After rejecting the three finalists for superintendent by a 7-4 vote Tuesday and reopening the search, the Ascension Parish School Board may miss its July 1 target date to have a new superintendent in place before school starts Aug. 8.
School Board President Pat Russo said Wednesday the position will need to be advertised again locally and nationally for two weeks and, once the advertisements go out, applicants will have 30 days to apply.
Russo, who had voted against Tuesday’s motion to reject the finalists, said Wednesday, “Our intention was to find the perfect superintendent. We all had an open mind going in.
“Although some of us may have wanted to bring in the finalists for interviews, it’s a vote of the majority of the board,” she said.
Tuesday’s board meeting was to have been one of the last steps in appointing a new superintendent to replace Patrice Pujol, who retired in February.
The finalists were named Tuesday, after a winnowing process from 47 applicants to 10 candidates, then to four semi-finalists, who were interviewed last week by Skype, all with the help of an Iowa search firm hired for a base fee of $22,500 to guide the board through the process.
After a one-hour, closed-door meeting, board member Troy Gautreau made a motion to bring in three finalists — Rita Hernandez of Texas; A. Katrise Perera, also of Texas; and Stacy Scott of Massachusetts — for face-to-face interviews.
But board member Lorraine Wimberly quickly made a substitute motion to reject the finalists and readvertise the position.
“I’m not saying some of these candidates were not good,” Wimberly said Wednesday. “I think it (the job) needs to be opened again. I don’t feel I stood alone in wanting to keep looking.”
Wimberly said the board will not be hiring a consultant for the second search.
“It didn’t work 100 percent for everybody on the board, so now we’ll go to the next step,” she said.
After Tuesday’s meeting, board member Shawn Sevario, who backed Wimberly’s motion, said some board members felt there were other qualified candidates who hadn’t applied because they thought a particular person was going to get the job.
“When that didn’t happen as they expected, we wanted to open it back up,” Sevario said.
He said the other potential candidates were from Louisiana.
While Sevario said he couldn’t comment on the person whom others had thought would get the job, one possibility is Ascension Parish Assistant Superintendent Steve Westbrook, who did apply for the job but was not named as a semifinalist.
Wimberly said Wednesday she agreed with Sevario’s assessment that other qualified candidates might have held back from applying and that some of them may be from Louisiana.
But, she said, “I don’t think it matters where they come from. We want somebody that will be the perfect superintendent.”
If the School Board does choose its next superintendent from out of state, it will be breaking with its recent history.
The three previous superintendents — Patrice Pujol, Donald Songy before her and Robert Clouatre before Songy — were promoted from within the Ascension Parish school system.
At Tuesday’s meeting, board member Robyn Penn Delaney, who had seconded the motion to interview the finalists, said their rejection brought up questions about whether race or ethnicity played a part in the vote to reject and readvertise.
Hernandez, one of the finalists, is Hispanic, and the other two finalists, Perera and Scott, are black.
The school district, as it did before, will be posting the progress of the superintendent search on its website at www.apsb.org/superintendentsearch.