Losing candidate wants to stay with Jeff schools

Passed over earlier in the month for the top position in the Jefferson Parish public school system, Acting Superintendent Michelle Blouin-Williams said last week she nevertheless hopes to retain a leadership role in a district she’s been a part of for 26 years.

The man who beat her out for the job as the long-term successor to former Superintendent James Meza said he isn’t opposed to that. But incoming Superintendent Isaac Joseph wouldn’t immediately commit to keeping Blouin-Williams on in the same capacity she has had, saying he’ll assemble his executive team later on.

Blouin-Williams was the school system’s deputy superintendent under Meza, who was hired on an interim basis in 2011 and then retained through 2014, when he insisted on retiring. She has been the interim superintendent since Meza’s departure at the end of January.

Six candidates applied to be Meza’s long-term successor, and the School Board on April 15 selected Joseph, not Blouin-Williams, on a 6-3 vote.

The board last week unanimously approved a contract that will give Joseph — a 29-year veteran of the district who most recently was executive director of grants and federal programs — an annual salary of $200,000 for a term beginning May 1 and running through 2016.

That means Blouin-Williams will soon revert to her prior position of deputy superintendent. Her annual pay will drop from $225,000 as acting superintendent to $157,100, which was what she earned under Meza.

Nonetheless, she said that does not diminish her zeal for a school system that she first joined as a math teacher in 1989.

“I’m invested in this school system — same dedication, same intentions,” she said. “I’m just excited to continue the work we all do everyday for our students, their families and our employees.”

Beyond May 1, Blouin-Williams said, she will follow the lead of Joseph’s administration.

Council offers its views on hot legislative issues

The New Orleans City Council weighed in last week on the side of comprehensive sex education in the city, expressed support for the state’s solar power industry and came out against a plan to repeal a property tax on business inventories.

All are issues in the current session of the Legislature, and the council voted on its positions as state lawmakers were wrapping up the second week of the session in Baton Rouge.

The support for comprehensive sex education is aimed at supporting measures by state Rep. Wesley Bishop and Sen. J.P. Morrell, both Democrats from New Orleans.

Bishop’s bill would allow schools in Orleans Parish to teach comprehensive sex education, essentially carving out an exemption for the city from a state law that requires school systems to teach students about sex while encouraging abstinence until marriage.

Morrell’s bill would allow the Orleans Parish School Board to conduct surveys of its students to determine their sexual health and behavior; that is now prohibited by state law.

The council also sent a letter to state senators urging them to vote against Senate Bill 177, which would repeal the state’s inventory tax — a move that could strip $12 million a year from the city’s budget.

The inventory tax repeal is one of the key elements in the Legislature’s plan to plug a $1.6 billion budget deficit for the coming year while not running afoul of Gov. Bobby Jindal, who has promised to veto any tax increases. Local parishes collect the inventory tax, but the state then provides full refunds to the businesses that pay it, so eliminating the tax and the refunds could free up hundreds of millions in the state budget while taking that much away from parishes.

The measure has been approved by a Senate committee, with supporters saying they would come up with a way to make local governments’ budgets whole, though how they would do so while still saving money in the state budget is unclear.

“We are unconvinced that any efforts of the Legislature to keep local governments whole through other means will be adequate,” according to the City Council’s letter. “Municipal governments struggle to provide needed services while remaining in the black. There is little to no wiggle room. Every dollar lost is a dollar that doesn’t reach our home parishes.”

The support for the solar power industry came in the context of another effort by the Legislature to save money — this one by trimming tax credits for homeowners who put solar panels on their homes.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu is expected to discuss his administration’s own legislative priorities at an event at the Baton Rouge Press Club on Monday. Those priorities include state funding for a new fly-over ramp on Interstate 10 as part of the new terminal for Louis Armstrong International Airport; a municipal tax and fine amnesty aimed at encouraging those who have overdue bills to pay up; and changes allowing the city’s Sewerage & Water Board to adjust residents’ bills to correct overcharges due to leaks.

Compiled by Ramon Antonio Vargas and Jeff Adelson