BAKER — The Baker School Board voted unanimously Tuesday to accept Superintendent Ulysses Joseph’s resignation, effective May 28, the latest turn of events for a school system facing the arrest of a former maintenance supervisor and possible state takeover of one of its schools.
Joseph, who has held the position for four years and whose contract was not due to expire until December, said after the meeting his resignation is not related to the arrest of former Baker School system maintenance supervisor Emmitt Whitfield, 47, whom he directly supervised.
Earlier on Tuesday, Whitfield was booked for a third time — and the city’s police chief said more arrests may be pending as new details emerge about the extent of his alleged thefts from the school system.
The latest police report indicates that Joseph and his audit team have been forwarding their findings to the police department.
The Tuesday arrest, on counts of felony theft and unauthorized use of a credit card, stems from the more than $2,100 in fuel charges Whitfield billed as part of his work with Baker schools, but that turned out to be for personal use, Police Chief Mike Knaps said.
According to the police report, Joseph directed detectives to a report showing that between July 8, 2013, and Dec. 3, 2014, Whitfield had purchased $1,620.37 worth of fuel on weekends, and $485.97 worth of fuel on holidays without authorization and on dates he was not scheduled to work.
He also made numerous fuel purchases on the same date, the report says.
Whitfield has been previously accused of stealing a smorgasbord of school property: 717 items worth a total $128,000 and ranging from novelty disco globes to a gazebo, to more than 100 air conditioning units.
In December, he was accused of taking a grass cutter, and his wife was accused of pawning it for cash.
Knaps noted that the fuel charges could just be the latest accusation, and as the school system continues to find discrepancies, they forward them to police for investigation.
“Our guys are really trying to find a trail,” Knaps said. “It’s just so much stuff.”
As for the superintendent, Joseph said his resignation is due to a lack of support from the school board.
“They were slack sometimes in approving things I wanted to do. If you can’t get what you need, you have to get out of the ball game,” he said.
In his resignation letter to the board, Joseph wrote, “During my tenure, I have striven for commonality, shared vision and responsibility. Now that I realize this is not possible, I feel it is time for me to make a change.”
The school board also could have done more to help him improve Bakerfield Elementary, Joseph said.
Bakerfield Elementary has received a grade of F from the state Department of Education for the past four years, making it eligible for takeover by the Recovery School District in 2015-16.
“We talked about Bakerfield two or three years ago. If we had done something then, we wouldn’t be in the position we are now,” he said.
“I don’t know what he’s talking about. I definitely feel that he has had the board’s support,” Board President Elaine Davis said after the meeting. She added that she does not remember any plan two years ago for Bakerfield.
During the meeting, Davis read a letter she received Friday from RSD Superintendent Patrick Dobard saying the state will not take over Bakerfield at this time.
“However, we have serious concerns about the lack of progress over the past years, and we do not believe that the current version of the Bakerfield Reconstitution Plan adequately addresses these concerns,” the letter states.
After hearing the letter, the school board voted to approve the plan, which includes adding four weeks to the school year, requiring that all staff members reapply for their jobs and expanding arts education.
Asked why the board approved the plan despite Dobard’s concerns, board member Dana Carpenter said that revisions would likely be made later.
“There’s probably more meat that can be put into it,” he said.
In a phone conversation, Dobard said the RSD will re-evaluate the school in about one year and “if we see no positive growth or change we will reconsider the options available to us.”
Those options include the state taking over the school, he said.
The RSD will not be micromanaging or monitoring the school during the next year; however, in the letter, Dobard encourages the district to use the services of the Louisiana Department of Education’s Network Team staff to assist them with their plan for Bakerfield.
The RSD is worried about the school system as a whole, not just the failing elementary school, Dobard said.
Baker Middle School, which received a grade of F for 2013-14, is of particular concern, he said.
“We want them to take this seriously and make substantial changes for the young people of Baker,” he said.
Besides Bakerfield, the school district has two other elementary schools: Baker Heights Elementary, which received a grade of C in 2013-14, and Park Ridge Academic Magnet, a combined elementary and middle school, rated B.
Advocate staff writer Daniel Bethencourt contributed to this report.