Former superintendent supports school board reform

by Nathan Stubbs

Former Lafayette Parish Superintendent James Easton says he was surprised to read in The Independent (“Class Action ,” 4/22) comments from School Board President Carl LaCombe about how the local school board does not and has not micromanaged superintendents. “I’m disappointed,” Easton says. “For him to say it didn’t happen. It happened routinely.”

“Maybe what he meant to say,” Easton continues, “is that they never did not micromanage.”

Easton’s comments underscore the tumultuous working relationship he had with the school board toward the end of his tenure — a struggle that ultimately ended with the board buying out the remaining 18 months of Easton’s contract in June 2007.

Because of his experience in Lafayette, Easton says he is a strong supporter of state Superintendent Paul Pastorek’s proposals to revamp school district management. “I believe Superintendent Paul Pastorek is 100 percent correct about identifying certain school board behaviors as being counterproductive,” Easton says. “I’m not saying every single board member in the world gets involved in [micromanaging], but clearly the culture of board members is to micromanage.”

Easton is a stark contrast to current Lafayette Parish School System Superintendent Burnell Lemoine, who opposes school board reform and says he has never been micromanaged.

Easton’s last days as superintendent were marked by his frequent complaints of school board interference. For its part, school board members often countered that it was their job to request information from the administration and bring to light concerns they had regarding some of Easton’s staff reorganizations. In particular, the school board and Easton were at odds over grants administrator Amy Trahan. Several board members blamed Trahan when the school system’s Title I and other grant funding did not come in on time, causing problems in some schools. The school board favored placing then-Chief Academic Officer Lemoine in charge of the district’s Title I funding — a job he oversaw prior to Easton’s 2005 reorganization. Easton persistently defended Trahan.

The board also irked Easton in other ways. In January 2007, one of the first acts of the newly elected school board was to remove Easton from the board table at meetings to reduce his control of discussions. Easton also wrote frequent letters to board members complaining about micromanaging and attempting to define what the board’s role should be.

Specifically, Easton says several board members would routinely come to him and make suggestions about the hiring of principals or other staffing decisions within their district. Board members also typically wanted to be notified ahead of time about any recommendation for a principal hiring or firing in their district.

“I didn’t leave [the school system] as a bitter guy,” adds Easton, “but I think what Pastorek is doing, I support him 100 percent, because I think it’s the right thing to do.”