The Lafayette Parish School Board is moving its search for a new school superintendent into high gear following interim Superintendent Burnell LeJeune’s announcement Wednesday night that he will retire this summer.
“We’ve got to get on the ball now,” Board President Tommy Angelle said Thursday. “We all want somebody to be on at the very latest May or June.”
The School Board could set a timeline for the search next week.
Angelle said last month that he hoped to put off a search for a permanent replacement until the next school year for several reasons — a new board began its term in January, and a large shortfall is expected in the 2015-16 budget.
But LeJeune’s retirement announcement, which came after he emerged from meeting privately with the board in executive session Wednesday evening, means the board will have to move more quickly with its search for a new superintendent.
When the board resumed its public meeting, LeJeune announced to the public what he had just informed the board — that he’ll retire near the end of July with about 40 years of service as an educator.
“This has nothing to do with the board and nothing to do with the people I work with,” LeJeune said Wednesday of his decision.
LeJeune said that in the past three months as he’s been out in the community, he’s experienced a “tremendous amount of support out there for a quality educational system.”
LeJeune was appointed interim superintendent in November, just days after the board’s decision to fire Superintendent Pat Cooper. Cooper’s legal challenge of his termination is still pending in state district court.
LeJeune said he accepted the position under the assumption a search for a superintendent would begin in January or February and that the process would take five to six months. He told the board he has no plans to apply for the job.
Angelle said the selection process could be lengthy. He noted the board must follow certain advertising procedures to comply with state law. The law dictates that when searching for a permanent replacement, the board must advertise for the job at least 30 days before taking action to fill it. It also must advertise notice of the vacancy and request applications on two separate days at least a week apart in the School Board’s official journal.
Angelle admitted he was somewhat surprised by LeJeune’s decision.
“He’s gone. He’s going to go fishing,” Angelle said with a laugh. “I hoped that we could have talked him into staying through May of next year. As you know, we have a lot on our plate, least of which is a budget that we have to make up $15 million to $20 million on.”
LeJeune began his 40-year career in education in St. Mary Parish before moving to Lafayette Parish, where he has held positions from classroom teacher to school principal. Prior to his appointment as interim superintendent, LeJeune held the dual roles of schools of choice director and career and technical education director.
LeJeune said Thursday that he made his decision to retire after discussing it with his wife and family.
“It’s the right time,” he said Thursday. “It’s been a good career. It felt like the right time.”
LeJeune said he wanted the board to know that he wasn’t prepared to stay beyond this summer and would not be applying for the position of permanent superintendent.
“We have a great educational community,” LeJeune said. “A new superintendent is going to be very fortunate to have this parish to work in.”
East Baton Rouge Parish School System will likely soon start its own search for a superintendent, as it prepares for the end of Bernard Taylor’s contract on June 30. The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board planned a special meeting Thursday to discuss the details.
Although some school districts hire search firms to assist in identifying candidates, the Lafayette Parish board conducted its own search in 2011 , which led to Cooper’s selection.
That process took about five months to play out and involved obtaining public input, including the appointment of two community members to the board’s interview and selection committee.
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.