On June 2, the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board met for almost six hours, barely touching the bulk of a long agenda before calling it quits. This Thursday night, they are meeting again to try to finish what they couldn't get to a week ago. And this meeting may well run late as well.
The School Board has 22 leftover agenda items to tackle.
One proposal is to spend $1 million to pay hundreds of employees excluded from one-time stipends ranging from $600 to $1,200 disbursed in late April; these employees had more than 20 absences this year because they were on leave pursuant to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.
Also, there’s a proposal that would require Superintendent Sito Narcisse to respond to information requests from board members in no more than three days.
Another item of interest is a request to approve an estimated $2.5 million budget for next school year on a key Narcisse initiative called Pathways to Bright Futures. The money, drawn largely from federal COVID 19 relief funds, would pay for a big expansion of dual enrollment classes for ninth-graders in both academic and career-oriented fields. Narcisse says he wants to greatly increase the number of students who amass enough college credits to earn an associate’s degree while still in high school.
Some of the 22 agenda items have multiple parts. For instance, the item labeled “Professional Services Contracts-Federal” lists six separate contracts for the board to consider, ranging from $60,000 to the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning, or CASEL, to $1.4 million to Achieve3000, Inc.
Dissatisfaction with long School Board meetings has been growing. Meetings routinely last three or four hours. The board’s May 19 meeting stretched on for more than seven hours.
On June 2, the School Board managed to get through only six presentations over the course of 342 minutes. Some audience members, waiting on other issues, stuck around that entire time to no avail.
As the clock neared 11 p.m., board member Mike Gaudet made a motion to adjourn.
Afterward, Gaudet said some of the presentations ran too long and that board members need to do a better job asking questions ahead of the meeting.
“We could’ve easily been here until 3 in the morning,” Gaudet said.
By adjournment, Gaudet was one of only six of nine board members still in attendance. One, Tramelle Howard, was absent, but two left early, including Connie Bernard, who left in frustration at 8 p.m., and Board President David Tatman, who left closer to 10 p.m.
Tatman, who works as a lobbyist, said he ran out of gas after a long day working at the state Capitol during the legislative session.
“There’s a broadly growing sense of frustration about all this,” he said.
Tatman said that later this summer he plans to come to the board with proposals for ways to shorten meetings. Up for consideration is a mandatory finish time — Metro Council ends its meetings no later than 8 p.m. — to time limits for board members when they speak, to limits on how many times board members can speak on the same item.
“I think it puts a little more pressure upon us to be a little more prepared for our board meetings,” he said.
Thursday’s special meeting is set to start at 5 p.m. It is structured differently than the June 2 meeting, which was a Committee of the Whole, where the nine-member board meets as a committee and makes no final vote. As a special meeting, the board could hold final votes on every single item.
Tatman said that’s not his intention, but was just the simplest way to schedule a new meeting.
“I’m going to suggest that we not finally pass anything tomorrow night,” he said Wednesday.
Instead, items dealt with Thursday night will have final votes at the board’s already scheduled regular monthly meeting on June 16, he said.
One of the items on Thursday’s agenda is a proposal in which Narcisse would have to respond to information requests from board members within three business days. A few board members have complained that they are not getting information in a timely fashion.
Tatman said he has not had that problem. He also noted that there are instances where he’s received information from Narcisse, but individual board members still say they have not received it.
Another issue is that the number of such requests have grown. Tatman said in the lead up to the June 2 meeting that requests for information spiked.
“There were requests from board members and more detailed requests than any single meeting ever,” he said.
At the same, Tatman acknowledged that Narcisse has launched an array of initiatives that have spawned more questions. Tatman said that some of the current items are things that were pushed back earlier in the year in favor of other items.
“There was a little bit of a bottleneck created,” he said.