LAFAYETTE — Lafayette’s new interim schools superintendent plans to spend the next few weeks reaching out to teachers and other school system employees to focus on education.
“I don’t want to dwell on the past,” Burnell LeJeune said of his appointment Monday night just days after the board voted 7-2 to fire Pat Cooper as superintendent.
Cooper has said he plans to challenge the board’s decision to fire him.
Cooper sought help from state district court, but a judge denied his request for an injunction to stop the implementation of the budget.
On Tuesday, it was unclear which version of the budget is in place: the final one the board adopted or an interim budget based on 50 percent of last year’s expenses. Efforts to reach LeJeune and Billy Guidry, the district’s chief financial officer, were unsuccessful Tuesday.
In contrast to Cooper’s strained relations with a majority of the school board, LeJeune was at ease Monday night as he addressed board members. His speech included his thanks, plans to seek unity within the district and community, but also good-natured humor, often at his own expense — like confessing that he’ll now have to cancel some fishing trips.
Though the initial vote to appoint him was 6-3, the board unanimously supported a resolution of support for his selection.
Following LeJeune’s selection Monday, board member Tommy Angelle credited LeJeune as a team player who has worked under seven superintendents during his tenure with the school system.
“Under each and every one, he did well,” Angelle said. “I think he’s a very consensus-building type of person.”
LeJeune planned to spend Tuesday, his first day as interim superintendent, meeting with department supervisors. In the next few weeks, he said, he’ll visit schools to reach out to faculty and staff members on each campus.
“I want to begin the effort that it’s all about the people in the system. I think if I can really begin to work with the teachers very closely and the business community and if I can bring us all together, then I think we can reach the goal I’d like to see,” LeJeune said following Monday’s board meeting.
LeJeune moves into the interim role from his dual duties as director of schools of choice and career and technical education. In that job, he was active in working with the community to ensure the district’s career and technical programs are aligned with workforce needs.
He said his former duties will likely be delegated to other staff members within those departments.
“We may need to make a few changes in job responsibilities, but I think we can work with the same staff,” LeJeune said.
The length of his term as interim superintendent is up to the school board members who take office in January. However, the current board, which leaves office at the end of the year, discussed leaving an interim in place for the remainder of the school year for continuity and to allow some breathing room for the new board to focus on the school system rather than launching a superintendent search when they first take office.
LeJeune, a native of Port Barre, holds a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in education from University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
LeJeune started his career 39 years ago in St. Mary Parish, where he taught for a year before taking a teaching job at Acadiana High School. At Acadiana High, he taught agricultural and environmental science. In the past 38 years, he’s held various positions in Lafayette Parish, including assistant principal at Carencro High, principal of L.J. Alleman Middle School, supervisor of vocational education, and more recently, director of schools of choice and career and technical education. His brother, David LeJeune, is the principal of Acadiana High.
Burnell LeJeune said he hasn’t considered applying for the superintendent job, but will use his time as interim to consider the option.
“You’ve got to soul search,” he said. “I’m not going to rule it out, but I haven’t really given it any thought.”
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.