CLINTON — East Feliciana Parish School Board members said their good-byes Tuesday to Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. but couldn’t agree on his final major initiative, reconfiguring parish schools to avoid a budget crisis.
The Orleans Parish School Board picked Lewis to head its school system on Jan. 20. Lewis has been East Feliciana’s superintendent since June 2012, but he also serves as a member of the St. Bernard Parish School Board.
Facing an expected tight budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, Lewis had advocated closing the parish’s consolidated middle school by sending sixth-graders to the parish’s three elementary schools and putting seventh- and eighth-graders at the high school.
The board voted on two proposals Tuesday, but neither gained a majority of the 12 members.
Board member Melvin Hollins proposed making the three elementary schools serve kindergarten through sixth grade and the high school have grades 7-12.
At the moment, the parish high school has grades 9-12 and Clinton and Jackson elementaries have kindergarten and grades 1-6. Slaughter Elementary already has a sixth grade, and the community has a charter school that will eventually serve grades 7-12.
Hollins also wanted Clinton Elementary to move to the middle school campus in Clinton because he said the elementary school building needs many physical improvements.
Hollins got support from J. Curtis Jelks, Rhonda Matthews, Mitch Harrell and Beth Dawson.
Clinton board member Richard Terrell advocated leaving the grade configurations as they are but swapping locations for the middle school and high school.
Terrell’s plan got votes from Joyce Kent, Michael Bradford, Paul Kent and Derald Spears Sr., but it needed two more favorable votes to pass.
Board member Broderick Brooks voted against both plans, but said board members were bringing the traditional rivalry between Clinton and Jackson representatives into the discussion.
Slaughter board member Tim Corcoran voted against Terrell’s plan but abstained from voting on Hollins’ proposal, saying he needs more information to make an informed decision.
Before the vote, Lewis said the Clinton campus would not have room enough for grades 7-12 but the Jackson complex would.
“Regardless of what you do, you’re going to have to cut costs,” board financial adviser Tommy LeJeune said before the voting.
Before the school configuration discussion, the board went behind closed doors without stating one of the legal exceptions to the state Open Meetings Law, but members apparently discussed Lewis’ resignation, appointing an interim superintendent and plans for advertising for the superintendent’s successor.
Lewis said his resignation will be effective March 16, and the board named Edna Thomas to serve as acting superintendent if he is out of the office before then.
After March 16, Thomas will serve as interim superintendent until the board chooses a new superintendent. The board set a 4 p.m. March 3 deadline for receiving applications from superintendent candidates.
Bradford and Harrell thanked Lewis for his contributions to the school system.
“You have brought us a long way from where we were,” Harrell said.
Lewis said he has a huge task before him in running the Orleans system but said he appreciates the support the East Feliciana board gave him to make changes that should have been made a decade ago.
He said he also thanks the community for embracing him.
“I can truly say that we have changed. I am glad to have had a small part in those changes,” he said.