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Newly selected East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent Sito Narcisse. Narcisse answered questions during a press conference at Glen Oaks High School. He was joined by La. State Schools Supt. Cade Brumley, along with BESE members Preston Castille and Ronnie Morris Friday January 15, 2021, in Baton Rouge, La. They took a tour of the school and talked about the future of EBR. Narcisse, who is the chief of secondary schools in Washington, D.C., beat out EBR Interim Superintendent Adam Smith in a 5-4 vote.

After a swift backlash, newly appointed East Baton Rouge Parish schools Superintendent Sito Narcisse pulled back Thursday from an immediate shakeup of the district office, asking the School Board to approve just four new job descriptions instead of 24.

"I hear your voices and I hear your concerns," Narcisse told the School Board.

The four positions Narcisse settled for as a "starting point" are chief academic officer, chief of schools, chief operations officer and chief of staff.

"We must begin the work of making the district into one that focuses on students first," Narcisse said.

The vote on the four positions was 7-1, with only board member Dawn Collins voting "no." Board member Connie Bernard left the board shortly before the vote, saying she wasn't feeling well.

Narcisse said he is still interested in the other 20 job changes, but first wants to see a "transition report" examining the whole school district before he settles on a final list.

Thursday's night's request-turned-retreat was the first test of Narcisse's relationship with the board, which narrowly voted to appoint him last week. 

The Washington, D.C. educator is trying to move quickly to start hiring people for his team, including people he knows from the many school districts he’s worked in outside Louisiana.

Meanwhile, district administrators in existing jobs subject to revision would have to reapply for their old jobs or seek other positions in the school district.

Narcisse won the job only a week ago in a 5-4 vote, edging out Adam Smith, a 24-year veteran of the parish school system.

The proposed job changes were added Wednesday to the School Board agenda. Normally they would go through the board’s Committee of the Whole before having a final vote two weeks later. The next Committee of the Whole is not scheduled until Feb. 4.

Alarm spread quickly through parts of the local education community in advance of Thursday's meeting.

Board member Dadrius Lanus decried what he described as misinformation being spread about what was really being proposed. But Tia Mills, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators, blamed Narcisse for any misinformation.

“The rhetoric and mania was out there because there was no transparency,” Mills said.

Angela Reams-Brown, president of the East Baton Rouge Federation of Educators, said Narcisse's original proposal was a non-starter.

“I could not agree to 24 positions added to the Central Office while our teachers and support workers haven’t seen a raise in years,” Reams-Brown said.

Narcisse’s employment contract was signed Monday by outgoing board President Mike Gaudet. In years past, the board approved the negotiated contract. In this case, the board gave board leadership permission to strike a contract with Narcisse without requiring a vote on the final contract.

Narcisse, a 45-year-old native of Long Island, N.Y., started Monday, the date the contract was signed — an earlier version of the contract posted online showed a Feb. 1 start date. The contract expires on June 30, 2024. That's a span of 40 months.

Narcisse’s base salary is $255,000 a year. That’s the same salary that Leslie Brown was paid before she resigned the superintendent’s position in October for undisclosed medical reasons, just two months after starting. It’s also slightly less than the $257,000 a year that Brown’s predecessor, Warren Drake, was making when he retired in July.

Brown’s contract and Narcisse’s are almost identical. In an interview Thursday, Narcisse said that he's fine with Brown’s contract.

“I understand that the district just negotiated a contract and I just want to make it as easy as possible,” he said.

Narcisse, who has spent the past 18 months as chief of secondary schools for Washington, D.C. Public Schools, said he is continuing to do that job as well through Jan. 29 to help transition those who will take over his duties. He said his new job pays represents a small pay raise over his D.C. job.

The contract covers moving expenses for Narcisse — Brown already had a family home in Baton Rouge. He said he’s in the process of looking for a house here for his family to live.

As for the proposed job description changes, Narcisse said he wants to have people in place to allow schools to focus on their core work.

“I’m putting positions in place that can help support schools so we can move the needle for kids,” Narcisse said.

Narcisse defended the job changes, saying they won’t cost any additional money overall, though he did not lay out the underlying math.

“It’s all budget neutral,” he said.

Besides the uncertain cost, another sticking point has been Narcisse's unwillingness thus far to release an organizational chart. He had said earlier Thursday that he would make a new chart available at Thursday's meeting, but changed his mind, saying it's still a work in progress.

Narcisse said he has some hires he's likely to make from outside the district, but said some insiders will be promoted, producing a healthy "mix" of both.

Board member Mike Gaudet said East Baton Rouge has moved too slowly since he joined the board in 2017 in making needed changes and urged fellow board members to give Narcisse a chance to do that. Gaudet also said the proposed job positions changes have been mischaracterized.

“This is not a 'bust the budget,' this is not bringing in a horde of people from the outside," Gaudet said.

Collins, however, said the board had too little time to review prior to Thursday's meeting to digest the proposed changes. Collins said Narcisse has the duty of figuring out how best to communicate effectively with the board that just hired him. But she said she's willing to let it pass and try again.

"This is a case of people learning how to communicate more effectively with each other, because this is a new relationship," she said.

Finding a chief academic officer is a top priority.

Narcisse, who has just three years of classroom experience, lacks the minimum five years in the classroom needed to automatically receive certification as superintendent under Louisiana law. A workaround is to hire a chief academic officer who has the credentials Narcisse lacks, which Narcisse said he’s going to do. Narcisse, however, also plans to seek a waiver from the state from the teaching requirement, but is not sure when that will be heard.

In other action, the School Board voted unanimously to name David Tatman as its new president and voted 6-3 in favor of Collins for vice president over Lanus.

Both Tatman and Collins voted last week for Smith to be superintendent over Narcisse. Tatman has already served twice as board president for a total of four years, while this is Collins' first time in board leadership since she joined the board in 2016.

Gaudet, who has held the top board post for the past two years, has decided not to seek the job again. So has Tramelle Howard, who has held the vice presidency since May 2019.


Email Charles Lussier at clussier@theadvocate.com and follow him on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier.