Board needs plan to replace Laster

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, October 31, 2007

For months it has seemed like the Concordia Parish School board had a plan.

It was an underhanded plan — it appeared — but, nonetheless, they had direction.

In July the majority of the board started moving toward their apparent goal of firing Superintendent Kerry Laster. Their first noticeable step was to impose a hiring freeze. The freeze was clearly designed to keep Laster from filling any open positions, since, after all, she was on her way out and they knew it.

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In fact, board member Raymond Riley admitted just that at the board’s specially called meeting last Tuesday. When fellow board member Darlene Baker asked Riley whether he knew something in July about Laster’s contract that Baker was not privy to, he replied, “Probably did.”

By September, Riley’s apparent inside knowledge as to the votes of other board members was common knowledge to all. No one was surprised at the board’s 6-3 vote against Laster. No one was surprised, but many were upset.

It was a victory for the movers and the shakers on the board, a loss for the students of Concordia Parish.

But now, the plan seems less clear.

Laster’s last day is Dec. 31, but the board has yet to take the first step toward replacing her.

At Tuesday’s meeting Baker made a motion to advertise the position. It died for the lack of a second.

What is the plan? In two months, the district will be without its top leader, yet the board can’t even agree to let people know there is an opening?

In the meantime, two top administrative positions are also open. Director of Federal Programs Julius Huhn’s contract expired Oct. 19. Supervisor of child welfare and attendance Howard Jackson’s contract expired just days before his untimely death.

Neither position has been filled, and it doesn’t appear that they will be under Laster’s watch.

She is not allowed — according to the hiring freeze — to hire anyone other than the people currently in position. And though board members have made clear their intentions that Laster should recommend the rehire of Huhn, there’s a question as to whether that would be legal since Huhn has already retired and been rehired once and the board policy prohibits a second rehire.

Huhn’s position was the center of great debate last Tuesday. The board attorney told the board that he believes Laster is trying to follow the board’s own retire/rehire policy.

Yet, Riley said he thinks there is an easy solution.

“All you have to do is recommend that Mr. Huhn stay,” Riley said.

“The superintendent could end a lot of this by recommending we hire Mr. Huhn.”

Sure, Rev. Riley, that’s what you want her to do. You just told the superintendent to hire the person you want in the job. And that’s not only a violation of board policy, it’s a violation of the law.

The hiring freeze so narrowly limits the scope of the superintendent’s power that the board is essentially doing the district’s hiring, or lack thereof.

What is the plan?

What direction is the board moving in?

If they won’t advertise the position, board members must have someone in mind for the job. Huhn? Someone else?

Perhaps their actions will make sense in the end. Maybe their choice will be right for the children of Concordia Parish.

But the school board certainly isn’t going about things in a way that seems ethical, legal or even just plain right.

Come Jan. 1 there must be a plan, a leader.

And the only politics in our classrooms should be written in the social studies books.

Julie Finley is the managing editor of The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at 601-445-3551 or