Board votes 6-3 to not renew Laster’s contract

Published 12:07 am Friday, September 14, 2007

VIDALIA — In a 6-3 vote, Concordia Parish School Board members voted Thursday night not to renew the contract of Superintendent Kerry Laster.

Laster was hired in 2003, and her contract will expire Dec. 31.

The board’s meeting room was packed with Laster supporters and detractors, and though the board went into a lengthy executive session to discuss an unrelated personnel matter, few left the building.

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Before the discussion of whether or not to renew her contract began, Laster spoke briefly.

“I want to thank the members of the board and the members of the community for allowing me to work with the students,” she said. “The most important issue to me is educating.”

Laster said she was raised in Concordia Parish, and she would remember her tour of duty as superintendent in the parish.

“No matter what happens to me personally, a part of me will remain in Concordia Parish,” she said.

The parish has good administrators, good teachers and good students, Laster said.

“The possibilities for Concordia Parish are endless,” she said.

Several members of the community, some of them educators, spoke in support of Laster.

Dorothy Ulmer, a teacher at Vidalia High School, said Laster has promoted community involvement and been involved with the schools head-on.

“She has been involved on (school) site — not from the desk — in working for improvement,” Ulmer said.

“Renewing her contract should not be the issue,” Ulmer said. “The progress she has made should stand for itself.”

Cheryl Colvin, of Ferriday, also supported Laster.

Laster is easily accessible and has worked to bring numerous grants to the schools, Colvin said.

“If you call her, your call will be returned, and it’s not hard to get in contact with her,” she said.

Any issues the board may have with Laster could be worked out, and Laster’s primary concern is with students, Colvin said.

“Let the main thing be the main thing: the children,” she said.

Carolyn Huffman, a gifted and talented teacher at Ferriday High and Vidalia high schools, said she has seen nothing but improvement in the three years she has spent under Laster.

“There has been more improvement in three years than I saw in 19 years in another parish,” she said.

Laster has motivated teachers to improve their professional status, Huffman said.

“I see more teachers going to get certification,” she said. “(Laster) has been a tremendous influence.”

Board President Gary Parnham gave a lengthy response to the teachers, reporting several concerns he had with Laster. He said Laster had initially wanted to review her contract in June because she had other offers and if her contract was not renewed wanted to be able to make a decision.

The contract was not placed on the next board meeting’s agenda then because Laster reportedly was worried doing so would place her outside the bounds of the contract, Parnham said.

In the end, what really matters are student test scores, Parnham said.

“The bottom line is we have two schools in decline,” he said.

Board member Fred Butcher made a motion not to renew Laster’s contract, and Butcher and board members Mary Campbell, Daryle Price, Martha Rabb, Raymond Riley and Parnham voted for the motion.

Board members Deanie Roberts, Darlene Baker and Ricky Raven voted against the motion.

At the end of the meeting, Raven said he wanted to thank Laster for her four years of service and said he enjoyed working with her.

“She really cared,” he said. “She tried.”

After the meeing, Raven said he believes Thursday’s vote was decided a long time ago.

“I think some of the board people and some principals haven’t always played fair with her,” he said.

Raven also said he believes the controversy over the parish bussing situation had a great deal to do with the decision.

In 2006, the school district contracted Durham Bus Services to manage parish school buses.

Some board members have since alleged the contract with Durham was not what they wanted when they agreed to it.