LAFAYETTE — The new year starts with new leaders at the helm of the Lafayette Parish School System — an interim superintendent and seven new members of the nine-member School Board.
All new members and Tommy Angelle, who was re-elected for his second term on the board, attended an orientation Saturday set up to provide the board with information about the school system before the board’s first meeting on Wednesday. District 4 member Tehmi Chassion was unable to attend the three-hour session.
Interim Superintendent Burnell LeJeune told the board that it’s the first time in his nearly 40 years with the school system that he can recall so many new board members joining the board.
“I know the people who voted for you are expecting great things, and we, as a staff, look forward to your leadership and direction,” LeJeune said. “One thing we all have to remember is that we’re all in this together. It’s not us against the board. It’s not board against the chamber. It’s all us working together.”
LeJeune scheduled the orientation to brief members on housekeeping items that will help the first meetings of their term run more efficiently — such as how to use the software program used to run School Board meetings. They also were given a brief overview of school system operations.
The discussions ranged from procedures used for meetings and revising policies to issues LeJeune said he’ll bring up at future meetings in January, such as the need for a new public relations coordinator position.
The outgoing board eliminated the existing community collaborations and partnership office, whose director acted as a point of contact for media and the public. LeJeune said a school system with 30,000 students and more than 40 schools needs a point of contact for the public and said he’ll propose the position later in January.
“It’s a position, not a department,” LeJeune told the board.
Board members also discussed ways to run meetings more efficiently. During the past board’s term, some meetings spanned four hours or longer, and LeJeune recalled a few meetings that stretched to midnight.
New District 7 member Dawn Morris asked LeJeune about scheduling a workshop with the board’s attorney Bob Hammonds on ways to run the board meetings more efficiently.
New District 1 member Mary Morrison and District 3 member Elroy Broussard asked if it was possible to call a board member to discuss an issue on the agenda prior to a board meeting.
Returning District 2 board member Angelle cautioned his colleagues about such discussions outside of the public meeting.
“If you start calling and ask, ‘How do you feel about that?’ and then you could round up five and come to the meeting knowing the vote. That’s crossing the line,” Angelle said.
He then referenced the expertise of some members of the board, such as District 6 member Justin Centanni, a database analyst for IberiaBank, and District 8 member Erick Knezek, a business owner.
“I think if you have a question for someone more knowledgeable — whether it’s finance or the hierarchy in a business model — I would feel comfortable calling colleagues. Never talking pros or cons,” Angelle said.
The board also has an attorney among its ranks with Morris, who in the past represented the School Board in litigation involving personnel matters. Morris reminded her fellow board members that the district attorney had cautioned the board a few years ago about board members calling one another to poll them on an issue.
Incoming District 5 member Britt Latiolais suggested a committee structure could help resolve some of those issues. Currently, the board only has a three-member executive committee that includes the president, vice president and past president.
LeJeune said a more thorough breakdown of operations is planned at an upcoming retreat on Jan. 17 and another workshop likely will be scheduled. During those sessions, central office directors will share information about their departments.
LeJeune was appointed interim superintendent days after the board voted 7-2 on Nov. 6 to terminate then-Superintendent Pat Cooper. Two of the prior board’s members will rejoin the board for a new term: Angelle and Chassion. Both board members were among the majority that voted to fire Cooper.
The nine members will serve a five-year term, rather than four years due to legislation passed in the 2014 session that moved the School Board’s election cycle to match gubernatorial elections. That means that the next School Board election will be held in fall 2019, rather than fall 2018.
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.