The Lafayette Parish School Board issued a call for the public’s opinion about what qualities are needed in the next superintendent and which priorities the new hire should focus on.

So far, only 65 people have shared their opinion in three of six scheduled public forums held in the past three weeks. The forums are designed to solicit public input.

The University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s communications department devised the discussion topics and online survey and will provide to the board an analysis of the feedback.

As of midday Wednesday, only 236 people filled out the online survey.

“We’re here to listen and to learn,” School Board President Mark Allen Babineaux told a group of at least 23 residents who gathered for the Tuesday forum at Lafayette High School.

Board members also have attended the sessions, listening in on the group discussions.

In the sessions he attended, Babineaux said, there seems to be unity in the desire for a “troubleshooter with a strong set of priorities who has the guts to make the cuts.”

Babineaux said he’s also heard repeated requests for someone with experience managing multi-facility construction.

The next chance to attend a forum is at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Acadiana High, followed by another session at 6 p.m. Sept. 13 at Northside High. The final session is scheduled for 6 p.m. Sept. 22 at Comeaux High School.

A new superintendent could be selected as soon as Dec. 7. Superintendent Burnell Lemoine plans to retire when his contract ends Dec. 31.

This is the board’s first superintendent search in 10 years.

Lemoine was first appointed interim superintendent in 2007 after the board at that time bought out the contract of Superintendent James Easton. In the subsequent years, the board opted to extend Lemoine’s contract in lieu of a search.

The next hire needs to be committed to the system, said Elizabeth DeWitt, a Lafayette High teacher.

Previous hires have left prior to the expiration of their contracts for other superintendent jobs.

“You need to be vested in our community,” said DeWitt. “For some of them, it’s like a stepping stone for their career.”

The next superintendent needs to have institutional knowledge of the district, said retired educator Keith Patin.

“I think they need to stop hiring outsiders to come into the school system,” said Patin, who worked 36 years in Lafayette Parish schools. “We need someone who has at least 20 years of classroom experience. I think they should promote from within.”

So far, no one from within the district has applied for the position. As of Wednesday, only four of the 16 applicants were working in Louisiana.

DeWitt and Patin were part of a group of at least 23 people who attended the forum at Lafayette High

Patin said he thinks the next superintendent should focus on reducing the size of “bureaucracy” at the school system’s central office.

Lafayette High parent Ella Arsement regularly attends School Board meetings and frequently addresses the board to comment on its decisions. She said it is important to her she attend the public forum to give her opinion on the board’s most important hire.

“He’s the top man,” she said. “His decisions trickle down to everybody.”

That’s why she wants to see the board select someone who is able to understand the position of all stakeholders in the school system.

“We need someone who can bridge the gap between the common and different ideas that people have and help us come together for the betterment of the school district,” she said.

Marsha Sills covers education for The Advocate’s Acadiana bureau. She can be reached at msills@theadvocate.com.