Amid charges of ‘slander,’ Lycee community debates access to job applications

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The board of Lycée Français de la Nouvelle-Orléans gathered April 21 for their second meeting in less than a month after agendas for the previously scheduled meeting were sent out too late to allow for legally binding votes.

With votes now scheduled, the public was entitled to comment, and parents took the opportunity to voice their opinions on a number of issues. Prominent among them was whether the public should have access to job applications received for two administrative openings recently advertised: coordinator of admissions and director of development.* The consensus view seemed to be that the board was right to ask the state attorney general’s office for guidance and to keep the applications private if given the choice.

State law requires the board to make job applications public if they are for positions of authority or policy-making, raising the question of whether the development and admissions positions are making or implementing policy. The attorney general advised the board that they needed to pass a motion before seeking his advice in writing, which they did.

Parent Shawn McKee said that the letter the school sent to the attorney general called the positions “coordinators,” but that they are listed as “directors.” (The school’s staff list, however, calls one a director and the other a coordinator.) He defended the two contractors who held the jobs previously, saying they had “worked diligently, worked with great spirit” and in support of the school’s best interests.

Parent Josh Rehyer echoed McKee, contending that the ousted contractors had been slandered by anonymous commenters in online publications such as The Lens and Uptown Messenger.

“I think it influenced the decision [not to hire the contractors],” Reyher said. “They were slandered.”

“Last year, there was a group of parents who tried to destroy the school,” McKee said.

Board member Erin Greenwald said everyone understood that the two contractors had been slandered, then withdrew the word “slander” at the request of member Michael Williams, who reminded those present that the term has a specific legal meaning.

Asked later about examples of slander or libel printed in the named publications, Greenwald said she and others were referring to anonymous comments on the news sites, not to the content of news articles.

The board discussed a potential policy change that would bring major hiring decisions before the board for review. Chair Tim Gray explained that Keith Bartlett, the school’s chief executive officer, had requested the oversight himself.

“We are in our infancy. It’s not about who’s sitting here tonight, but who’s sitting in the CEO’s chair down the line,” Bartlett told the board.

Other members disagreed that the additional oversight was a good idea, saying they trust the school’s leader to make hiring decisions. Member Mary Jacobs Jones stressed that, in a competitive hiring market, requiring the lead administrator to confer with the board before making a hiring decision could waste valuable time. Several members agreed that Bartlett should include hiring decisions in his monthly report, rather than seek prior approval from the board.

Gray withdrew the motion, saying he thought it was a healthy sign for the board to disagree and vote down a motion rather than embrace every proposal.

The organization passed the new five-year personnel plan discussed at the previous April meeting.

Several parents chimed in to request that the school engage a full-time nurse, a position that could be paid for by combining the info-tech and librarian positions.

Board members Lisa Tropez Arceneaux, Ann Meese, Alysson Mills, and Ben Castoriano were also present. Courtney Garrett was absent.

*Correction: This story originally said that one of the positions was director of admissions, but it’s coordinator of admissions. (May 1, 2014)

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