Stakeholders get a much-needed say in super search

by Heather Miller

A representative from The 100 Black Men of Greater Lafayette and the Lafayette Parish Public Education Stakeholders Council will join the school board in narrowing down the superintendent search to 10 applicants.

It was what one civic group leader called a "groundbreaking" moment at the Lafayette Parish School Board meeting Wednesday night when the board voted 5-3 to add to its superintendent selection committee a representative from the 100 Black Men of Greater Lafayette and the Lafayette Parish Public Education Stakeholders Council.

Board member Hunter Beasley proposed that a representative from each of the organizations team up with the nine board members in making a recommendation on narrowing down the superintendent search to 10 applicants. Once the board approves the top 10 applicants, the two reps from the civic groups will no longer sit on the panel.

Board members Tehmi Chassion, Kermit Bouillion, Mark Cockerham and Shelton Cobb joined Beasley in supporting the new additions to the committee.

"I've spoken at length with Mr. Beasley and other members of this board about the attempt to bridge the gap in the community," 100 Black Men President Patrick Williams tells The Advertiser. "This is a groundbreaking moment. I'm an emotional guy, so my insides are shaking because I know how important this is."

But Beasley's proposal was met with some expected opposition from board members Tommy Angelle, Rae Trahan and board President Mark Babineaux. Their no votes offer yet another exhibit of a 5-4 split among board members when it comes to critical reform issues facing Lafayette Parish schools. Board member Greg Awbrey, who often sides with Trahan, Angelle and Babineaux, was absent.

Recent polls published in The Daily Advertiser further demonstrate the visible chasm on the board. When asked to complete a survey ranking the top 10 priorities for the school board, Angelle, Trahan, Babineaux and Awbrey refused:

Trahan declined to participate, saying she was too busy with work commitments to fill out the survey, which was e-mailed to her on Aug. 4, 10 days prior to publication. When told that a majority of other board members had made time to make public their priorities, Trahan replied, "That's not the point. I bet they couldn't walk a week in my shoes."

In an e-mail response, Babineaux declined to participate, calling the issues listed "agenda-oriented" and "blatant propaganda." He added that the list was not a "fair and accurate assessment of realistic expectations" for a superintendent, that many decisions are out of the board's and the superintendent's hands, that he strongly opposes charter schools, and that everyone is welcome to participate in the board-sponsored community forums and online surveys.

Starting at 6 p.m. Thursday at Thibodeaux Career and Technical High School, residents are invited to give their take on what they want to see in a new top schools administrator during the first of six public forums to be held at each of the district's high schools. Click here to complete an online survey from LPSS.

Read more on the board's search for a super here and here.

For more on the state of Lafayette Parish schools and the significance of a new superintendent, read The Independent's May 11 editorial, "Help Wanted."