A divided East Baton Rouge Parish School Board on Wednesday approved a three-year contract for new superintendent Leslie Brown that will pay her an annual salary of $255,000 a year, plus benefits.

The vote was 6-3, and there were several testy exchanges during the meeting.

The board members voting no — Tramelle Howard, Dadrius Lanus and Evelyn Ware-Jackson — expressed concern that Brown’s salary is too high compared with comparable school districts, along with doubts about the car and technology allowances she will be receiving.

Board President Mike Gaudet, who led the negotiations with Brown, defended the deal.

“These (issues) were discussed and it was determined that this is the best deal we could get,” Gaudet said.

After a lot of questioning, Gaudet threw down the gauntlet: “If you don’t like it, you can start the year without a superintendent.”

That prompted an immediate negative reaction.

“We can’t move forward as a board if we’re going to be disrespecting each other,” Lanus told Gaudet. Then Lanus demanded that Gaudet "address the disrespect" he'd shown, but Gaudet continued on with the meeting.

Brown, a Fort Lauderdale, Florida, educator, won't officially take over as superintendent until Aug. 1. Her contract will continue through June 30, 2023. She is replacing Warren Drake, who has led the school district for the past five years.

After the meeting, Gaudet said Brown is already working remotely to get ready and he’s expecting her to be working in Baton Rouge by July 20.

Howard, the board’s vice president, participated with Gaudet in the contract negotiations, but was not ready to agree to the terms reached. Howard said he couldn't attend the second of two negotiating sessions with Brown and that both were called at the last minute. He said he was surprised Gaudet had agreed to a salary of $255,000 a year, when between $230,000 and $250,000 would have been more appropriate.

Howard also said Gaudet’s “if you don’t like it” comment was out of line.

“If we can’t ask questions and we’re just supposed to be rubber stamps on this board, we can get the hell up off of it and go somewhere else,” Howard said.

This will be Brown's first superintendency and the overall terms of her new contract are less generous than those in Drake’s contract. Drake came to Baton Rouge after having spent a decade running the Zachary school district, the leading school district in the state academically.

Brown’s proposed annual base salary of $255,000 is slightly less than the $257,000 a year Drake currently makes. Drake’s overall compensation package is valued at more than $400,000 a year. Gaudet did not estimate the value of Brown’s contract, but said “it’s a significant reduction” compared with Drake's.

Brown, like Drake, can earn additional performance pay. But hers is capped at $10,000 a year, compared with a cap of $20,000 a year for Drake, and she won't be eligible for that until the second year of her contract. The board and Brown have between now and next June to work out what her performance goals will be.

Brown not earning that $10,000 offsets her higher base salary, Gaudet argued.

Gaudet also said that the ongoing coronavirus outbreak and how that has scrambled public education makes it hard to come up with immediate performance measures.

“It’s just that we don’t know what (those measures) should be right now,” Gaudet said.

On June 18, Brown edged out by a 5-4 margin the other finalist for the job, Nakia Towns, chief of staff for Hamilton County, Tennessee, schools.

Here are some of the differences in Brown’s compensation:

  • No automatic pay raise. Brown will get a raise only if teachers get a raise as they did this past school year. Drake received a 3 percent annual pay raise.
  • Smaller retirement payments. Starting in July 2021, Brown is to receive a tax-sheltered annuity worth 8% of her salary, or $20,400. Drake has a retirement account which paid him $86,511 this past year; that's the equivalent of what the school system would have paid if Drake were participating in the state’s teacher retirement system.
  • Annual car allowance of $10,000 and electronics allowance of $3,000. Drake’s annual allowances are $18,000 and $6,000, respectively.
  • Medical and other insurance benefits that other educators in the school system are eligible for. Drake currently receives a $6,000 annual allowance to purchase his own insurance.

Brown is chief of portfolio services for Broward County public schools, the seventh largest school district in the nation, with more than 270,000 students. That’s more than six times larger than East Baton Rouge Parish schools, which have more than 41,000 students.

Brown, 62, has spent 41 years in education in Florida, including seven in her current position. It’s a job where she oversees an array of magnet, charter schools and special programs. She is one of 10 chief-level administrators and one of more than a dozen people in the senior cabinet.

Email Charles Lussier at clussier@theadvocate.com.