Nelson gets OK for top job, plus accusations

Published 12:07 am Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Editor’s note: Nelson was hired as superintendent on July 12. The board voted Monday night to approve his contract.

VIDALIA — Concordia Parish Superintendent of Schools Paul Nelson had a rough first evening on the job, with the vote on his contract splitting 6-3 and one school board member accusing him of operating dishonestly in the days leading up to Monday night’s special meeting.

Nelson has been serving as acting superintendent since former superintendent Loretta Blankenstein retired July 1, and Monday night, the school board took up the issue of the contract that would hire him to permanently fill that role.

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As soon as the discussion of the contract began, board member Raymond Riley objected to the length of time of the contract, which would have lasted until July 2015.

“I am only in favor of a two-year contract,” Riley said. “We can jump out here and we can do a lot of things, but before you give someone a long-term contract, let them prove themselves.”

Board President Gary Parnham said when contract negotiations were ongoing with Nelson, it was to fill Blankenstein’s unexpired contract, which would have run through July 2015. Some board members were mistakenly under the impression that only two-and-a-half years were left on the contract, he said.

“I agree with Rev. Riley in that I think we need that point of proving, (but) we are looking at a difference of six months,” board member Charles Minor said. “I don’t think it would make that drastic a difference.”

Board member Warren Enterkin said he believed Nelson should be offered a longer contract because of the job he left as the parish director of education.

“(In negotiations), we talked about three years because he said, ‘I am putting my life on the line,’ because he has 20 years in the system,” Enterkin said. “His retirement and everything else are tied into this job.”

Nelson said he asked for a longer contract based on the fact that he has been a part of the Concordia Parish system for two decades.

“I have been here for 20 years; if you guys are not sure I am the person for the job, then you need to advertise it,” Nelson said.

Riley said those 20 years were as a vice principal, principal and director of education.

“As the head person who has to run our parish, that is yet to be proven,” he said.

When the board decided on the length of tenure for the contract, members Fred Butcher, Mary Campbell, Angela Hayes and Riley voted to have the contract only last 2.5 years.

Board members Darlene Baker, Enterkin, Minor, Cheryl Probst and Parnham voted for the contract to run through the end of Blankenstein’s unexpired term.

The board also decided to strike a provision that would have provided Nelson with incentive pay for improved school performances throughout the district.

Riley said he did not believe it was fair to school administrators and teachers to provide incentive pay to the superintendent but not to them, while Butcher said he supported such incentives.

When the board voted to extend the $98,000 annual contract, Baker, Butcher, Enterkin, Minor, Probst and Parnham voted to hire Nelson. Campbell, Hayes, and Riley voted against the hire.

Later in the meeting, the discussion of the school district’s new organizational structure and the hiring of people in new positions led Riley to question if Nelson had been above-board with him in all discussions.

New Louisiana laws allow school superintendents to make hires without the school board’s authority, and at the meeting Monday, Nelson told the school board he had hired Rhonda Wilson as the director of secondary education and Cindy Smith as director of elementary education.

The new educational directors’ positions were the result of splitting Nelson’s former job as director of education in two so the school district can focus more specifically on coming mandated changes to curriculum in the pre-kindergarten through fifth grade and grades six-12 areas, Nelson said.

Wilson was formerly the district’s Title 1 director, and Smith was principal of Ferriday Upper Elementary.

Riley said he had heard through the “street committee” who those hires at those positions would be, and had previously asked Nelson point-blank if they were who would be hired.

“It was already put out in the street committee who these persons would be, and you swore to me — you swore to me — that you hadn’t promised anybody anything,” Riley said, addressing Nelson.

The new superintendent said the hires were based on the recommendation of a committee of four principals and a supervisor, and their recommendations were based on the experience and level of participation in the school district of the appointees.

“The only thing I can assure you of is I don’t have to lie,” Nelson said. “I didn’t lie to you on that day, and I am not lying to you today. I never promised those positions to anybody.”

Also during the meeting:

4James Davis was also appointed the principal of Ferriday High School, and Joyce Russ was appointed the principal of Ferriday Upper Elementary.

Russ was formerly assistant principal at FUE, and Davis was FHS’s vice-principal.

4The school board approved the schedule for the district’s annual supplemental checks for employees.

Full-time staff will receive a $1,500 supplement in December, certified staff will receive $1,500 in January and non-certified staff will receive a $1,300 supplement in January.

All employees will receive a $500 supplement in May.