The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board on Thursday unanimously selected Kenyetta Nelson-Smith as its vice president, replacing Connie Bernard, who recently gave up the post, citing her husband’s diagnosis with an aggressive form of cancer.
Without discussion, the seven board members present voted by acclamation to give Nelson-Smith the leadership position, placing her second only to Board President David Tatman. Board members Bernard and Mike Gaudet were not present Thursday.
Nelson-Smith will complete the remaining four months that Bernard was to have held the post.
Nelson-Smith was the only board member who was nominated, and she was the only one who publicly said she was interested in serving.
“I know you’ll do a great job, and I’m excited to be working with you,” Tatman said after the vote.
Bernard on Aug. 31 announced she was stepping down from the vice presidency after 20 months in the position. Bernard, however, is keeping her District 8 seat on the board she first won at the polls in 2010, despite calls for her resignation the board completely.
Bernard has been in hot water since Aug. 10, when she had a profanity-filled confrontation with several young people having a party down the street from her home — an incident caught on video. Sheriff’s deputies issued her a misdemeanor citation for entering and remaining after being forbidden. Bernard soon after apologized but only for the foul language she used that night.
State law does not give school boards the power to expel their own members. The only action the board could take against Bernard was to strip her of her leadership position. Bernard’s resignation allowed the board to avoid a potential debate about whether it should do just that.
Nelson-Smith has sought unsuccessfully in years past to serve as either the board’s president or vice president. She and other board members not supported by the local business community have been shut out of many leadership positions since a business-backed majority first took over in 2011, the same year Nelson-Smith joined the board.
The selection of Nelson-Smith, who is black, returns the board to its unofficial past practice of having at least one black member in its leadership. The board departed from that practice first in 2015 and then again this year; both Bernard and Tatman are white.
When the new School Board takes office in January, another leadership fight is likely. Six of the nine current School Board members are facing challengers in the Nov. 6 election. Bernard, Tatman and Mark Bellue drew no challengers and consequently have been re-elected to new terms.