School Board threatened with lawsuit

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 8, 2005


Staff Reporter

LAPLACE — A lawsuit may be in the works against the St. John Parish School Board by the former acting principal of Glade Elementary School, now Lake Pontchartrain Elementary school, to fight the elimination of his temporary position.

Orlando Watkins submitted the petition as a result of his current position as the coordinator of facilities and services may be eliminated.

St. John Parish Schools Executive Director of Personnel and Legal Services Ann LaBorde said the school board knew about this situation before it actually happened.

“This is not really a lawsuit, but more like a petition,” LaBorde said. “We were supposed to go to a hearing today, but it was postponed until after the board meeting on Thursday, because everything will depend on whether or not the board decides to eliminate those positions.”

The other position that will be possibly eliminated is the coordinator of special assignments held currently by Willette Wallace, who is not involved with the petition.

LaBorde said as of last year, Watkins had been acting principal at Glade Elementary School for about three years, meaning he was placed in that position. There were no interviews and basically someone was needed, and he was available. She said Watkins was not given the permanent position, so the coordinator of facilities and services was created to allow him to stay employed.

“This happens all the time in school systems everywhere,” she said. “Not just ours, and not just in St. John Parish.”

LaBorde said Watkins took the coordinator position also as a temporary, active employee. She said after Hurricane Katrina, several positions were reassigned, and Watkins was going to be reassigned to assistant principal possibly at East St. John High School.

“After the hurricane, we had such an influx of students, the board had to figure out where they needed personnel the most,” she said. “Now, that a position is open, he has stated that he cannot be moved from that position and is being demoted. The thing is neither one of the past two positions were permanent positions. It is not a demotion, the position has been changed from a 10-month position, as opposed to a 12-month position.”

LaBorde said his pay will change, but it will be because the position is for a shorter time period. She said the daily pay will be higher, but overall the pay will be less, because of the time period in the position.

At the school board meeting Thursday night, Watkins Attorney Kerry Brown went in front of the board after Superintendent Michael Coburn suggested that both positions be eliminated, because “there is no merit to the positions and both people would be in better use in the schools.”

“Both positions were accepted for a certain amount of time,” said Brown. “By eliminating these positions, you would be going against the contract, and if the positions are eliminated, tomorrow a lawsuit will be filed.”

“Do not come up here and threaten me,” said Board President Dr. Gerald Keller.

Brown replied, “I am just letting you know what will happen as a result of this. You can take this how you want it, as a threat or whatever, but I am just letting you know.”

Keller said, “Do not threaten me, especially when we are trying to do what is best for the schools.”

Keller then told Brown to take a seat and when he didn’t, Keller advised that if he did not sit down, he would have him escorted back by an officer.

Brown took his seat and Superintendent Michael Coburn said, “there are no contracts for the positions. To my knowledge there is never a contract for an acting position.”

School Board Attorney Lloyd Leblanc Jr. added that the board had the right to eliminate the positions, because they created the positions.

The board eliminated both the positions with an eight to three vote.