Orleans School Board argue over interim superintendent
29th July 2013 · 0 Comments
By Michael Patrick Welch
Former New Orleans Public School Board chief financial officer Stan Smith began as interim Superintendent of Public Schools on July 1, 2012. Since then, the NOPSB has spent a good deal of time and resources (and a lot of the public’s goodwill) debating whether or not to replace Smith with a new interim. The Board only very recently began even trying to agree on the headhunting service OPSB will use to at some point begin the important search. “Certainly by Mardi Gras time,” says District 5 Board member Seth Bloom, “we will have a new, permanent Superintendent.”
For now, they make little progress on any front.
Prior to Smith’s swearing-in, School Board President Ira Thomas accused the then white-majority board of passing over more credentialed black candidates. Thomas immediately began asserting that the board never approved Smith’s interim superintendent contract, and moved to void it. “The mistakes with his contract were HR mistakes, not legal issues,” Bloom maintains to this day. Black Board members Thomas, Cynthia Cade and Leslie Ellison continued to fight for Smith’s resignation, while white board members Bloom, Woody Koppel and Sarah Usdin claiming they would rather the Board spend its energies finding a permanent Superintendent.
Seth Bloom, chairman of the Legal Committee, motioned to put off the vote until the Board could approve a new version of the contract—which as of now has not yet been done. At the School Board’s last meeting on July 16th, Stan Smith kept his temporary job based on one vote, but his contract is still in limbo. The swing vote belonged to black Board member Nolan Marshall Jr., who moved to keep Smith until a permanent replacement is found.
Thomas (who himself has been fired from positions with OPSB) has also blamed Smith for OPSB’s failure to have the McDonogh 7 building on Milan Street ready for Audubon Charter’s middle school students this fall, as well as for delays in remediating the new McDonogh 35 campus.
Another particularly sore spot has been the failure of OPSB to get on board with the One App enrollment system. The School Board currently oversees only 19 of the city’s roughly 100 schools, but OPSB still runs several of the city’s top magnet schools. For now parents wanting access to OPSB schools must still go through an entirely separate process. This too has landed at Smith’s feet.
On June 12, the Alliance of Minority Contractors submitted letters to President Thomas, criticizing Smith’s implementation of the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) program Smith designed to allocate more work to minority contractors. Smith stated a goal that 35 percent of the city’s contracts would go to local, minority-owned businesses. “Stan Smith is letting off Citadel with doing about 21 percent,” Bryant explained in his letter. Smith has maintained that 35-percent was a goal, not a requirement, and that dozens of historically disadvantaged firms will earn over $20 million through DBE programs at the new McDonogh 35 High School, McMain and Kenilworth Park School.
The McDonogh 35 alumni association wrote the School Board criticizing Smith, and organizer Pat Bryant of the community coalition Justice and Beyond circulated a statement reiterating all of Thomas’ accusations against Smith.
The Times-Picayune and The Advocate are both covering the story from the angle that OPSB is back to its old, pitifully contentious pre-Katrina ways after eight or so years of relative peace. District 5 Board Member Seth Bloom says he doesn’t want to waste energy arguing over another temporary candidate. “Smith did an excellent job for many years as CFO,” says Bloom, “and he’s done a decent job as interim. All this controversy is meant to interrupt the national search committee, if you ask me.”
Bloom acknowledges the frustration some have with the Board’s decision to hire from a national instead of a purely local pool of candidates. “Ideally we want a New Orleanian,” says Bloom, “but we don’t want to limit ourselves.”
Bloom says the issue of Smith’s contract could very well pop up on the agenda 24 hours before the Board’s next meeting scheduled for August 20, or at any meeting thereafter, until a permanent Superintendent is found. OPSB this year became eligible to re-acquire many of its old schools from the RSD program, but School Board in-fighting has delayed progress in that arena as well.
This article originally published in the July 29, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.