East Baton Rouge School Board pulls proposal to extend superintendent’s contract _lowres

Advocate file photo by ANGELA MAJOR -- Bernard Taylor Jr., superintendent of the East Baton Rouge Parish School System, speaks at a 2014 meeting at the School Board Office.

As the search for his replacement nears the finish line, outgoing East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent Bernard Taylor promoted 112 administrators from interim to permanent status, giving them extra job protection that will continue after he leaves June 30.

The list of 112, labeled as administrative reassignments, were reported publicly Friday afternoon and the promotions went into effect Monday.

Under questioning from School Board members Tuesday, Taylor said the promotions are justified, that all 112 have good job evaluations and are in jobs not likely to be eliminated in the near future. He denied he’s trying to make life more difficult for his successor.

“No one is trying to tie anyone’s hand. No one,” Taylor said. “Anyone going down that road is dead wrong and misinformed.”

The School Board meets again at 6 p.m. Wednesday to narrow down the 10 superintendent applicants to one to three finalists. The finalists are scheduled to return March 26 for an interview before the board. The selection of the next superintendent is set for April 2.

Of the 112 administrators promoted Monday, 29 are principals, 57 are assistant principals and 26 are Central Office administrators.

Going back to the end of Charlotte Placide’s superintendency in summer 2009 and continuing through John Dilworth and again with Taylor, administrators have been hired or promoted in almost all cases as interims, and many have remained that way for years.

For instance, Howard Davis, the principal of Scotlandville High School, has been an interim principal since June 2011. During that time, he was named principal of the year. He only became permanent Monday.

Placide began the practice of making new hires interim to give Dilworth more flexibility in administrative hiring when he took over. Dilworth continued the practice to help make it easier to cut positions quickly in the budget, as school system’s finances took a downward turn.

The practice, however, is at odds with a state law that requires school administrators work under two-year contracts that set clear performance measures and give them at least 120 days’ notice if the contract is not renewed.

The administrative promotion list is not just old names. For instance, Myra Jordan was named interim principal at Baton Rouge Center for the Visual and Performing Arts just two months ago. Now, she’s permanent.

Taylor apologized to the board for waiting until he’s almost gone to fix the problem but said it’s needed fixing for a long time.

“I’ve earned the right to be trusted in my decision-making,” he said. “When I came here, I inherited everything that was here. Everything. I don’t remember any hue and outcry about this then.”

Taylor also said his successor will have other tools, including reorganizations and changing job descriptions.

Several board members, however, continued to question the promotions.

“The numbers of these all in one fell swoop is alarming,” board member Jill Dyason said.

Board Vice President Barbara Freiberg questioned the timing of the move.

“It seems like we could have waited to have clarification of what the board needed to do,” she said. “It’s not whether these are good people or not.”

The clarification Freiberg refers to is how to comply with the ambiguously worded Act 548 from the 2014 Legislature. The law attempts to give school boards a greater role in administrative hires, but it’s not clear how far it goes.

Domoine Rutledge, general counsel for the board, had originally urged the board to approve a new, generic employment contract for all school administrators as a “cautionary attempt to comply” with the new law.

The board, however, opted Tuesday to delay voting on the new employment contract until May. In the meantime, Rutledge plans to seek an Attorney General’s opinion clarifying the meaning of the law, which Rutledge said should take no more than 30 days to receive.

Executive Director for Human Resources Millie Williams, herself an interim for years until Monday, said once the board agrees to a new employment contract, she can proceed with finalizing two-year contracts with the promoted administrators. In the meantime, they remain in limbo.

“We have issued and offered (contracts) to them, but they have not been signed by the superintendent yet,” Williams said.

Also, she and other members of the senior cabinet are not being offered contracts, as per Taylor’s directive.

In an interview afterward, Rutledge said the promotions are key, not the contracts. He said the courts have ruled that school administrators with permanent status enjoy the protections of two-year administrative contracts even if the contracts haven’t actually been signed. That protection, however, does not apply to interim school administrators, he said.

Follow Charles Lussier on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier.