For the fourth time since January, the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board will try to settle on which one of its members will serve as board vice president.
Looming over Thursday's proceedings, though, is the possibility of having to return to court if Jill Dyason, who has held the position since Jan. 17, remains in the post.
The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board has settled its dispute with Baton Rouge attorney Donald Hodge, agreeing to pay his court costs and t…
Baton Rouge attorney Donald Hodge sued the School Board after the Jan. 17 vote, saying the board violated the state’s open meetings law when it limited and then cut short his public comments protesting Dyason’s candidacy. Hodge opposed Dyason because of her decision to sign the petition to put on a ballot the proposition to create a city of St. George.
The board and Hodges reached a settlement to the lawsuit on April 16, agreeing to pay Hodge $2,435 in court costs as well as to vote again on who should be the second-in-charge of the nine-member board.
That revote finally occurred April 25, and Hodge was allowed to speak freely.
The board, however, deadlocked eight times. It was unable to muster five votes needed for the win for either Mark Bellue or Dadrius Lanus. As long as the deadlock continues, Dyason remains vice president.
Now Hodge is saying he’s ready to go back to court.
“If a new vice president isn't elected tomorrow (Thursday), we will return to ask the court to have the office declared vacant and a recall petition will be started against Jill,” Hodge said Wednesday.
“The settlement, from my point of view, invalidated the vice president election,” he added. “However, after we reached that agreement, that's not how the School Board saw it.”
It’s unclear how the board will break the deadlock. Thursday’s meeting is set to start at 5 p.m. at the School Board Office, 1050 S. Foster Drive.
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On Jan. 10, the first time the board took up the issue, Dyason, who is white, deadlocked repeatedly with Lanus, who is black.
Supporters of Dyason, who represents much of southeast Baton Rouge, touted her experience: She was first elected in 2001, making her by far the longest serving board member. Even so, in all that time, she’d never served in a leadership position on the board.
Lanus, by contrast, is one of two newly elected board members, along with Tramelle Howard. Both of their districts are centered in north Baton Rouge.
Lanus’ supporters downplayed the importance of experience and pressed hard on the importance of having someone black, particularly a black man, in leadership, in a school district where about three-quarters of the schoolchildren are black.
For years, the board had an unofficial rule that at least one of its black members should serve in a leadership position, but since 2015, the board has repeatedly picked two white board members as president and vice president.
On a second try, on Jan. 17, Dyason won 5-3. Mike Gaudet, who’d been elected board president a week earlier, switched his vote from Lanus to Dyason.
Between those two meetings, however, it came out that Dyason had signed the St. George petition.
At the time, Dyason said she signed the petition only to let the people vote on this contentious issue. She said that in her view, the latest St. George petition has more to do with creating a city than any changes in schooling, and it has no bearing on her School Board service or whether she would make a good board vice president.
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When the board voted again April 25, another board member, Mark Bellue, was nominated. Bellue, who is also white, often votes with Dyason. Four of Dyason’s votes, including Gaudet’s, shifted to Bellue.
Dyason, however, decided to abstain repeatedly, leaving Bellue one vote short of victory.
Meanwhile, Lanus was stuck at three votes for seven successive ballots.
Another black board member, Dawn Collins, abstained. Several local black leaders leaned on her hard to change her mind.
Collins said she had concerns about Lanus because he, as well as Howard, benefited last fall from hundreds of thousands of dollars in independent spending by pro-charter school groups on behalf of their respective campaigns.
“I can’t pretend that six figures was not spent on my colleague,” Collins said.
On the eighth vote, Collins, however, shifted her vote to Lanus. But that still left him with only four votes and still one vote short.
On Thursday night, Collins is not planning to attend, so Lanus will have to attract two more votes to win the vice presidency. He expresses optimism that will happen.
“This board has been pressed to make the right decision, and they will make the right decision, even if they don’t want to,” Lanus said.
Board member Evelyn Ware-Jackson, who is black and has served as both board president and vice president, said she is fine with Lanus or Howard serving as board vice president. She said she is not interested in returning to board leadership herself.
Bellue said Wednesday night he's not interested in the job anymore either and will support Howard instead: "The board has more important issues to address and it's in our best interest to identify someone who can get a majority vote and move on."