What's been up with Beasley?

by Patrick Flanagan

LPSB member Hunter Beasley's role in this year's selection of an administrator for the school system's group benefits plan recently drew the ire of many teachers and retired educators, and was the likely impetus for his delivery of a bizarre informational report about the different styles of leadership during Wednesday's meeting.

Lafayette Parish School Board member Hunter Beasley's role in this year's selection of an administrator for the school system's group benefits plan recently drew the ire of many teachers and retired educators, and was the likely impetus for his delivery of a bizarre informational report about the different styles of leadership during Wednesday's meeting.

Photo by Robin May

LPSB member Hunter Beasley

Though Beasley's talk was listed on Wednesday's agenda as an informational report, it rang out more like a veiled diatribe against the administration in an effort to rekindle favor among teachers and repair any burnt bridges resulting from his role in the recent snafu involving the board's selection of an administrator for the school system's group benefits plan.

Beasley, using broad, specific-free language, talked about the under-representation of teachers in the Lafayette Parish School System and how he takes issue with the lack of professional treatment they receive, and that attempts to "change" the problem have been too slow in coming. While the mild-mannered Beasley didn't explicitly point fingers or directly name anyone, his spiel was no doubt a dig at the administration and central office. Though it may be the first vocal display of Beasley's changing attitude to be witnessed this year, by no means is it his first strange move of the year.

In all its awkward glory, here's what Beasley had to say Wednesday on the topic of leadership:

"You're probably aware we have transformational leadership, situational leadership, strategic styles of leadership. I have a concern ... concerning different leadership styles. There's a lot of different leadership styles out there. Some are good in certain situations and some are good in other situations. In education ... there's the role of the teacher. For me, and my perspective, I taught in Lafayette Parish a long time ago for many years. I teach at UL now teaching teachers and educators. I talk to a lot of em, and we talk about leadership styles. My perspective is that teachers, their views, their perspectives, are not valued. And it's unfortunate ... and I have an issue with that. Talked to two [teachers] in the last few days about what they felt were unreasonable demands. Regardless of the leadership style that an individual possesses, I feel that teachers would be an important source of info. They need to be treated with respect, professionally.

Some of what I heard teachers have to go through, I wouldn't put up with it. That needs to change. It's extremely hard when a former teacher, a former student or a teacher for that matter, asks me When are things going to change?' It's getting old saying Just hold on for a little bit further, a little bit longer.' What it all boils down to really, it's very simplistic for me and is something I've neglected a little bit: I do support teachers. They're an important component in this whole educational system and it's difficult for me to support leadership styles that do not support teachers. It's extremely difficult for me to ... turn my back on teachers, which I'm not going to do."

Wednesday's discussion conveniently comes on the heels of a major teacher-led backlash (get the backstory here) against Beasley and several other board members for their vocal support for changing the school system's group health plan administrator from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana to a little-known company out of Indiana called Key Benefit Administrators. Beasley and his fellow board members eventually buckled to the pressure, and in a special meeting called late last month opted to renew its contract with BCBS for one more year in order to iron out all the problems that arose from this year's process. While most of those board members will escape the mishandled selection of an insurance administrator with at least some degree of their political futures intact, Beasley may have more difficulty erasing the process from the memories of his constituency, especially those teachers and retired educators angered by his role in the ordeal.

Beasley - an education professor at UL who holds a Ph.D. on the subject - has traditionally been regarded as one of the school board's more level-headed members, and though Wednesday's rant may be the first vocal display of his new attitude, it's by no means his first strange move. The District 8 board member is apparently in the throes of an unexpected political transformation that is traceable to last year's selection of a group health plan administrator, and is surprisingly more similar to the political evolution experienced during the same period by fellow board member Tehmi Chassion.

Beasley, like Chassion, was among the original group of seemingly progressive board members to break with the old guard (comprised of the former superintendent's cronies on the board) and move Lafayette Parish's public education system into the 21st century by supporting Dr. Pat Cooper in his bid for the superintendency. With the unfolding of a number of key developments this year, Beasley and Chassion now seem to have more in common than just their original pledge of support for Cooper.

Chassion has made no bones about the change in his feelings toward the superintendent - from time to time even offering up jokes on the matter during board meetings. For Beasley, the change has been more subtle, and, at least until Wednesday, has been seen less through his public remarks and more in his voting record - including several contentious issues to arise this year between Cooper and his detractors on the board. The board's anti-Cooper contingency, before Chassion's addition in late 2012, consisted of the four old guard members - Greg Awbrey, Rae Trahan, Mark Allen Babineaux and Tommy Angelle (while he may be new to the board, Angelle is old guard) - who resisted Cooper's hire and have been at odds with him ever since.

In April, Beasley unexpectedly jumped sides and joined forces with Chassion, Awbrey, Trahan, Babineaux and Angelle in voting to reprimand Cooper for not firing Assistant Superintendent Thad Welch because of his lack of a high school diploma.

Yet, while that vote could be seen as the origin of his change, the true birth of Beasley's political shift goes back a little further to last year's selection of an administrator for the school system's health plan.

Beasley and Chassion were the board's most vocal in their push to award that contract to Wayne Elmore's Southern Benefit Services (read more here). The board was poised to approve the deal with SBS - perhaps unaware of Chassion's connection to the company through his half-brother, City-Parish Councilman Brandon Shelvin. A last-minute change of heart, however, resulted in a decision to stick with BCBS, extending the school system's long-time health plan administrator's contract for an additional year.

Before the dust had settled, Beasley, displeased with the results of the 2012 selection of BCBS, called for a new way of doing business and took it upon himself to find a consultant for the board to hire to oversee the process come 2013. Of the 14 applications, Beasley selected four applicants to be considered by the board, which ultimately selected Rina Tikia out of Metairie as its insurance consultant for this year's process.

On the surface, Beasley seems the least likely candidate to have joined Chassion in crossing over to the anti-Cooper camp, but throughout the year, little by little, he's done just that, making Wednesday's rant on leadership and the treatment of teachers icing on an already-baked cake of discontent.