Superintendent Bernard Taylor and most of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board members have been famously at odds since soon after the combative native of Pittsburgh took over Louisiana’s second-largest public school district in 2012.
On Thursday night, with Taylor’s tenure nearing its end, the two sides set those differences aside.
“I think that you are a brilliant educator. I think we have learned a lot from you,” offered board President David Tatman.
“You have broadened our thinking,” said board Vice President Barbara Freiberg, adding, “You have a commitment to purpose that has been remarkable.”
Surprised at the well wishes, Taylor returned the favor, complimenting many of those he’s worked with in Baton Rouge.
He recalled that, even before starting officially, he spoke at a legislative hearing to argue against an ultimately unsuccessful proposal to break off part of south Baton Rouge into an independent school district. He also noted that predictions of possible bankruptcy for the school system and doom from increased competition haven’t come to pass.
“I hope I made this place better. I think that I did,” he said. “But I know I am walking away from it better.”
It hasn’t been easy, he said, especially with the initial 11-member board that hired him in March 2012 — the board was reduced to nine members in January.
“You all are very demanding people to work for,” Taylor said, drawing a laugh. “You were 11 different personalities who took me 12 different ways.”
The board gave Taylor substantially lower job evaluations than his predecessor, and a year ago voted 10-1 to not renew his contract.
Board member Tarvald Smith, who has fought with Taylor at times, said he admired Taylor’s willingness to get in the ring to support public education.
“You’ve done an excellent job in stopping the leakage and in fighting for this district,” Smith said.
Board member Evelyn Ware-Jackson had less complicated praise for Taylor. “We will feel the effects of your presence here for a very, very, very long time to come,” she said.
Taylor has yet to specify a departure date. His contract does not expire until June 30, but incoming Superintendent Warren Drake, who started as a consultant May 2, has said he would like to take charge as soon as he can to help get schools ready for the start of the 2015-16 school year in August.
Tatman and Freiberg say Taylor is considering taking personal leave sometime in June to allow Drake’s ascension, but has yet to formally request such leave.
As a parting gift, the board gave Taylor a coffee table book on Louisiana and each board member signed it. Taylor has not yet said what he will do next. He said Thursday that while he has enjoyed Baton Rouge, including the warm weather and the food, “I am moving back to the cold,” though not right away.
“I have a little time left here, so there are no sad songs to sing,” said Taylor.
CEO upset over health clinic negotiations
The chief executive officer of the St. Gabriel Health Clinic appears to be more than a little ruffled with Iberville Parish school officials after the School Board on Tuesday rejected a proposal to enter into a new three-year agreement to keep school-based health clinics on two campuses in east Iberville.
But it wasn’t the School Board’s 5-4 vote to reject a new memorandum of understanding with the nonprofit health clinic that has CEO Victor Kirk so perturbed — it’s the nearly two months of negotiations between both parties to iron out a compromise agreement.
An email Kirk sent Friday to board members indicates he feels the school district was disingenuous during those talks, noting the administration announced plans to place school nurses at East Iberville School and Iberville’s Math, Science and Arts Academy- East campus this fall in lieu of the school-based clinic’s on campus.
“I have been advised that school children at both our school clinics were issued last week a health packet inclusive of a state authorization to treat form,” Kirk wrote in his email. “That email has been sent to parents advising that any health information they supply within the packet will not be given to the St. Gabriel Health Clinic and that they will be advised soon of the new provider of health services at those schools.”
Kirk added, “What is most troubling is the sequence of events occurring simultaneously with delays in the negotiations and prior to a school board vote to reject the revised MOU submitted by the school administration.”
Kirk argued that in order for the district to prepare enough health packets for distribution so quickly after the board’s vote Tuesday night, top administrators must have known prior to the vote they wouldn’t continue their partnership with the clinic.
“If what we have heard and been told by a few parents is true, then the process we participated in was disingenuous at best,” the email says. “Additionally, I cannot believe that those board members who struggled with finding a middle road in the negotiations and conceptualizing an approach that creates a win-win for both organizations would have done so if they knew their efforts were a part of a ruse.”
Board members Yolanda Laws, Melvin Lodge, Darlene Ourso and Theresa Roy voted May 19 in favor of renewing an agreement with the clinic. But, the majority vote came from the nays cast by Chris Daigle, Pam George, Michael Hebert, Polly Higdon and Lyna Kelley.
Kirk has asked School Superintendent Ed Cancienne to confirm or deny the rumors.
Wicker keeps options open on mayoral run
Baton Rouge Metro Council member Tara Wicker has long said she’d like to be the city-parish’s next mayor-president.
She began entertaining the idea years ago during her first term on the Metro Council, but ultimately didn’t run against Mayor-President Kip Holden in 2012.
Now, as potential candidates for the open office in 2016 begin to emerge, Wicker says she’ll be watching the field closely.
Wicker, a Democrat in her sixth year as metro councilwoman, said she’s certainly still interested but she could ultimately decide to stay out of the race if she sees someone in the race she thinks would be a strong leader.
“I’m terrified that we won’t get the right person,” Wicker said. “I’ll be actively watching, but the progress of Baton Rouge is way too important.”
So far, only state Sen. Sharon Weston Broome, of Baton Rouge, has declared her intentions officially. Council member John Delgado is widely expected to run, and recently, state Rep. Ted James said he was also interested in the seat.
Delgado is a Republican. Broome and James are Democrats.
Holden is term limited and seeking the office of lieutenant governor this fall. The mayor-president election will be in the fall of 2016 unless Holden wins the state office. If that happens, the mayor-president election would be earlier in the year.
Advocate staff writers Charles Lussier, Terry Jones and Rebekah Allen contributed to this report.