LAFAYETTE — The Lafayette Parish School Board on Monday appointed Burnell LeJeune as interim superintendent for the school system, leaving the search for a permanent replacement to the new board that takes office in January.
LeJeune moves into the interim job after years working as the school system’s director of Schools of Choice and career and technical education. He’s held positions of teacher, assistant principal, principal and central office supervisory roles in his 38 years with the school system.
LeJeune thanked the board for its confidence.
“I believe in the people of Lafayette Parish, the educational community — when I say the educational community, it takes the entire community: central office staff, assistant principals, principals, the parents, the students and the business community, the support personnel. All of us together is what makes a district. It’s not about budgets and laws. It’s about the power of the people,” LeJeune said.
LeJeune moves into the job following the board’s 7-2 vote on Nov. 6 to fire Pat Cooper after it found him guilty of a variety of charges related to four management decisions he’s made in the past two academic years.
The board also considered another nomination for the interim position: Katie Landry, the school system’s former deputy superintendent who was a finalist for the superintendent job the board gave to Cooper.
LeJeune received six votes, from board members Tommy Angelle, Rae Trahan, Shelton Cobb, Mark Babineaux, Tehmi Chassion and Kermit Bouillion. Landry received support from three board members: Greg Awbrey, Melinda Mangham and Hunter Beasley.
Following LeJeune’s selection, Mangham proposed that the board unanimously support LeJeune as interim, which the full board supported.
LeJeune said he counts Landry as one of his mentors and will likely call on her for advice.
In his role as director of Schools of Choice and career and technical education, LeJeune has overseen the growth of student educational options as the state places renewed emphasis on career education through its Jump Start initiative.
LeJeune told the board Monday that he’s proud of the opportunities provided to students in the school system.
Board members opted not to rush through a search process for a new superintendent, voting unanimously to leave those decisions to the new board.
The last search took about seven months, said Babineaux, who was board president at that time. He questioned if the current board should make some decisions about the process to get the work started for the board.
“I don’t know if the new board would appreciate getting a jump start on the process at least. I don’t know, that’s a really good question,” Babineaux said.
With an interim in place, the new board could wait until the summer to begin its search, Awbrey said. A search is time-consuming and a “huge distraction,” he said.
Before the board took any votes Monday, Chassion wanted the board to define how long the interim would be in the position.
Mangham, a retired teacher, said the interim should serve for the remainder of the school year because it’s a “better option for the children.”
The interim superintendent serves at the board’s pleasure and may be removed at the board’s discretion, said Bob Hammonds, the board’s attorney.
“It’s a day-to-day proposition” unless the board signs a contract with the interim choice, Hammonds said.
The current board launched the district’s last search for a superintendent in 2011, which culminated in Cooper’s selection for the job. Even then, Cooper didn’t have the full support of the board and was the first choice of only five of the nine members.
Of the new board that takes office in January, only two current board members — Angelle and Chassion — won re-election out of a total of six board members who sought to regain their seats on the board.
There’s still one race to be decided on Dec. 6: the District 1 runoff between Don Gagnard and Mary Morrison.
“In six weeks, you’re going to be having seven new board members sworn in, and I personally would feel very uncomfortable trying to decide the fate of the new superintendent before that first Wednesday in January,” Bouillion said. “I think this is a quest for the new board.”
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.