Ascension Parish public school leaders improperly allowed former Superintendent Donald Songy to make a political speech during a district staff development meeting, a member of Louisiana’s top school board said Monday.
The charge was leveled by Chas Roemer, who is being challenged by Songy and one other contender for Roemer’s seat on the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Both Songy and Ascension Parish Superintendent Patrice Pujol disputed Roemer’s comments.
The 11-member panel sets policies for an estimated 668,000 public school students statewide.
Much of Ascension Parish is in the District 6 BESE district that Roemer represents.
The primary is Oct. 22.
Roemer said Songy should not have been allowed to make a political speech Friday during a districtwide teachers gathering aimed at improving their classroom skills.
“That is old school, union politics,” Roemer said in a telephone interview.
“It is unethical,” he added. “It is a waste of our teachers’ time,” Roemer said.
“They are there for professional development and it turns into a political rally,” he added.
Songy disputed Roemer’s account.
He said that, after the staff development session was breaking up and teachers were on their own time, some stayed behind “and I spoke with them.
“It was after the meeting was over,” Songy said.
Pujol said Songy had asked for time to speak to district teachers away from normal school hours.
When the daylong staff development session broke for lunch, Pujol said, she told teachers and principals that they were free to go to lunch and that Songy “would like a few minutes of your time.
“It was strictly voluntary,” she said of educators who opted to listen to Songy.
“No one was coerced or in any way held captive,” Pujol said.
Pujol succeeded Songy as superintendent.
Songy was superintendent from 2006-10, part of a 38-year career as an educator in Ascension Parish.
About 1,600 teachers and principals attended Friday’s staff development meeting.
How many stayed for Songy’s comments is unclear.
Johnnie Balfantz, public information officer for the district, estimated that about 500 educators heard Songy’s comments.
Pujol said the morning session took place off of school board property at the Healing Place Church, whose officials donated use of the site.
Roemer said his wife was a speech therapist in the Ascension Parish School District last year and may return there this winter.
Roemer, a Republican who lives in Baton Rouge, is seeking his second term on BESE.
Songy, a Democrat who lives in Prairieville, is associate executive director of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents.
Also in the race is Elizabeth “Beth” Meyers, of Denham Springs, a recently retired teacher. Meyers is a Republican.