Just six months after rejecting the idea, the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board on Thursday is set to once again consider keeping Superintendent Bernard Taylor after his contract expires ends in June, perhaps for as much as 18 more months.
Outgoing East Baton Rouge Parish School Board member Mary Lynch requested adding the item to the agenda for Thursday’s meeting.
The vote on June 12 was 10-1 to have Taylor leave when his contract is done, and Lynch voted with the majority. Lynch had been appointed to the board just a month before to replace Randy Lamana, who died April 16, and now she says she wishes she could have that vote back.
“In retrospect, I should not have voted,” Lynch said. “I should have waited until I knew more.”
Lynch said she was thinking then more as a concerned parent of two children in the school system. Since June, she said, she has warmed to Taylor’s leadership and sees a strong need for continuity in the top job as Baton Rouge schools deal with issues such as the shift to the PARCC tests this spring. PARCC stands for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.
Lynch is suggesting extending Taylor’s three-year contract for 18 months, meaning it would end in December 2016. That would give Taylor 4 ½ years total as superintendent. It also would make Taylor leader of the school system for half of the four-year term of the School Board voters elected this fall.
Lynch said she’s not the only board member who feels differently now, suggesting the chance of a contract extension is “50/50.”
“I think in retrospect a lot of us feel that way,” Lynch said.
Much has happened since June. The School Board voted July 24 to reduce its size from 11 to nine members. 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.
The Advocate left phone messages Tuesday with Taylor seeking comment about Lynch’s request.
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 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.
Taylor privately has hinted at greater openness to staying longer. In a letter to the board sent in early June, in advance of the vote that month, Taylor said, “contract renewal should be left to the board of education that will be elected in November.” Two board members read the excerpt of the letter to a reporter.
Lynch said she spoke to Taylor on the phone Tuesday and asked him if he would stay longer if the board asked him to. Lynch would not reveal Taylor’s answer, but she said the superintendent was fine with having the matter discussed on Thursday.
Craig Freeman, who opted not to run for re-election, was the lone board member who voted in support of Taylor in June, but he is balking at voting Thursday for an extension, saying it’s too fast and too soon.
“Slapping this on the agenda two days before a vote and two weeks before the new board hurts public trust,” Freeman said.
That said, Freeman said the new board, using the committee process, should extend Taylor on the merits, or at least keep him until it can settle on his replacement.
“(Taylor) brought us to the brink of being a B district,” Freeman said. “I think Taylor has earned more time.”
The new board would have little time to conduct a national search before Taylor leaves in June. A couple of board members have suggested finding an interim superintendent to succeed Taylor.