The Jefferson Parish School Board voted 9-0 Monday night to hire DeSoto Parish Public School Superintendent Cade Brumley to head Jefferson’s school system, pending the successful negotiation of a contract.
The unanimous vote came despite some opposition to the selection process voiced by board members Ricky Johnson, Cedric Floyd and Marion “Coach” Bonura, who felt it should be extended or reopened.
About a dozen teachers voiced the same sentiments during the public comment period, but the board went ahead with the vote at 9:15 p.m. after hearing them out.
Board Chairman Mark Morgan said he will convene a committee to begin negotiating Brumley's contract by Wednesday. He said the committee will work to iron out a contract as quickly as possible.
Earlier in the meeting, Brumley, the sole remaining candidate to take over the top job at the state's largest school system, fielded wide-ranging questions submitted by the public and School Board members.
He promised the board he would provide written answers to all 350 questions submitted. The questions have been posted online.
Brumley was questioned about his qualifications, leadership style and views on teacher salaries, school security, facilities, morale, curriculum, resources and more.
Asked about salaries, Brumley said that while he would always look at costs first, Jefferson Parish needs to do something about the fact that it doesn't pay its teachers as much as other nearby parishes do.
"Right now you are losing more teachers than you should because people are coming into Jefferson Parish, getting a few years' experience and then (leaving) for better pay," he said.
"Teacher pay has to be competitive in order for your schools to attract talent," he said.
Brumley said that in DeSoto Parish there were three areas he would protect from cuts when considering things like millage rates: teacher pay, professional development and early childhood development.
He indicated he supports raises that take performance into account.
He said another key part of his philosophy is equity: making sure each student gets what he or she needs to be successful.
“As a system, we have to realize some students need more resources to be successful,” he said.
Brumley, 37, has long been considered the favorite for the Jefferson job. School Board members began mentioning his name as a good candidate even before they voted not to renew the contract of former Superintendent Isaac Joseph.
The DeSoto Parish system has earned an A in the state ratings but has only about 5,000 students, or about one-tenth as many students as in Jefferson Parish.
That issue came up during questioning as well, and Brumley said he understands the concern. But he said Abraham Lincoln's humble origins and work as a small-town lawyer didn't prevent him from going on to become one of the most admired U.S. presidents.
He said he was able to succeed in DeSoto despite a 40 percent reduction in the system’s budget and that his main job is to be a motivator and bring the best out of others.
“I feel like I have maybe a skill set that other people wouldn’t have if they’ve been in a large system,” he said.
Asked about how he would deal with a notoriously fractious board, Brumley said he plans to focus on his role as an educator and communicate openly and equally with all board members.
“I can’t control the politics of this board, and I have no desire to do so,” he said.
In reading the question, Morgan noted he didn’t want to pull any punches and didn’t want to shy away from questions that might make people uncomfortable.
Perhaps in that spirit, Brumley said that some of the things he’s read and heard about the board “have been disheartening to me” and would make it difficult to attract staff and teachers. He did not specify what those are.
Asked what he would do about excessive homework, Brumley said he actually opposes homework. Teachers have their students for enough hours during the day that “we should be able to get the job done,” he said.
“I don’t believe in homework. I believe when children go home there are other pursuits they should be involved in.”
Brumley said he led a push to eliminate homework in DeSoto but found that parents wanted it. He said he believes homework should only reinforce what has been learned and not include new learning.
Joseph's tenure in Jefferson began in 2015 with the backing of the board's more union-friendly faction. But Joseph never had the full confidence of other board members, and when the system's rating slipped from a B to a C during his term, their number grew.
His fate was likely sealed when one of the board members most responsible for helping to propel him into the job, Floyd, asked the board last fall to investigate Joseph for possible but publicly unspecified policy and law violations.
Joseph's fate evidenced the fractured nature of the board and electorate. A fall millage proposal for teacher raises was rejected by voters, with Joseph accusing some board members of not offering wholehearted support for the measure. Complicating matters, all nine board members are up for re-election this fall.
Monday's interview session was originally slated to feature two applicants, but the second candidate, Glenn Mayeaux, a former Jefferson Parish school principal and administrator, withdrew his name from consideration last week. He said he knew he didn't have sufficient support on the board to win the job.