School board bill killed in Louisiana legislature

Published 10:41 pm Tuesday, June 2, 2009

BATON ROUGE (AP) — A bill designed to lessen local school board members’ interference with the day-to-day personnel decisions of local school superintendents was voted down Tuesday by the House, despite strong support from state Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek.

The bill would have required a two-thirds vote of a local school board to fire a superintendent. It also was designed to strengthen state law that says board members cannot ‘‘compel or coerce’’ personnel decisions. Forty-seven House members supported the bill by Rep. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge; 50 voted no.

Backers of the bill said school board interference with local superintendents is one of the problems holding back Louisiana education.

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Board members should attend to broad policy matters and not micromanage the superintendent’s personnel decisions, Carter said. ‘‘We want the superintendents to be responsible for the day-to-day operations,’’ he said.

Going into Tuesday’s debate, supporters of the measure cited numerous stories of interference by school board members in personnel decisions. Supporters often referred to a letter written to Pastorek by Calcasieu Parish board member William Jongbloed (pronounced YOUNG blood). Offenses outlined by Jongbloed included the time a superintendent’s contract renewal failed on an 8-7 vote after he refused to fire a principal who was married to a board member’s political opponent; the time a superintendent with a contract renewal pending gave in to a board member’s demands that a certain football coach be hired, and the time a board member, who felt his granddaughter wasn’t getting enough playing time on a school softball team, tried to have the coach fired.

But the state School Boards association and it’s allies in the House fought the measure, saying it was undemocratic to take power away from board members elected at the local level, and that there is no evidence linking school board interference to poor student performance.

Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, and other opponents of the bill noted that state law already forbids board members from trying to ‘‘compel or coerce’’ personnel decisions and said there’s no indication anyone has filed a complaint about violations.

Carter said he hoped the bill, which would have added to state law language more thoroughly spelling out a superintendent’s personnel responsibilities, would raise awareness of the restrictions on school board members and make it easier for superintendents to resist boards’ micromanagement.

But sentiment against the bill was evident early on. Carter agreed to an amendment restoring board members’ power to fire superintendents with a simple majority vote. But that concession failed to sway enough members.

The bill was supported by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry and the nonpartisan research group Council for a Better Louisiana. Gov. Bobby Jindal’s office also expressed support for the measure.