovery School District charter CEO Ben Kleban criticized the district’s staffing, saying it remained way too top-heavy. His group NOLA College Prep has six-and a-half central office administrators to serve 1,200 students. Meanwhile, School Board comptroller Wayne DeLarge said the district employed 56 central administrators covered by the $45.2 million general fund, though only 2,800 students attend the five traditional schools.

The board asked the district to compile a more detailed financial breakdown by its October meeting.

In a further display of peaceable behavior, Thomas said the School Board’s lawsuit against the New Orleans office of the inspector general shouldn’t be characterized as a fight. Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux says he has legal authority to audit the board, which is not part of city government, and has subpoenaed district financial records.

“The inspector general has raised a legal question that has come before the board,” Thomas said. “That matter’s now in the courts and we agree that’s where the answer needs to come from.”
The board voted 4-3 Tuesday to accept a friend-of-the-court brief from the Louisiana School Boards Association, which is concerned about ramifications for other boards. That’s though the board’s legal committee rejected the brief last week. Members Sarah Usdin, Woody Koppel and Bloom think the board should let the IG come in.

With fall comes the question of which Recovery School District schools will have high enough performance scores to opt to return to local control. The School Board lobbied successfully in this year’s legislative session to pass a law that allows charter schools who come back to retain direct control of various federal funds. But charter chiefs have said privately that even with that incentive, no one would want to return to the oversight of a local board in the chaos it displayed in June and July.

Aug 20, 2013

Source: | The Times-Picayune

Filed under: Governance, Orleans Parish, Schools

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