Board wrestles with options for Coburn’s future

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Staff Reporter

RESERVE – The St. John the Baptist Parish School Board is at odds over what to do with former Superintendent Michael Coburn.

About two months after buying out the remainder of Coburn’s contract, the board is now charged with determining how the 27-year veteran will finish his career with the school system.

Coburn, who at 54 is one year from retiring, is entitled to his last tenured position within the system as a teacher, but some board members have been discussing what they call a more honorable alternative.

Board Member Russ Wise on Thursday proposed reactivating temporarily the position of chief administrative officer, which hasn’t been filled since 1993, with the understanding that Coburn would use his accumulated sick days to remain on leave for an additional year.

“For the better part of the year, this board has been struggling to deal with one of the most difficult personnel issues that we’ve had to face – at least since I’ve been on this board,” Wise said at the board meeting Thursday. “I have been trying along with other board members here to find an honorable way that Mr. Coburn can go into retirement with his head high.”

But Wise’s motion sparked an emotional back-and-forth among a handful of board members that ended in the indefinite tabling of all related discussions, with Coburn’s contract set to expire at the end of the month.

While Wise did not initially identify Coburn’s plight as the grounds for his proposal, he was immediately met with staunch resistance from Board Members Keith Jones and Albert Burl III.

Burl questioned the purpose of restoring and financing a position for “someone who already has a job.”  

“Any time we want a job description we just go pull it out of a hat? I don’t think that’s acceptable,” Burl said.

Burl also called the proposal a “paid vacation” for Coburn, but Wise countered that Coburn had “literally earned” it with sick days.

Jones insisted on Superintendent Courtney Millet’s take on the matter and accused the board of contradicting her decision to avoid temporary appointments.

“This goes against everything to move this system forward,” Jones said. “We need to be putting some more money in the classrooms and Title I,” he added, drawing brief applause from some in attendance.

 “This position is being recommended by the board not by me,” Millet said. “I’m not asking for this position.”

After several minutes, Board Member Matthew Ory moved to table the discussions; the motion narrowly passed 6-5.

Even if the board resumes discussions of Wise’s proposal and reactivates the position, a later vote would be needed to determine the details before Coburn could be appointed.

In an interview Monday, School Board President Gerald Keller said Wise’s proposal would probably not appear on the agenda for the next meeting July 3.

Reached by telephone Monday, Coburn said he was “not at liberty” to comment on the board’s negotiations or his future in the school system.

Coburn, who served as superintendent of St. John schools for seven years, began his career in 1981 as a coach and teacher at East St. John High School before becoming athletic director and then principal.

After a two-year stint in the mid-1990s with the school board, he took over as principal of Garyville/Mt. Airy Math and Science Magnet School.