The interim schools superintendent of St. James Parish — appointed to serve until newly hired superintendent Edward Cancienne takes over on July 1 — has resigned, claiming Cancienne fired his daughter, a teacher, on May 26 in Iberville Parish, where Cancienne is the schools superintendent for at least another month.
Interim Superintendent Malcolm Duplantis also claimed Cancienne offered to hire his daughter, a former teacher at East Iberville Elementary who was working toward her certification. Duplantis claimed the firing and the offer to rehire were both politically motivated.
Duplantis, in a May 27 resignation letter to St. James Parish school board members, said he had learned his daughter had been told by the human relations director of the Iberville school district that Cancienne had reviewed her personnel folder and “decided to terminate her, effective at the close of the day,” despite the school principal having recommended in the previous week that her contract be renewed.
Duplantis said his daughter was given a chance to resign immediately instead.
Then, just before the 4 p.m. May 26 meeting of the St. James School Board, Duplantis said, Cancienne told him, “I know about your daughter’s situation, but tell her to apply in St. James — I will find a place for her.”
“In my opinion,” Duplantis wrote, “this was his way to use my daughter to make me obligated to his commitments to the school board members.”
See Duplantis' email to board members below, or click here.
See Duplantis' resignation letter below, or click here.
Asked Tuesday if he had fired Duplantis’s daughter and, if so, why, Cancienne said, “I can’t comment on that because it’s a personnel issue.”
The St. James Parish School Board voted on May 26 to hire Cancienne, giving him a second tenure as the school district’s leader.
He previously served as St. James schools superintendent from 1999 to 2007, before being named superintendent of the Iberville Parish public school system.
Cancienne has sparked controversy over the years, with an unpopular decision in 2009 to close North Iberville High, a 1999 transfer of a principal that lead to a headline-grabbing school boycott in St. James Parish, and a months-long battle in Assumption Parish in 1993 that ended with an unsuccessful discrimination complaint against the school system.
But, Cancienne said Tuesday, “if you look at my 27 years of experience, wherever I’ve been, we’ve made a lot of progress.”
“In Assumption Parish, we passed a half-cent sales tax to air condition all of our schools and we built a great career and technology center,” he said.
“In St. James, we passed a blueprint for a greater St. James school district. All our employees got a raise,” he said. “We built a career-technical center and started the Science Math Academy. Our district score moved from the bottom quartile to the second quartile.”
“In Iberville, we gave all the employees a significant raise and started our Math Science and Arts academies on the east and the west” banks, Cancienne said.
“Every fig tree I’ve sat under has produced a lot of fruit,” he said. “Progress has tensions. You’re certainly going to have tensions.”
Among those tensions are some conversations about the school district and the new superintendent that Duplantis, in his resignation letter, claims he was privy to: reorganizing the Central Office, creating a job description for the former Lutcher High athletic director and football coach, amending the health insurance vesting policy so the former coach and a former School Board member can receive benefits, recreating the position of special education director, terminating the contract for Aramark Professional Services, recommending a specific employee as principal at Sixth Ward Elementary, and ignoring specific violations of the testing protocol.
“Having previous experience with Dr. Cancienne, I spoke with (board) president (George) Nassar … that I would not participate in any questionable actions during the interim period,” Duplantis wrote. “President Nassar assured me that I would not be asked to participate in any way.”
On Wednesday, the St. James Parish School Board will hold a special meeting to discuss the selection of another interim superintendent to replace Duplantis.
The School Board also has been in the midst of contract negotiations with Cancienne, who currently earns $182,814 a year in Iberville in addition to a travel and phone allowance. The School Board will vote on the contract proposal on June 7, but the new superintendent won’t be taking office until July 1.
The former St. James superintendent, Alonzo “Lonnie” Luce, who served the district for nine years, stepped down at the end of this school year, several months before his contract ended on Dec. 31, to give the board more time to find the next superintendent.
At the time, Luce said he and the board, which had seen four of seven incumbents voted out of office in the fall of 2014, weren’t always in accord.
Luce, who had recently been named a semi-finalist for Ascension Parish schools superintendent, withdrew his application this week after he got another position.
Luce has been named superintendent of Louisiana Connections Academy, a statewide, virtual charter school based in Baton Rouge.
Wade Henderson, board president of Louisiana Connections Academy, said Tuesday that Luce has been director of technology in previous positions with other school systems.
“I was really glad he came to us,” Henderson said. “It makes a great fit.”