School Board tables superintendent selection discussion

Published 5:39 pm Tuesday, September 20, 2022

RESERVE — School Board member Debbie Schum came into last week’s meeting eager to discuss the process of selecting the next St. John the Baptist Parish superintendent.

The School Board ultimately voted 8-1 to table the discussion after several impassioned community members expressed concerns about the current School Board hiring a superintendent prior to the November 8 election.

All of the incumbents with the exception of Patrick Sanders and Phillip Johnson are seeking re-election in November. Schum, Charo Bossier-Holden and Shawn Wallace are running unopposed, and voters are tasked with filling the eight remaining seats.

Speaking as both leader of the St. John Association of Educators and as a parent of children in the system, Derron Cook cautioned current board members not to rush the selection process.

“When we are going through an interview process, we are looking for the best that there is, and we want the best for our kids and for our schools,” Cook said. “Four years is a long time for the new board to work with the superintendent. Even a two-year contract is a long time. I believe we can wait to do a thorough search so we don’t have to waste any more money on a superintendent if we are not happy with them.”

Shondrell Perrilloux, president of the St. John Parish NAACP, stated, “There should be no action taken as it relates to any procedure as it relates to the superintendent selection process. We don’t know who will be the upcoming board members, and these board members will have not had interaction with whoever the superintendent is. I would like to ask the board to consider waiting to vote on anything pertaining to superintendent selection and have that responsibility placed upon the new school board members.”

Community member Annette Houston agreed that the new board should have a say in the superintendent since they will be the ones working alongside him or her for the next several years. Also asking to table to item was Raydell Morris, who, speaking as a taxpayer, added, “I think it’s unfair to vote on someone for three-and-a-half months.”

The lone voice of dissent during the public comment period was Robert Schaff, director of child welfare and attendance for St. John Parish Schools.

“For the record, I do not agree with my friends here tonight,” Schaff said. “I believe this board has a right to make a determination based on the amount of experience it has enjoyed with the interim superintendent. I don’t think any board coming in green should have the right to make it.”

Rebecca Johnson was appointed interim superintendent for St. John Parish School’s following Dr. Lynett Hookfin’s resignation in May 2022.

Schum pointed out that hiring a permanent leader would not be an overnight process, as there is a required two weeks of advertisements for the superintendent position in print media, followed by a minimum 30-day application period. An interview process would follow.

She clarified that the item on the agenda was in no means intended to make decisions on who should be the next superintendent, but rather come up with an ideal timeline for applications and interviews.

“All I’m trying to do is start the process. If we don’t have a conversation of when the applications need to be in, we will never get off the ground,” Schum said. “We should not stop doing our jobs because an election is happening.”

With the school district starting a new strategic plan, Schum said it would be difficult to restart the process months down the line to catch another superintendent up to speed. Decisions are also being made about a bond issue, and Schum is concerned that not having a permanent leader could negatively affect the interest rate the district is given.

School Board member Keith Jones made a motion to table the item, which he believes the School Board is not ready to take any action on at this time. According to Jones, the School Board has not yet received direction from the St. John Parish District Attorney’s Office, and legal firm Hammonds & Sills has advised that it is not a good idea to hire a new superintendent during an election year.

“I wanted it to be on the agenda for discussion only. I’m on the executive committee, and we said we would break up into groups and have workshops on this situation. We have not done any of that yet. We have two board members absent. They may have decided not to run again, but they need to be part of the discussion,” Jones said. “We need to slow it down a little. We need to follow our legal counsel.”

Jones has previously expressed concerns over the superintendent search process, including the 2019-2020 search that amounted to approximately $42,000.

The last St. John Parish superintendent search began with Kevin George’s departure from the district in June 2019. After narrowing the field down to two candidates in the interview stage, the School Board voted in November 2019 to restart the process with a national search firm, and Dr. Hookfin was hired in June 2020.