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Plessy principal’s departure initiated by school board, president says

Principal Sara Leikin’s resignation from Homer A. Plessy Community School, announced Monday, may have seemed sudden to parents and community members.

Leikin resigned Nov. 5, in the middle of the new school’s academic year. According to charter board president Ben McLeish, she was replaced the same day by Joan Reilly, a former administrator at Edward Hynes Charter School. Leikin’s resignation and Reilly’s appointment were announced in a press release sent out on Monday.

But the resignation wasn’t sudden at all. In fact, it was something the board initiated, McLeish said. They voted on Leikin’s potential replacement, should she agree to step down, during a special meeting held Nov. 2, McLeish added.

However, parents never would have known unless they happened to have attended that special Saturday meeting called by the board. Moreover, the agenda of that meeting gave no indication that the board would vote on deciding a new principal.

In an email, the Citizens’ Committee for Education wrote that it was having a “brief follow-up meeting” to a special meeting held Oct. 19. On both agendas, the only action item was to “Call a vote to enter into executive session for discussion of the character, competence, physical health, and/or mental health of a staff person who has asked that his/her rights to privacy be upheld in an executive session.”

The state’s Open Meetings Law allows closed sessions to discuss such matters, but the person who will be the subject of the discussion must be notified 24 hours in advance and has the right to demand that the discussion be open to the public.

Prior to the Nov. 2 executive session, McLeish said, the board had asked advice from Deputy Superintendent Kathleen Padian of the Orleans Parish School Board about any options for new school leaders, should the school need to find one.

“Obviously it was a very difficult situation,” McLeish said. “We were just over two months into the school and we wanted to be prudent.”

McLeish said the board did not violate the Open Meetings Law, since it voted to amend the agenda for the vote on Leikin’s replacement before actually taking that vote. The law allows additions to the agenda if the public body unanimously votes to add the item. However, the law also states that “the public body shall not use its authority to take up a matter not on the agenda as a subterfuge to defeat the purposes” of the Open Meetings law.

The board also came out of executive session before casting that vote, he added. State law makes it illegal to take a vote while in executive session.

But two days later, when the board had a chance to again inform the public about the change in leadership, leaders chose not to. A regular board of director’s meeting was held the day before Leikin’s resignation, after the board had already decided on her replacement in the special meeting, but there was no mention of any of it, according to McLeish and a report on the meeting by The Lens.

“It wasn’t on the agenda, honestly,” McLeish said. “We had that discussion in executive session as it related to her resignation. But we were clear on the position, and there was nothing else to talk about.”

McLeish said he didn’t want to say anything at the regular meeting out of respect for Leikin. He also declined to talk about why the board initiated the principal’s resignation.

“There’s nothing to hide. We had our discussion with the quorum present,” McLeish added. “The issue is that she didn’t want to be aired in public discussion.”

“For someone to come in and start a school from scratch is a tremendously difficult job,” he said.

In the press release, McLeish said Leikin “was invaluable in building the foundations for our school, hiring an exceptional staff, securing a location, and inspiring our community with a vision for an arts-integrated school.”

Wednesday evening, Leikin said, “Until the separation agreement between me and the school is finalized, I can’t speak about it.”

She went on to praise the school.

“They are wonderful children and families, and it is a wonderful school,” Leikin said.

The resignation  comes after the Plessy board was alerted to the need for nearly $150,000 in fundraising help for the school. Ongoing budget issues include outstanding pre-K tuition invoices that have not yet been collected, as well as school lunch fees that also haven’t been collected. The school’s three-month forecast shows a $95,644 budget deficit.

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