After months of bad relations, the Orleans Parish School Board tonight will consider canceling its contract with deputy superintendent Kathleen Padian, the system’s top charter school administrator, and renegotiating its contract with interim superintendent Stan Smith.
I will live blog the meeting below. The meeting will take place at McDonogh #35 Senior High School, at 5 p.m.
The “terms and conditions” of Padian and Smith’s contracts “were not authorized by the board,” according to an agenda released late Monday.*
Padian’s contract nullification, which would take effect immediately, is listed as “potential litigation” under the executive session portion of the board’s agenda. However, state law doesn’t allow closed meetings in instances where lawsuit is merely possible. Such private board meetings for litigation require a written warning or an actual lawsuit.*
However, Padian told the Lens on Tuesday afternoon that she has not hired an attorney, nor has she indicated to the board that she would sue. Asked if she wanted the board to discuss her employment in an open meeting, she responded, “I guess … I don’t know why it’s on the agenda at all. I don’t want it to be discussed at all.”
Board president Ira Thomas and board member Cynthia Cade, who both voted against the appointments of Padian and Smith at the May board meeting, have made no secret of their desire to be rid of the two administrators. Both have spoken publicly against Padian and Smith, saying they are unqualified for school leadership.
When Smith was being considered for the job, the two board members were outvoted in their attempt to open the nomination pool to other candidates.
Thomas declined to comment Tuesday “on anything that the board has not considered.” Cade did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Since the board’s agenda was released yesterday, Padian said she’s received an influx of calls, texts, and emails from school leaders, funders and parents, praising her actions during her year and half with the School Board. She got emotional when describing her time with the School Board Tuesday, and said she doesn’t understand the board’s recommendation to nullify her contract.
“It’s like a personal attack,” she said. “I really think that this is not the venue, or the way that you work with people.”
Former board vice president Lourdes Moran, part of the majority that picked the two administrators, said tonight’s maneuvering reflects board politics. “I’m not quite understanding why this all of a sudden is an issue,” she said.
Moran, who lost a bid for re-election last fall, said if Smith and Padian’s appointments were out of line with board policy, board counsel Edward Morris should have informed board members. She said Thomas’ attempt to kill the contracts of the two employees he has problems with is indicative of a power shift. “Ira is now in charge, and he’s got the upper hand. They’re moving fast,” she said.
Morris did not immediately respond to calls Tuesday afternoon seeking to understand how the board’s May vote was unauthorized.
At last May’s meeting, Thomas pointed to language in the board’s policy manual that requires the position of deputy superintendent to be filled after an extensive search, and he took issue with a caveat that said the rules didn’t apply to Padian’s appointment but would to her successor.
Thomas also questioned the board’s ability to appoint an interim superintendent, though former board president Thomas Robichaux pointed out a 2011 attorney general’s opinion that gives school boards the right to hire assistant superintendents.
Smith had been the system’s chief financial officer before his appointment as interim superintendent, which followed the retirement of longtime superintendent Darryl Kilbert. Padian served as the district’s executive charter school director before her promotion to deputy superintendent.
School construction financing not on agenda
Meanwhile, school board observers are talking about why a key facilities issue wasn’t on the agenda distributed Monday evening.
The agenda was supposed to include a final authorization for about $2 million in federal tax credits to continue construction on the Phillis Wheatley Elementary School building, and to fund other projects in the school facilities master plan.*
The deal involves a leveraged financing agreement between the School Board, the Recovery School District and developer McCormack Baron Salazar. The board unanimously approved the deal at its November meeting.
The millions in tax credits are a boon for the school board as it struggles to pay for the rebuilding and renovation of the city’s schools damaged from Hurricane Katrina.
In order to complete the transaction, though, the newly-elected board must approve the signing of a few documents. It’s crucial that the board does so at this meeting, said board member Woody Koppel. The deal is supposed to be closed by March 1.
Typically, board staff and the board president create the agenda. The choice to put an item on the agenda is the prerogative of the superintendent and the board president, Koppel said. He said he doesn’t know why either would omit the financing authorization.
RSD and OPSB staffers have been working out the specifics of this deal over the past four months, Koppel said. “I kind of thought of it as a done deal,” he said. “That’s more money for the children of the New Orleans.”
Reached by phone Tuesday, board president Ira Thomas declined to say anything about the tax credit authorization.
The board could add the financing deal to the agenda; it commonly adds, removes and changes items during meetings.
*Correction: An earlier version of this story said the open-meetings law allows executive sessions if there’s potential for a lawsuit. The law is more precise and restrictive.
This story originally reported that Tuesday’s agenda stated that the board had not authorized Smith and Padian’s appointments; in fact the agenda said the board hadn’t authorized the “terms and conditions” of their contracts.
The story also misreported the amount of federal tax credits that are available for the Phillis Wheatley Elementary School construction.
The errors have been corrected and The Lens apologizes for the inaccuracies.
This story has been updated with comments from Ira Thomas and Kathleen Padian, and to include information about the construction financing approval.