The Lafayette Parish School Board might have saved thousands of dollars when it decided to mount a do-it-yourself search for a new superintendent, but the board’s been even more economical with its time.
That might not necessarily be a good thing.
The board decided in mid-May to conduct its own search, but a three-member search committee didn’t hold its first meeting until July 12 to lay the groundwork for July 20 board decisions on advertisements and a timeline for choosing the next superintendent. Superintendent Burnell Lemoine’s contract expires Dec. 31. So far, direction has come from the public, specifically members of the Lafayette Public Education Stakeholders Council, a coalition of civic, business and nonprofit groups.
In the past few months, its member organizations have utilized their three minutes of public comment at board meetings to ask for transparency and public involvement in the superintendent search and selection process.
How much public involvement the board will allow has yet to be decided.
The search committee has proposed a separate community access committee devise ways to involve the public. Part of that public interaction might come in feedback forums in which the public would be invited to outline qualities desired in a school district leader and questions to direct to the candidates.
It might be tricky balancing transparency while wooing talent who might not want to risk their current positions by applying for the public post, search committee members said.
“I’m just curious if some people would be nervous about applying if they’re already working for another district,” School Board member Hunter Beasley said at the July 12 search committee meeting.
According to state law (R.S. 44:12.1.), applications for public positions such as school superintendent are considered open records.
The nine Lafayette Parish School Board members, who started their terms in January, took the opportunity to ask for legal advice on the superintendent selection process during a June 29 ethics training session with Baton Rouge attorney Bob Hammonds.
Board member Mark Cockerham asked whether it would be proper for members to call each other to discuss candidates.
Phone calls are fine, Hammonds told them.
What would violate the state’s Open Meetings Law, he said, would be a private gathering of a quorum of board members to discuss the issue or a gathering of a quorum in public but without prior notice to the public.
In response to board President Mark Allen Babineaux’s question on whether they need to post public notices of upcoming committee meetings, Hammonds said the Open Meetings Law requirements also apply to committees.
Babineaux didn’t follow that advice July 12, when the three-member search committee met. He said the gathering of himself and committee members Beasley and Tommy Angelle was informal and only to review information on prior searches and a proposed timeline.
The Advocate learned of the meeting that day, when a reporter reached Babineaux at his law office seeking confirmation of a date for the initial meeting. Babineaux told the reporter the meeting was in progress. A reporter managed to attend the remainder of the meeting, during which no recommendations were made. Committee members expressed support of an idea pitched by LaPESC to have the University of Louisiana at Lafayette possibly assist the School Board in vetting candidates.
During the board’s June 29 ethics training, Hammonds also advised board members that building and keeping public trust is part of their role.
Without it — they’re “neutered,” he said.
What the board has now is the public’s interest in this process. What the board needs to ensure is the public’s trust.
Marsha Sills covers education for Acadiana bureau. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.