End of school board squabbles aim of meet

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 1, 2005


Staff Reporter

LAPLACE — After initial plans fell through twice, the St. John the Baptist School Board, along with Superintendent Michael Coburn, finally held a retreat, at the residence of Daniel Becnel in LaPlace.

Original plans were to meet at Becnel’s home several weeks ago, but conflicts in schedules caused the board to cancel. A second plan was made to meet at the Doubletree Hotel in New Orleans, but that was canceled as well.

The retreat, held Thursday and Friday, was to prepare for the upcoming school year, and attempt to settle the issues that have emerged during the past school year.

Nine of the 11 board members were in attendance for the retreat, as Matthew Ory and Elexia Henderson were both out of state. However, Henderson was present at the meeting Friday morning.

According to the agenda, items discussed included school finances, legal updates, and curriculum. School Board Attorney Lloyd LeBlanc and Executive Director of Personnel and Legal Services Ann LaBorde, were in attendance to address the board.

Other school administration present included Assistant Superintendents Herbert Smith and Willie Ocmond, as well as Felix Boughton, the schools system’s director of business and finance.

The second day concentrated largely on the board and superintendent relationship. On the agenda was a discussion on the superintendent’s contract, and time set aside so board members could stress concerns.

In a significantly more relaxed atmosphere than typical school board meetings, the board members joined the administration in the den of the guesthouse of the residence to listen to concerns, focus on strategies and suggest options.

At the end of Thursday’s meeting, Gerald Keller, school board president, said he took away a lot of important information from the office of administration.

“I was impressed with what we did today,” he said, “It was informative, and I think the board picked up good ideas.”

Friday’s meeting, which was made up of only the board members and Coburn, consisted of strategic planning on the board’s part, as well as superintendent and intraboard relations.

For months there was much division on the board regarding matters such as Coburn’s new contract, which often led to public bickering at the board meetings.

Keller said last week, he is concerned the public will not take the board seriously if they continue to suffer from the division and squabbling.

“We need to find some peace and harmony in the board,” Keller said, “What’s the problem? Is the problem communication? Trust? We need to address this.

“The turmoil on the board spills out into the community,” he said, “We have to get our house in order, or they won’t support us.”

The board goals discussed were: board site visits, to improve image and communications in the community, to revisit the consent decree, and improve parental involvement.