Gov. John Bel Edwards' longtime differences with John White may be headed for the courtroom, again pitting a governor against the state superintendent of education.
White spent parts of two years – 2014 and 2015 – battling then Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal in courtrooms over the Common Core academic standards.
Now a new legal battle is brewing, this time a possible fight over White's job status initiated by a Democratic governor who vowed two years ago to replace White as the chief of public schools.
Any such dispute could continue for months, including stops in the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge, the First Circuit Court of Appeal and even the Louisiana Supreme Court.
"I think this could go on for a long time because there are so many steps in the process," said Barry Erwin, president of the Council for a Better Louisiana.
The issue that sparked the potential dust-up was a lawsuit aimed at removing White, who has held the $275,000 per year job for 5 1/2 years.
White was hired by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in 2012, and confirmed that year by the state Senate. He works on a monthly contract because there is not enough support on BESE for a long-term agreement.
The lawsuit, filed by 14 critics of the superintendent, said White should have faced a second Senate confirmation by now because a new BESE took office in January 2016. Without that confirmation, they said, the court should declare the office vacant.
Nineteenth Judicial District Judge William Morvant, of Baton Rouge, tossed the legal challenge on July 10.
Morvant said the plaintiffs did not have legal standing to challenge White's job status. But the judge said some officials could do so, including Edwards.
In a surprise, the governor told his statewide radio audience last week that he generally agrees with the lawsuit.
In a renewal of tensions, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Wednesday his office is reviewing state…
"As I understand the law, he needed to be re-confirmed in order to continue to serve," said Edwards, himself an attorney.
"We are looking at that situation," he said. "He is not under contract, so we are looking at that."
"But it may be something that has to be litigated," Edwards said.
Just what the governor's review consists of, and when a decision will be made, is unclear. His office would not say. However, longtime critics of the superintendent, using petitions and other steps, are urging the governor to take the issue to court.
Others say the issue simply needs court review.
"If you put all the politics aside, I think there are legal issues that need to be determined," said Scott Richard, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association.
Richard said that, while his views are nothing personal against White, the superintendent is the head of an agency and responsible for billions of dollars in education funding.
"How long can the state superintendent remain on a month to month contract and make long-term decisions for the state?" Richard asked.
White and Edwards have vastly different views on how to improve Louisiana's long-suffering public schools.
Gov. John Bel Edwards is putting off his vow to try to replace state Superintendent of Educa…
Edwards is aligned with the state's two teacher unions – the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and the Louisiana Association of Educators -- as well as the Louisiana School Boards Association. All three groups have clashed with White for years over vouchers, charter schools and teacher evaluations.
In addition, Edwards' comments came just ahead of White's annual job review by BESE, which is set for Aug. 16.
White has gotten favorable reviews from BESE for four consecutive years. Last year, he scored 3.166 out of 4 on the state's rating system.
State Superintendent of Education John White, who has squabbled with two governors in the pa…
But he also operates on a monthly contract because backers lack the eight votes on the 11-member BESE to extend the agreement. Critics also lack the votes needed to fire him, even with the governor's three appointees.
The annual evaluation could morph into discussions on White's job status, and a wide range of scenarios are floating around.
"I am going to continue to work for the children of Louisiana until that board tells me to stop," White said July 19 on the Jim Engster radio show. "This has been the greatest professional blessing of my life."
How any Edwards court challenge would play out, if it happens, is hard to predict.
It could be dismissed or White could be ordered to go through a second Senate confirmation process, where he would have a good chance of winning approval again.
A judge could even rule that the office is vacant, which would trigger an appeal but still shake up Louisiana's education establishment.
Leaders of Louisiana's top school board say they are on solid footing.
"Speaking on behalf of BESE, it is our position that the law is clear and that it is BESE's responsibility to select a superintendent," said BESE president Gary Jones, who lives in Alexandria.
"Having said that, it is clear that the majority of the board at this time still feels like Superintendent White is providing the leadership necessary," he said.
State Sen. John Milkovich, D-Shreveport, the attorney for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, did not return a call seeking comment. Former state Rep. Brett Geymann, one of the plaintiffs, declined comment.
Erwin, whose group is often aligned with White on public school issues, said the legal challenge that Edwards may join is an extension of years of criticism of White over Common Core and a wide range of accountability measures.
"This is just more of a fight between factions that don't like the superintendent," Erwin said.