School Board approves superintendent selection timeline

Published 12:17 pm Monday, October 17, 2022

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RESERVE — After an hour of discussion that included multiple public comments, the St. John the Baptist Parish School Board approved a timeline to select the next superintendent in December.

According to the approved timeline, the St. John School Board will advertise for the superintendent position in L’OBSERVATEUR and The Advocate the weeks of November 2 and November 9. The deadline to apply for the position will be November 18.

Applications will be retrieved from the School Board P.O. box on November 22. The first round of interviews will take place December 5-6, followed by a regular School Board meeting on December 8 in which the finalists will be named. A second round of interviews will take place December 12-13, and the next superintendent will be named during a special meeting on December 15.

Much like last month’s School Board meeting, several members of the community were present in the audience to vocalize their opposition to the School Board selecting a superintendent prior to the installation of a newly elected School Board in January.

While incumbents Charo Bossier-Holden, Shawn Wallace and Debbie Schum are unopposed and guaranteed a spot on the board for the next term, several district seats are being contested in the November 8 election. Two current board members, Patrick Sanders and Phillip Johnson, have chosen not to run for re-election. Starting in 2023, the 11-member School Board will have at least two new members and potentially as many as eight.

Some community members who approached the podium during the public comment period questioned the current School Board’s ability to choose an effective leader, while others proposed alternate options to the timelines listed on the agenda.

Eliza Eugene, representing a new group called Save Our Schools, suggested advertising the weeks of November 16 and November 23 and setting the application deadline for December 19.

“By then, you will know who your new board is. Call the District Attorney and ask if we can have a workshop so when the new board comes in on January 4, 2023, they will have gone through the ethics training and know the best practices for selecting a superintendent,” Eugene said.

Another voice of dissent was School Board member Keith Jones, who clarified that he did not have an issue with the timeline itself, but the fact that it had not been reviewed by the School Board’s Executive Committee prior to Thursday’s meeting.

The first potential timeline listed on the agenda, which would have started the advertising process this week, was pulled, while the second option to begin advertising the week of November 2 was ultimately approved. Jones said neither option was presented to the full board until two days before the meeting.

“Hiring a superintendent is our main job, and these options should have been brought to the executive committee,” Jones said. “Respectfully, how can we vote on this if we didn’t get it until Tuesday?”

Jones added that the timeline was not a reflection of teamwork and was single-handedly put together by School Board member Debbie Schum. School Board President Nia Mitchell-Williams corrected him, stating that she put the timeline together following a School Board workshop a week prior.

“We called a work session last week. I was instructed to work with our attorney to develop a timeline. That’s what was done,” she said.

Mitchell-Williams said the School Board has been strong and cohesive to this point, and she was frustrated by what she perceived as attempts to break the board apart in the name of politics. She noted that none of her District 10 constituents have told her not to name a superintendent, and the opposition she heard during the public comment period has not been expressed during conversations with members of her district.

“We have never had this many people at the board meeting…During the last selection process, it was crickets,” Mitchell-Williams said. “It’s an election year, there’s politics involved, and we are playing politics over the head of my child who goes to public school.”

Mitchell-Williams said there also seems to be a misunderstanding among the public over the responsibilities of a school board, which, according to Act One of 2012, include only the following three items: Name and evaluate a superintendent, adopt a balanced budget yearly, and adopt policy to ensure the district is in alignment with state and federal law.

School Board member Debbie Schum emphasized that time is of the essence when it comes to selecting a leader.

“I believe every day counts. I don’t think a school board should sit dormant for three months because there might be a change,” Schum said. “We cannot continue to kick the can down the road. We need permanency for our students and our employees.”

School Board member Charo Holden said it was enlightening to hear what the public had to say, but it is her responsibility to make the decision she believes to be in the best interest of the children and her constituents.

The superintendent selection timeline was approved by a vote of 6-4.