Coburn fails contract vote by School Board

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 2, 2005


Staff Reporter

RESERVE-The St. John the Baptist School Board special session on Thursday produced surprise results for some, with Superintendent Michael Coburn’s contract not being voted into extension, and one board member resigning.

The meeting was called specifically to deal with the contract matter, with the only other item on the agenda being one regarding health insurance.

The motion by Board Member Dowie Gendron to vote on Coburn’s negotiated contract did not pass, due to a 5-5 spilt on the vote. A motion made by Board Member Matthew Ory to advertise for a new superintendent also failed to go anywhere because of a straight split.

Russ Wise, a Coburn supporter, was absent at the time of the vote, arriving about a minute later. As the meeting neared the end, Wise announced that he would like for the board to vote again. When it was decided there was to be no opportunity to re-vote, he resigned.

Board policy states the board cannot vote again on the matter for at least 60 days, but Coburn’s contract expires in June. It is possible for the board to waive the 60-day policy, as long as eight of the 11 members agree to. With the way the board, has been split, members say that is highly unlikely.

Board members Ory, Russell Jack, Clarence Triche, and Keith Jones have consistently voted against Coburn on matters of contract extension. Board Vice President Patrick Sanders, who some predicted would vote in favor of Coburn, voted the opposite.

Fighting back tears as he addressed the board and public, Wise tendered his resignation while expressing much regret over missing the vote. He explained that he was late simply because he “got it in my head that the meeting didn’t start until 6:30.

“I let this board down, I let the superintendent down, and the people who elected me down,” Wise said. “I have to hold myself accountable.

“I’m going to fire myself.”

Wise said, though his resignation is definite, he will stay in office until the superintendent situation is sorted out.

Gerald Keller said the board has to make a decision by June 1 to extend the contract or put in an acting superintendent. He also pointed out that the opinion of the attorney general on whether the school board already offered Coburn a contract could come in by that time, which may make a difference.

The school board attorney, Lloyd Leblanc said the board had already agreed to a three-year contract agreement during a meeting Jan. 20. Members of the board say that never happened. They voted in March to seek the opinion of the attorney general.

Ory, one of Coburn’s steadfast opponents, said after the meeting that he was ready to move on with a different superintendent.

“For the last three years, there has been nothing but division in this board, and now we just want to move on, and make it about the kids,” Ory said.

Jack expressed a similar sentiment, saying the board has been “putting out fires” since Coburn has been in office, and now he hopes they can focus on the students.

Jack said he had a problem with Coburn not implementing any programs for young, black men and other kids with special needs.

However, Jack did say Coburn could be successful elsewhere, but that he just was not right for St. John Parish.

“I do wish Mr. Coburn success in the future,” Jack said.

Ory also said that it is his opinion that Russ Wise’s district is pleased with the outcome of this vote, and he would prefer Coburn take leave so they can replace him with an interim reporter.

“I would rather us move forward starting today than 60 days from now,” Ory said.

Coburn could not be reached for comment, as of press time Friday.