Barbara Freiberg is expected to succeed David Tatman next week as president of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, but both of them deny that the shift is the result of a deal struck last year.
Four other board members — Connie Bernard, Jill Dyason, Vereta Lee and Kenyetta Nelson-Smith — said they believe last year’s leadership vote was the result of a deal between Tatman and Freiberg to trade the top jobs, with Tatman keeping the title of president for a third year and Freiberg set to take over in 2016.
Both expressed interest last year in becoming president, but Freiberg agreed right before the vote to serve as vice president instead.
Freiberg denies any deal occurred.
“That may be a perception people may have, but I certainly haven’t cut any deal,” Freiberg said. “I have let people know I’m willing to serve, but I’m not going to make deals to do it.”
Freiberg served as president in 2011 and 2012 until Tatman replaced her in 2013. Freiberg is the only member of the board who has said she wants to be board president in 2016.
Board member Evelyn Ware-Jackson said she plans to seek the vice president’s spot, saying she has had a couple of board members approach her about running.
The Advocate traded brief text messages Tuesday with Tatman, who said he has limited Internet service where he’s vacationing. Asked whether he is running again for a fourth year as president, Tatman would say only that Freiberg and Ware-Jackson are seeking the top leadership posts.
Tatman also denied any deal.
“I’m not a part of or aware of any ‘deal,’ ” he said.
Several board members said Tatman, who is a registered lobbyist, indicated a year ago that he probably would not run for president for a fourth year.
Freiberg said she confirmed that decision with him two weeks ago.
“He didn’t tell me why,” Freiberg said. “Probably his business is growing so much that he needs to put time into it.”
This leadership vote is set to occur Jan. 7. That’s the first meeting of 2016, and electing officers is the first order of business for the nine-member board. A year ago, the board shifted to selecting its leaders annually rather than every other year as it has in the past.
The board members who said they believe there was a deal between Tatman and Freiberg say it included the move to annual board elections.
2016 has special significance for Freiberg.
“I know Ms. Freiberg would like to serve as president for the opening of Lee High School,” Bernard said.
Lee High is being rebuilt and expanded at a cost of $54.7 million at its historic home at 1105 Lee Drive and is set to reopen in August. Freiberg’s District 7 includes Lee High. She graduated from the high school and later taught there.
Freiberg acknowledged that Lee High’s reopening is “very, very important to her” but said it stops there.
“My dedication to that project and to see it done correctly has nothing to do with being president,” she said.
The 2015 election of Tatman and Freiberg, who are both white, ended a long, unofficial practice of having a white and a black member serve as either president or vice president of the parish School Board. If Freiberg becomes president and Ware-Jackson, who is black, becomes vice president, that practice would be restored.
Board members Bernard and Dyason, who are white, said they would be open to serving as vice president if asked, but neither said they are pressing for the job.
Dyason said race is not her primary consideration in picking a board leader.
“When it works out, that’s great, but that’s not what I’m going to base my decision on who to vote for,” she said.
Dyason, who joined the board in 2001, said she dislikes voting on leadership changes annually rather than every other year.
“It’s a shame we revisit this every year, because it pulls the focus away from where it needs to be,” she said.
Board members Lee and Nelson-Smith, who are black, said they are not planning to seek any leadership posts. Lee and Nelson-Smith are not part of the six-member majority that was backed by business in the fall 2014 elections and now make most decisions.
Tarvald Smith, who is black, also retained his School Board seat despite well-funded opposition, but in November, he resigned from the board after 11 years to serve as Baton Rouge City Court judge.
Nelson-Smith doesn’t see the point in running.
“If it was a fair process, I would consider it,” said Nelson-Smith, who is in her second term, “but with the same people voting for the same person, it would be a waste of my time.”
Lee had similar sentiments.
“I’m not going to be fighting for a position, but I would like to be supporting someone who would be fair to everyone,” Lee said.
Jacqueline Mims was appointed temporarily to replace Smith to represent District 4. Mims served on the board from 1991 to 2014, including one year as president. She said no one so far has lobbied for her vote, but said she wishes more people had a shot at being board president.
“I think it’s kind of sad — you go between two people and, apparently, don’t have confidence in the leadership of others,” Mims said.