Radio show erupts into argument between Orleans Parish School Board members

Tensions between Orleans Parish School Board members Nolan Marshall Jr. and Ira Thomas erupted into an all-out argument on a talk radio show Monday morning.

Ira Thomas again called for Marshall’s resignation, and Marshall again accused Thomas of trying to funnel school board contracts to his allies.

The mudslinging comes as the board’s search for a new superintendent has stalled. Tuesday night, the board failed to reach consensus on two finalists. There hasn’t been a permanent superintendent in two years.

Thomas and community activist Pat Bryant, a frequent ally, were guests on WBOK-AM’s “The Good Morning Show,” hosted by former City Councilman Oliver Thomas and Charmel Gaulden. They criticized Marshall’s leadership as board president and called for him to resign the post.

About 20 minutes into the program, Marshall called in. He immediately criticized the station for not conducting a joint interview.

“I thought you were going to invite us all on together so that they wouldn’t be able to lie without me being there to refute it,” he said.

Marshall appeared alone on the show Thursday, which is when he accused Thomas of trying to push business to favored companies. Host Oliver Thomas said that Ira Thomas and Bryant wanted to respond without Marshall.

The conversation quickly turned combative as the two board members and Bryant talked over one another and shouted. Marshall, who is usually soft-spoken, was particularly combative, repeatedly calling Thomas a liar.

Last week, Thomas criticized Marshall because a company owned by Marshall’s half-siblings had sought a school construction subcontract worth up to $7.5 million.

State ethics law prohibits an agency overseen by a public official from entering into a contract with an immediate relative of the official. The Ethics Board considers half-siblings to be immediate relatives.

Marshall has said that he had no idea that the company co-owned by his half-siblings, Nolmar Construction, was up for the work. Nolmar is a subcontractor in Woodward Design+Build’s $51 million bid to build a new Edna Karr High School. School district staff have since rescinded their decision to give the contract to Woodward Design+Build.

After learning of the family ties, Marshall said he asked U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite’s office to investigate.

That hasn’t satisfied Thomas. “This happened on Nolan’s watch. He’s responsible for this,” Thomas said.

Bryant also said that Marshall isn’t working to advance the school board’s goal of having 35 percent of business go to women- and minority-owned businesses.

Bryant made the same charge against Marshall last year, when Marshall approved a contract extension for Jacobs/CSRS, the general contractor overseeing the city’s school facilities master plan.

Marshall said the dispute between him and  Thomas stems from his refusal, when Thomas was president of the board, to do “whatever he wanted me to do.” When Marshall didn’t go along with Thomas’ wishes, Thomas and Bryant started their public campaign against him.

The two, Marshall said, are using the Nolmar subcontract “as red meat” to get him removed.

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About Jessica Williams

Jessica Williams stays on top of the city's loosely organized collection of public schools, with a special emphasis on charter schools. In 2011 she was recognized by the Press Club of New Orleans for her reporting on charter school transparency and governance. In 2012, she was part of a team that received a National Edward R. Murrow Award for their work following a New Orleans family's recovery after Hurricane Katrina. She graduated from Edna Karr Secondary School in Algiers, and she obtained her bachelor’s degree in journalism from Loyola University New Orleans. She can be reached at (504) 575-8191.

  • Ira Thomas, Pat Bryant, and Oliver Thomas…Is that a radio show or the opening of an indictment? (ba-dum-ching!).

  • nickelndime

    The more Nolan Marshall, Jr. says now, the deeper the hole gets. He aligned himself early on with Usdin, Koppel, and Bloom and that was a mistake. They are not the the reciprocating type. Getting back to Usdin. Usdin has a hidden agenda that is not in the best interests of “the locals,” including but not limited to, the local board and families who (must) rely on public education. Usdin is the worst-case scenario for at-risk students who cannot get into selective-admission OPSB charters. She and her cohorts (Marshall, Bloom, Koppel) insisted on keeping Stan Smith and Kathleen Padian. Neither are helping to get eligible schools to return to local control. Usdin has only hurt the board and instead has focused on the betterment of the State, including other charter networks, to whom her nonprofit has steered federal grants. Outside money and outside interests guide Usdin’s agenda and her nonprofit, New Schools for New Orleans, and she should have recused herself from voting on a number of issues. Both Marshall and Usdin have conflicted interests, but Marshall is answering for those interests now. He should have tried to work with Ira Thomas, and it was a mistake on Nolan Marshall’s part to underestimate how hard Ira Thomas would work or how effective he would become as a local ally. Too late now.

  • nickelndime

    People are making “A BOATLOAD OF MONEY…” CHARTER SCHOOL FUNDING! Are we in Michigan or Louisiana? Michigan has EAA; Louisiana has RSD. Cerealously, no wonder the “lady” superintendent candidate from New York (she “knows” John White, as in “knows John White”) skipped out on the OPSB the same afternoon the board was going to present her publicly. The New York Lady became the “interim” in Michigan the same day. Why come South to steal money? It’s dangerous. Besides, who wants to report to OPSB Central Office every day? What a drag that is. Ha!

  • will_k2

    Gosh, I wonder why the RSD schools are in no hurry to return to the OPSB?

  • nickelndime

    Not only is there trouble in the OPSB, but there is about to be a meltdown at the State level and this whole RSD thing and the charter movement and all of the federal grant money that has been flowing through the hands of greedy nonprofit (?) profiteers d/b/a CMOs and charter networks. Those individuals known as the “architects” of the accountability system in Louisiana are going to have a lot of ‘splainin’ to do to the outside interests and outside money just what the hell happened.

  • Lee Barrios
  • nickelndime

    Thank you, Lee Barrios. You have made my day. What am I saying!? This is, how shall I say it, “good in da hood” for the next 10 years. See you on da flip side.

  • Corruption, poor governance and shady business deals ain’t nice, either: