If the legislators who supported House Bill 942 of the 2010 Legislature thought they accomplished something when the governor signed it into law as Act 720, they would be disappointed with the Baker School Board.
A 2010 session wrap-up article in The Advocate said the bill was “designed to end school board interference in day-to-day school issues.”
One of the act’s provisions requires at least a two-thirds vote of the board to remove a superintendent “for cause” before his or her contract is up, rather than a simple majority.
Baker, however, doesn’t have a superintendent on a long-term contract. Former East Baton Rouge Parish and Baker administrator Ulysses Joseph has held the job on an interim basis for nearly eight months now.
The law also says the superintendent “shall have primary responsibility for personnel actions in the district,” and that board members shall not use their position to interfere with, compel or coerce any personnel decision.
Well, good try, legislators.
The Baker School Board has met eight times since June 1, with carping about personnel decisions by Joseph and his staff often the featured item on the agendas.
The Baker School Board’s members are President Dana Carpenter, Elaine G. Davis, Shona Boxie, Troy Watson and Doris Alexander.
After beginning their terms in January by naming Joseph as the interim superintendent, the members changed the “grade-cluster” arrangement in the elementary grades to a districtwide academic magnet school and two other schools with zoned attendance areas.
The magnet school may show better test results than its predecessor, Park Ridge Elementary. It should. Its students are the cream of the elementary crop in Baker. The effect of moving brighter, better-prepared students from the other two schools is another question.
On June 1, Joseph withdrew three names for hiring consideration without explanation at the last minute, and Davis objected to hiring a math teacher for remediation classes because he had just joined the system.
Watson said the motions became so confusing she simply didn’t vote.
On June 21, Davis balked at Joseph’s recommendation to hire two newly minted Teach for America teachers for the magnet school, and their hiring was tabled until a special June 28 meeting.
The proposed Teach for America hires were back on the agenda, but Joseph pulled them after a 15-minute delay in starting the meeting because Davis, Carpenter, Joseph and the board’s attorneys met privately in Joseph’s office.
Someone — the memo’s author was not clear — provided a written explanation of why the two were recommended, leading Watson to say the teachers apparently brought their “A game” to the interviews.
Davis was having none of it, however, criticizing “the staff” for trying to put new teachers in a magnet program.
The next week, the positions were back on another meeting agenda, but Joseph acknowledged he had thrown in the towel and recommended two different candidates.
The board also has twice singled out Baker High Athletic Director Gary Mitchell for what might be construed as punitive action, without explanation.
People with long memories recall, however, that Mitchell was once very outspoken in criticizing Davis and Carpenter for wasting tax money on unsuccessful 2006 lawsuits to save Davis’ seat when she didn’t win re-election.
James Minton is bureau chief for the Baker-Zachary bureau. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.