LAFAYETTE — A legal opinion on allowable public involvement in the Lafayette Parish School Board’s superintendent search hasn’t done much to solve the board’s difference of opinion on the issue.
The board has been split on its Aug. 17 decision to allow two nonboard members to interview candidates and make a recommendation on their top choices for the job. One board member’s attempt to get an attorney general’s opinion on the action failed in a 4-5 vote on Sept. 21.
Now, a legal opinion from a Baton Rouge firm, Hammonds & Sills seems to have done little to clarify concerns.
The opinion, written last week, by attorney Bob Hammonds, states that the School Board can’t delegate its responsibility to select a superintendent by allowing the public a vote in any step of the process.
School Board President Mark Allen Babineaux said Monday that the opinion reinforces some board members’ concerns that public involvement in the selection process dilutes their authority.
He said the board will revisit the issue at its Oct. 19 meeting.
But board member Hunter Beasley, who proposed the public involvement, said the opinion only reinforces his intentions.
According to protocol adopted Aug. 17, two nonboard members would represent the civic groups 100 Black Men of Greater Lafayette and the Lafayette Public Education Stakeholders Council.
The two non-board members wouldn’t cast a vote but make a recommendation prior to a vote to narrow the field from 10 to three.
In his letter, Hammonds stated in his firm’s prior work with superintendent searches, community members were allowed to serve on the search committee and review applications, question applicants and express opinions.
“They were not however, allowed to vote as members of the committee either to reduce the number of applicants or to select the superintendent,” Hammonds wrote. “We feel that this is the proper way to handle the participation by nonboard members in the superintendent selection process.”
Hammonds description of the acceptable public involvement coincides with the board’s existing protocol, Beasley said, adding that Hammonds’ opinion is specific to voting.
“I don’t think what I have proposed and what the board has voted on is violating anything that these attorneys have said,” Beasley said.
“There is nothing in this opinion that says what we are doing is improper. These individuals are not voting. They’re making a recommendation.”
Babineaux said the two non-members’ recommendations could be considered a vote and the board alone should be involved in the selection.
“The problem is, how are they going to do that without voting,” he said.
Babineaux and Beasley first debated the issue this summer as members of the three-member superintendent search coordinating committee.
Board member Greg Awbrey formally challenged the Aug. 17 action and requested the board seek an Attorney General’s opinion. Awbrey cited legality concerns because the committee included a quorum of the board, making any decisions binding.
Louisiana law delegates the responsibility of superintendent election to the School Board, Hammonds stated.
“It can be argued that this statute applies only to the final election and not to the process of reducing the applicants,” Hammonds wrote. “We do not agree with that position, however, because votes to eliminate applicants from consideration would deprive the School Board from later having the opportunity to elect one of those individuals as its superintendent.”
Current superintendent Burnell Lemoine plans to retire at the end of the year when his contract expires.
A meeting to narrow the field of 26 applicants to 10 for interviews is pending the University of Louisiana at Lafayette Communication Department’s analysis of feedback from public forums, Babineaux said.
He said he expects ULL’s response sometime this week.