Barbara Freiberg, who spent 2011 and 2012 as president of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, was returned by her colleagues Thursday to the top leadership post, succeeding David Tatman, who replaced her in that job three years ago.
The board also elected Evelyn Ware-Jackson as its vice president, replacing Freiberg, who held that job this past year.
Thursday’s vote was not a surprise and occurred with little discussion. Four other board members — Connie Bernard, Jill Dyason, Vereta Lee and Kenyetta Nelson-Smith — told The Advocate last week they believed a deal was struck a year ago between Tatman and Freiberg to trade the top jobs, with Tatman keeping the title of president in 2015 and Freiberg taking over in 2016. Freiberg and Tatman both deny any deal occurred.
Freiberg, Tatman and Ware-Jackson were first elected to the board in fall 2010. They quickly joined a majority leadership bloc that continues through today, and Freiberg was immediately made president.
After Thursday’s vote, Freiberg told her colleagues she considers every one of them a leader, “all nine of us.”
Both Freiberg and Ware-Jackson, who will serve one year in their leadership positions, easily staved off opposition from board members Nelson-Smith and Lee, respectively. Lee and Nelson-Smith are not part of the six-member majority that was backed by business in the fall 2014 elections and now makes most decisions.
Freiberg defeated Nelson-Smith by a 6-3 margin for the top slot. Voting for Freiberg was herself and board members Mark Bellue, Bernard, Dyason, Tatman and Ware-Jackson. Nelson-Smith voted for herself and was joined by Lee and board member Jacqueline Mims, who was appointed temporarily to the board in November.
Ware-Jackson defeated Lee by a 7-2 margin; the vote was the same, except Mims voted for Ware-Jackson.
Lee agreed to seek the vice presidency only after she nominated Bernard for the post. Bernard immediately asked Lee to withdraw the motion, which Lee did.
A week ago, Lee and Nelson-Smith said they were not planning to seek leadership positions in part because they saw it as futile, but on Thursday, they ended up giving it a shot.
Lee, who is black, said Thursday she supported Nelson-Smith, who also is black, in order to end an eight-year drought in which no black board member has served as president; Pat Smith, who is now a state representative, was the last such person, back in 2007.
“Allow someone different to serve in the leadership,” Lee urged her colleagues.
Lee said she considers the long period without a black board president an example of racism but hastened to add that she doesn’t have a personal problem with Freiberg or Tatman, who are white, or white people in general.
“I love white people,” she said. “Most of them, anyways.”
The 2015 election of Tatman and Freiberg as board leaders ended a long, unofficial practice of having a white and a black member serve as either president or vice president of the School Board. Thursday’s election of Freiberg as president and Ware-Jackson, who is black, as vice president amounts to a restoration of that practice.