Cedric Grant, the recently installed head of the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board, is apparently not the only local official who had office renovations in mind as he stepped into a new job. Grant spent about $60,000 on paint, furniture and equipment to upgrade his new surroundings at Water Board headquarters on St. Joseph Street.
But at the same time, Henderson Lewis Jr., the new superintendent at the Orleans Parish School Board, was making his own improvements across the river at his office on Gen. de Gaulle Drive.
To be fair, Lewis spent only about half of what Grant did, about $31,000. And, as was the case with Grant, the bills came to just a fraction of his agency’s overall budget, which amounts to some $200 million a year if you count the money passed along to the district’s independent charter schools.
His staff also pointed out that none of the money spent came from the district’s general fund, the local and state tax dollars earmarked for public education. The money for the renovations came from the district’s so-called “enterprise” fund, which draws on rental income from office property the district owns in Algiers; FEMA paid for the furniture.
Still, the spending happened just as Lewis and the consultants he has hired were devising cutbacks at the School Board’s central office. Lewis, who was hired in March, plans to eliminate as many as a quarter of the 100 or so existing positions in order to save money, which can then be pushed out to individual schools.
At the very least, the office upgrades came at an awkward moment.
As did the new sign announcing the superintendent’s reserved parking spot, which is actually two parking spots that have been combined to give him a wider berth for his Mercedes-Benz.
In an interview last week, Lewis said the office renovation was necessary to place him closer to his secretary and to improve privacy; he said conversations could be heard through the walls of the old superintendent’s office.
“It’s a one-time expense,” he said.
One chunk of money — a little more than $12,000 — went to a company called PPS Commercial Unlimited LLC for the remodeling, according to documents obtained through a public records request. PPS knocked out a wall, did some painting and installed carpet, along with some other odds and ends.
Two separate purchase orders, each totaling more than $9,000, detail spending on furniture for Lewis and his secretary and a meeting room for him and his top aides. Items include a mahogany desk and bookshelves, as well as “mock leather” chairs.
School Board President Seth Bloom said he was not aware of the renovations or the cost.
“Obviously, I think more money needs to be spent in classrooms,” Bloom said. “But at the same time, I think the superintendent needs to be comfortable making a fresh start in a new office.”