Interim St. James superintendent resigns, claims newly hired chief Edward Cancienne playing politics _lowres

Ed Cancienne

The St. James Parish School Board approved a four-year, $195,000 contract Tuesday for newly hired Superintendent P. Edward Cancienne Jr., brushing off allegations from their former interim superintendent of ethics violations by board members and his request they delay approving the deal until June 28.

The contract pays Cancienne, who is leaving his leadership post at Iberville Parish schools to return to St. James schools, $180,000 per year plus a $15,000 annual expense allowance for which he won’t have to submit vouchers.

After the seven-member board voted 6-0 with one abstention for the deal, Cancienne told the board from a rear seat in a largely full board room that he would honor the board, the “voice of the people,” and build a team among school system employees.

“The people trust your truthfulness, your honesty, your respect,” Cancienne said.

In later comments, board members, including Diana Cantillo, who had abstained, warmly welcomed Cancienne’s return to St. James, where he had served as superintendent for eight years during much of the 2000s.

After the meeting, Cancienne stood at the board room door shaking hands and kissing cheeks of former colleagues. He said afterward that returning to St. James is like “coming home.”

Cancienne, who starts July 1, takes over from former Superintendent Alonzo “Lonnie” Luce, who announced in late March he would step down May 31. Luce had acknowledged that after nine years, he no longer had a good fit with a board that had four new members after the last election cycle.

But Cancienne’s return has been tagged with charges of politics from the former interim superintendent who filled in for Luce. The interim, Malcolm Duplantis, a onetime consultant for the board, alleged Cancienne fired his daughter in Iberville Parish and offered to hire her in St. James as means of keeping his thumb on Duplantis. Cancienne has declined to comment on the personnel matter.

Under the new deal, Cancienne will make more than Luce, a former state Superintendent of the Year in 2013, in base salary, $180,000 to $170,542.

But a comparison of the contracts produced for the board shows extra retirement benefits boosted Luce’s take in 2015 to $218,484 to Cancienne’s $195,000 when his expense allowance is included.

Cancienne’s deal also no longer has the automatic pay increases and contract extensions built into Luce’s contract, fewer overall annual leave days and a 30-day limit on accrued leave.

The board had to pay nearly $510,000 to buy out the remainder of Luce’s contract, which was set to end in December, and more than $200,000 of that was from accrued leave, the contract comparison shows.

Duplantis showed up Tuesday and attempted to pick apart details of Cancienne’s deal. Duplantis also claimed board members possibly violated ethics rules as he read the board’s policy on members being barred from acting individually in employee matters.

Before Duplantis could provide details, board President George Nassar Jr., after looking for a cue from special board attorney Dannie Garrett III, gaveled down Duplantis.

“Mr. Duplantis, this is to talk about the contract of the superintendent,” Nassar told Duplantis.

Nassar had earlier detailed the board’s public comment policy, including that comments be related to agenda items.

Duplantis went on in the roughly three minutes he was given to speak but later provided a copy of his full comments, which had been provided to the board. In them, he alleges unnamed board members’ involvement in the hiring of a principal at Sixth Ward Elementary School and the promotion of someone in the system’s accounting department.

Duplantis never named the board members nor employees and refused to do so Tuesday.

Though not said in the meeting, Duplantis raised the allegations to point out that Cancienne’s contract does not have a provision that he should report potential ethics violations. That is one of the reasons, Duplantis argued, the contract should be delayed — to allow it to be reworked.

Other problems he saw involve the superintendent’s new job evaluation rubric, terms requiring specific performance in the school system’s pending desegregation case and language requiring that proposed policy changes include a financial impact. Duplantis told the board the last change would prevent policy changes that are political in nature and designed to benefit a specific person.

Garrett, who developed Cancienne’s contract and the comparison between his and Luce’s deals, defended Cancienne’s contract, including the evaluation method, as complying with state requirements and providing a good measure of performance.