Two days after reviving the idea, East Baton Rouge Parish School Board member Mary Lynch on Thursday abruptly scuttled a proposal to keep Superintendent Bernard Taylor after his contract ends in June.
Taylor staying past his end date is, consequently, much less likely but not impossible. He still has pockets of support on the nine-member board that is taking office in January, and the school system needs to settle on a leader for the 2015-16 school year. Taylor’s combative style and testy relations with many board members, and demands for change from outside business interests, however, are working against that happening.
Lynch offered the motion to withdraw the contract extension just as Thursday’s board meeting was starting at 5 p.m. The motion passed 7-2. Board members Vereta Lee and Tarvald Smith voted no; Craig Freeman was absent, and Evelyn Ware-Jackson arrived too late for the vote.
Lynch earlier this week had asked the board to consider extending Taylor’s three-year contract, which ends June 30. She reversed course, she said, after she got a call from Taylor shortly before Thursday’s board meeting, asking that the item be pulled.
“I did it as a professional courtesy,” Lynch explained afterward.
Ware-Jackson, a strong supporter of Taylor, said she did not support voting on a contract extension prior to the newly elected board taking office.
“The timing was terrible,” she said.
Ware-Jackson, who was elected Dec. 6 to a second term, said she thinks Taylor has done well as superintendent and deserves to spend more time in the job, saying she hopes the new board will consider the idea. But she said Taylor will need to spend time “repairing some relationships” if that were to happen. Ware-Jackson also would not commit to pushing the idea.
Even considering extending Taylor’s contract was surprising, given that the board six months ago emphatically rejected the same idea. On June 12, the board voted 10-1 to have Taylor leave when his contract is done.
In interviews and public statements, Taylor has maintained he does not want to remain superintendent past June 2015, no matter what happened in this fall’s School Board elections. He had noted that seeking an extension made little sense, given the number of board members already against extending his contract and the likelihood most would remain on the board.
Approached by reporters after Thursday’s meeting, Taylor would say little to explain the renewed interest in him staying, noting only that it’s less that his mind had changed on the matter but that “other minds have changed.”
Lynch is one of those who has had a change of heart. Since she was appointed to the board in May, she has become part of the same five-member minority faction as her predecessor, Randy Lamana, who died April 16.
That five-member faction opposed Taylor in June but appears to have changed course in the wake of the recent School Board elections, which saw two of their ranks, Lynch and Jerry Arbour, lose at the polls.
Tarvald Smith, who voted against Taylor’s renewal in June, said that while he’s had disagreements with the superintendent, Taylor knows the school system well and will fight for its children, enough reason to consider keeping him longer.
“I thought it was worthy of discussion,” Smith said. “I hope we talk about it in January.”
If Taylor’s two biggest supporters, Ware-Jackson and Freeman, had voted Thursday with Smith and Lynch’s group, Taylor’s contract would have been extended.
Freeman, like Ware-Jackson, would not go along. Freeman told The Advocate on Tuesday that the proposal was rushed, that it would damage public trust and that it would tie the hands of the board that is taking office in January.
The size of the board coming in next month will be smaller: nine members, as opposed to 11. The board voted July 24 to reduce its size, a debate marked by months of infighting that continues to the present.
The ensuing elections, which wrapped up Dec. 6, were, at times, ugly and saw big spending from outside business leaders and groups who managed to elect a majority that supports business-backed reforms of public education.
Eight of the nine board members taking office in early January are incumbents. Mark Bellue, who defeated Lynch and one other candidate to win the District 1 seat, is the lone newcomer.
The expectation has been that finding a superintendent to replace Taylor would be among the new board’s first orders of business.
Taylor arrived in Baton Rouge in summer 2012 after spending the previous decade as superintendent in Kansas City and then Grand Rapids, Michigan. After an initial honeymoon, Taylor and many board members grew increasingly at odds as they clashed over a variety of issues. Taylor has received relatively poor job evaluations compared with his predecessors.