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Landry hiring questioned

By Rebecca Burk / L’Observateur / May 4, 1998

ROMEVILLE – The hastiness of a decision by the St. James Parish SchoolBoard to name Walter Landry as interim superintendent effective July 1 was questioned Tuesday.

Edward Becnel of Vacherie asked his board representative to make a motion to rescind the decision, made by a 4-3 vote at the board’s April 14 meeting.

“I’m here merely as a concerned citizen and parent of kids in public school,” Becnel said. “As I look back from the time I was 6, I see a systemthat has never reached its potential. I’ve seen politics. I hoped when youwere elected as board members that would change.”Becnel suggested that board members should open up the position to anyone, take applications and even do a nationwide search.

“We should have done what Mayor Morial did with the chief of police,” he said. “He opened the position up and chose the best man for the job.”Becnel said a nationwide search would end all questions floating around as to whether Landry is qualified or not.

“If Mr. Landry was still chosen as superintendent, then at least we wouldknow we got the best man for the job,” he said.

At that he asked the board member that serves his district, Richard Reulet, to rescind last meeting’s motion and open the position for a nationwide search.

“Will you do that, Mr. Reulet?” Becnel questioned from the podium.Reulet wasn’t given a chance to respond.

Board president John Schexnayder stepped in and said the meeting wasn’t a question and answer session, and board members shouldn’t be put on the spot during meetings.

“You mean I can’t get an answer or any kind of rebuttle here?” Becnel questioned again. “It’s kind of like communism.”With no response from board members, Becnel suggested they write a policy saying that whenever a similar matter comes up the position should be filled through a nationwide search. Applause from an unusually largeaudience followed his suggestion.

Several agenda items later, board member Lloyd LeBlanc made a motion to open the position of permanent superintendent and begin taking applications. LeBlanc’s motion was seconded by Carol Lambert.Before any discussion, board member Willis Octave made a substitute motion to table the issue. His motion failed with no second.A vote was taken and LeBlanc’s original motion failed 3-3 with one abstention. George Nassar, Octave and Schexnayder voted against it andReulet abstained.

LeBlanc was angry about Reulet’s abstention.

“People on the board were elected to represent people and they should represent them,” LeBlanc said. “An abstention isn’t a representation.”LeBlanc requested that assistant district attorney Bruce Mohon investigate the matter because he believes the nomination and selection of Landry as interim superintendent at the last meeting may be in violation of the Sunshine Law.

“The agenda item, as it was written for the April 14 meeting, was to discuss the superintendent and a motion was made,” LeBlanc said. “I wassurprised. I had no idea that was going to happen. Nothing in the agendaitem said we were going to select a superintendent, it just said we were going to discuss it.”Mohon was out of town and unavailable for comment.

LeBlanc also said he felt Reulet, Nassar, Schexnayder and Octave knew who was going to be superintendent all along.

“I think that the other school board members knew what was going on,” he said. “I figure the four others got together and made a decision.”But Nassar said he welcomes any investigation into the issue because the agenda reads “to discuss and approve the selection/employment options of a superintendent for the St. James Parish Public School System effectiveJuly 1, 1998, contract to be negotiated.””I have no regrets on the way I voted,” Nassar said.

Assistant superintendent Caldonia Ceasar just wants to keep peace in the system, even though she was overlooked for filling the position.

“I think I can impact the lives of children better in the position I am in better than the superintendent,” she said. “Besides, he’s (Landry) ayounger person and can give more years of service. I’m at the end of mycareer. I’ll give him all of my support to help the system run peacefully.”Ceasar has been in the St. James School System for 36 years.Lambert said she agreed with LeBlanc’s motion because finding a permanent superintendent is a tough job and one that should be researched for enough time to make the right decision.

“I feel we should be looking for our superintendent now,” she said.

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