East Baton Rouge Parish SchoolsSuperintendent John Dilworth announced last month he’s leaving when his contract ends next year, and it’s still not fully clear why.
And it was never fully clear why he submitted his resignation in April 2010 only to rescind the letter 20 days later.
“He’s a rather quiet man. He’s reserved,” board President Barbara Freiberg said. “He’s not always eager to express his opinion and to let us know how he feels about things.”
Dilworth surprised a lot of people, including many board members, with his May announcement that he will not stay after his three-year contract expires in June 2012.
In his April 16, 2010, resignation letter, Dilworth said he’d spent months assessing his “fit” with the school system he just joined 10 months before and decided it wasn’t working.
This year, at a May 20 news conference, just hours after sending the board a letter saying he’s leaving at the end of his contract, Dilworth offered a similar rationale: He cited a lack of “chemistry” and “trust” between him and board members.
“I came here on a 7-5 vote. I have failed for almost two years now to bring this board together,” Dilworth said. “It’s not their fault. It’s just very difficult to work when you have a lot of 6-5 votes.” (The new board has 11 members, down from 12, thanks to the 2007 formation of the Central school system.)
Freiberg said that on May 19, Dilworth first told her he was thinking of leaving when his contract expires. Freiberg said she suggested he come back to the board in June with his decision. The next morning, she said, Dilworth called her and said he wasn’t waiting, he was announcing his decision to leave.
“If this is the second time he’s done this, in a bit over a year’s period, maybe this isn’t the right fit,” Freiberg said.
As with his April 2010 resignation announcement, there might be other reasons.
Jay Augustine, the board’s vice president in spring 2010, helped lead the effort that persuaded Dilworth to change his mind.
Augustine said last year that Dilworth told him he had announced his resignation because of perceived micromanagement and unprofessional behavior by some board members.
Critics of the school system seized on Augustine’s comments, saying board members were involving themselves improperly in personnel decisions and in the awarding of contracts.
The Baton Rouge Area Chamber then launched an anti-incumbent campaign that helped elect six new members to the board.
This new board has not been easy on Dilworth. The board has bucked a couple of his recommendations, sought more information repeatedly and pushed him hard on pet issues.
The issues haven’t been easy, namely having to approve more than $33 million in budget cuts. Board members and the superintendent got cross-wise on his unsuccessful proposal to close a small independent high school, and his approved proposal to end some direct bus routes for children in gifted programs.
“There are board members that have issues that they bring up every board meeting, and (Dilworth and these board members) don’t see eye to eye on them,” Freiberg said.
At his May 20 news conference, Dilworth noted that if he were one of the six new members, he would want to be able to choose his own leader, but he said no more on the subject.
Freiberg, one of those six new members, said Dilworth had shared with her “some concerns about board members and what they were asking him to do.
“To me that is part of the job of being superintendent,” Freiberg said, noting that he was not specific about the policy issue concerns and made no mention that he was considering leaving.
Charles Lussier covers education in East Baton Rouge Parish for The Advocate.
His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dilworth has, in public speeches, bemoaned infighting among community leaders and unwillingness to work together for the good of children.
During the budget-cut debates, Dilworth lamented that he came to Baton Rouge expecting to have a huge surplus only to see that turn into more than $50 million in budget cuts. Another $60 million in budget cuts is likely in the future.
“It’s going to be a tough couple years,” Dilworth recently told the board.