Tuesday night, the Orleans Parish School Board voted to revise its contract with interim superintendent Stan Smith, but failed to approve a motion to cancel its contract with deputy superintendent Kathleen Padian, the system’s top charter school administrator.
I live-blogged the meeting below.
The terms of Padian and Smith’s employment “were not authorized by the board,” according to an agenda released late Monday.
The original motions were to nullify both contracts, and only renegotiate Smith’s. Instead of nullifying Smith’s contract, though, the board voted to revise and approve it at a later date.
And after a 90-minute executive session, the board didn’t approve a motion to nullify Padian’s contract, which would have taken place immediately.
The agenda noted that they planned to discuss Padian’s contract nullification in executive session, citing “potential litigation.” However, state law doesn’t allow closed meetings in instances where a lawsuit is merely possible. Such private board meetings for litigation require a written warning or an actual lawsuit.
At the meeting, Morris said that the board needed to go into executive session to protect its position in the event of litigation. He didn’t address The Lens’ objection, saying that he had to go and the run the session.
Later, he told The Lens that discussing the issue openly “when I have an employee telling me she’s going to get a lawyer” would be detrimental to the board’s position. Asked about the law’s stipulation that executive sessions cover only pending or actual litigation, he said that was a matter of interpretation.
Padian told The Lens earlier Tuesday that she had no plans to sue and hadn’t hired an attorney.
Caroline Roemer Shirley, who heads the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools, took issue with the board’s decision to go into private session. Although she submitted a comment card to speak about it, Morris said she couldn’t comment because she submitted the request 30 minutes after the start of the meeting.
“Even though you are going into executive session illegally in terms of public meeting law, you don’t think that should be a conversation?” she asked board members.
Board president Ira Thomas refused to hear her comments, and Morris disagreed with her interpretation, saying he “takes exception to the idea” that board members were convening illegally.
After the board came out of executive session, Nolan Marshall Jr. made a motion that the board work with Padian to reach another arrangement after nullifying her contract. The board voted it down.
Morris then called on the board to make a motion on the initial proposal to end Padian’s contract, but no one did.
He later said that the board’s intention was simply to make Padian an at-will employee, not to terminate her.
As for Smith, Morris said that his contract was not authorized by the board. Smith served as chief financial officer before becoming interim superintendent, and his contract states that he can return to that position, at a higher salary than before, when a new superintendent is hired, Morris said. Those terms were not approved by the full board, he said.
Thomas said the nullification and revision of Smith’s contract was simply to “correct an error.”
The previous board approved Smith’s hiring and Padian’s appointment with majority votes, as noted in the minutes from that meeting.* The contracts, and the terms within them, were signed by former board president Thomas Robichaux, but not approved by the full board, Morris said.
Board member Sarah Usdin pointed out that the board’s legal and human resources departments had signed off on Smith’s contract. Seth Bloom offered a substitute motion calling on Thomas, board vice president Leslie Ellison and Morris to revise any issues in the superintendent’s contract rather than nullify it, and then bring it back to the full board to consider.
That motion passed with a majority. Thomas abstained.
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. Cade was not present at the meeting.
*Correction: An earlier version of this story said that the school board approved Smith’s contract when he was hired, but according to the board attorney and the meeting minutes, they only approved his hiring and job description.
This story also incorrectly said that Sarah Usdin offered the alternative motion regarding Smith’s contract; it was Seth Bloom.
And the story originally reported that Tuesday’s agenda stated that the board had not authorized Smith and Padian’s appointments; in fact it said the board hadn’t authorized the “terms and conditions” of their contracts. All the errors have been corrected and The Lens apologizes for the inaccuracies.