Orleans school board must agree on direction before hiring a superintendent

The Orleans Parish School Board has been at loggerheads for two years, unable to select a new superintendent. For ideas on how to break the impasse, The Lens invited educators and advocates — including all members of the school board — to weigh in. We are publishing their thoughts in the next week.

The basic question: What does the board need to do to break the logjam and convince a top-notch educator to take charge as superintendent?

Gail Glapion

Gail Glapion

My good friend the late Oretha Castle Haley frequently said: “What appears to be isn’t what really is.” This certainly rings true in the case of the Orleans Parish School Board’s search for a superintendent. The problem is not simply the board’s failure to get the supermajority of five votes required to hire or fire a superintendent. The larger problem is a divided/deadlocked board on the issue of whether the schools should return to local control or remain a system of charters.

Charter proponents Nolan Marshall, Woody Koppel, Sarah Usdin, and Seth Bloom make up the majority voting bloc and apparently are in no rush to hire anyone who might slow down the charter movement. On the other hand, board members Cynthia Cade, Ira Thomas and Leslie Ellison are on record in favor of returning the schools to OPSB management. They too appear to be in no hurry to appoint a superintendent inclined to maintain or increase the 46 charter boards now governing New Orleans public schools.

Undergirding the charter debate is the issue of “choice.” Top education officials, politicians and the elites who influence them have cleverly convinced the public that — despite the fact that the majority of New Orleans schools still perform below the state average — the conglomeration of charter schools is better than the one system of the past. Opponents argue that the so-called “choice” reform has forced education officials to prioritize closing schools over improving them, to spend millions of dollars on busing children to schools outside their neighborhoods that in some cases are performing no better than the ones they previously attended.

Elaine Simon, co-director of the Urban Studies Program at the University of Pennsylvania agrees. Simon asserts, “Charter schools deflect responsibility and accountability by fragmenting the system, shattering it into too many pieces for the public to keep track of. They are not the city’s responsibility. Their performance is not as transparent and they do not have to take all students.”

The schism between the two OPSB factions will only increase if they are unwilling or unable to come to grips with the consequences of failed policies. As the only elected representatives of the New Orleans education community, the school board has the moral obligation to provide the best leader it can to head the school district.

I am convinced, as a result of two decades of service on the OPSB, that before a major decision is made, three prerequisite steps are required:

  1. Identification of the key issues impacting the decision
  2. Clarification of each board members’ position on those issues
  3. Articulation of consensus positions on each of the identified issues

A third party facilitator is recommended for the success of this process.

Education associations, organizations and universities are among the many national, state and local resources available to work with OPSB in reaching consensus on key issues related to the selection of its superintendent. It is a common practice for large organizations such as school systems to seek assistance in getting everyone on the same page through respectful, open, honest dialogue, usually facilitated by a third party.

This process would provide an environment for serious analysis of the challenges, opportunities and impediments of key public policies impacting the Orleans Parish School Board. And at the same time it would build trust among OPSB members, the public and hopefully lead to a decision.

The goal should be a document developed by OPSB in the next 60 days to clarify its positions, reached by consensus, on key public policy issues impacting the Orleans Parish school system: state vs. local control, school choice, the role of charter schools, for-profit schools, and neighborhood schools, to name a few.

Once the document is completed it would then be presented at a regular school board meeting, openly discussed and voted on for its use in the superintendent selection process. By achieving consensus ahead of time, the board would avoid putting superintendent candidates in the awkward position of choosing sides.

The hiring of a superintendent/CEO of schools is a primary function of the OPSB. The educational credentials, experiences and backgrounds of current OPSB members adequately qualify them to work through a process such as the one I’ve outlined. The process gets at the core of the overdue selection of the superintendent problem: mistrust among OPSB members, created in part by the board not openly and directly addressing the tough public policy issues affecting it.

Failure to do whatever is necessary to hire a superintendent justifies a voter revolt against the present OPSB members.

Gail Glapion served on the school board 1985 to 2005. She is managing director of the Scholarship Foundation of New Orleans and chairman emeritus of the African-American Leadership Project.

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    > Mr. Piltch stated that you have issues tied to the General Fund Budget. In insurance, payroll, purchasing and other areas they are there. For instance people are being covered: people who are not district employees. There is an organization by the name of Dollars for Scholars under the health insurance.

    > Mrs. Glapion stated that was not true and you may try to assault her personally around an issue that has nothing to do with her as Gail Glapion. The Dollars for Scholars is a 501c3 organization that is handled by an individual board of which she happens to be the founder and president of.

    > Mr. Piltch asked where are they getting their health insurance.

    > Mrs. Glapion stated that it’s being paid by the person who works. If that is not legal and not acceptable, then it needs to be stopped. She warned Mr. Piltch not to try to assault her personally with an issued that is going to undermine and undercut the issue that she is trying to raise. As it relates to all of the stuff Mr. Piltch is talking about in this budget, she does not see the savings that Mr. Piltch said he would have as it relates to the 27 million. Instead there is a budget where we’re using a band-aid the General Fund Budget.

    > Mrs. Simms stated that all of the stuff that is coming up now should have been caught a long time ago.

    > Mrs. Glapion stated that she has worked in the system for twenty years and of those twenty years they have provided three hundred and some odd thousand dollars scholarship money for the children in New Orleans Public Schools. If you are saying that paying the insurance through which the premium is paid is not legal then it will be cut out today.

    > Mr. Piltch stated then since you are going to cut it out today, it’s illegal.

    > Mrs. Glapion stated that they will cut it out today but that is not an issue for Mr. Piltch to say that there are some illegal goings on as it relates to Dollars for Scholars. That is a separate issue.

    > Mr. Piltch stated to Mrs. Glapion that it is an illegal act.

    > Mrs. Glapion stated that it would be cut. If the insurance is not legal then it will be cut out today and she guaranteed Mr. Piltch it would not stop helping the girls and boys in the system to continue the scholarships.

    > Mrs. Ford stated she requested funds from Dollars for Scholars for summer school for the children who could not afford it and it was not granted.

    > Mrs. Glapion stated that Mrs. Ford requested money for summer school and it was granted. The children who requested the money, which comes from a special fund for children who can not afford to pay for summer school, were taken care of.

    > Mrs. Ford stated that she was only given a report what scholarships were given to students on a regular basis as identified by Dollars for Scholars, for the specific summer program, I’m not aware of receiving it.

    > Mrs. Glapion stated that not only did Dollar for Scholars give you what you ask for but also an overview. Those children who requested monies for summer school did receive the money for summer school.

    > Mrs. Ford stated that it wasn’t in the report that came from the district.

    > Mrs. Glapion stated that you can get that information from Mrs. Bivens. Those children were taken care of.

    > Mrs. Anderson stated that in the past, any organization that was connected to the district was required to do an audit. For example with the alumni organization, they had discontinued the partnership with them because they would not provide an audit. That’s a standard procedure. I am sure that Dollars for Scholars could submit an audit. I’m requesting that they do that.

    > Mrs. Glapion stated that Bruno & Tervalon has been doing an audit for Dollars for Scholars since 1989. It is available. They are required as a 501(C3) to do an audit.

    > Mrs. Anderson requested that it be submitted.

    > Mrs. Glapion stated that to her knowledge that has been annually done along with the annual report.

    > Mr. Willard stated he has contributed to Dollars for Scholars and he doesn’t believe he has done anything illegal. He has seen a lot of children benefit from it. If there is something that has to be presented, then let it be presented.

    Dollars For Scholars had free office space in the NOPS building. They had operating expenses of 50%. Glapion got all the Dollars for Scholars board members on the school system’s health and dental plan, illegally.

    The National Dollars for Scholars organization severed all ties with Orleans Parish Dollars for Scholars entity due to misuse of funds.


  • nickelndime

    I am quite familiar with the information that Mr. Cook has shared regarding Ms. Glapion’s prior behavior as a former OPSB member. Is THE LENS aware of Ms. Glapion’s public track record when it comes to education? When individuals discuss or recall the graft and corruption associated with the OPSB before Katrina, Ms. Glapion’s name might well come up. THE LENS is rightfully calling attention to the current state of affairs of public education in New Orleans, but it should consider carefully who gets “space.” So, let’s do it right. OK?

  • nickelndime

    Rule of thumb for the OPSB in the present situation: Do not hire any more superintendents that require five votes to hire or fire. Just because at least five of you come together for one night does not mean that you will ever be able to do that again. Usdin has at least three assured votes, including her own, but Marshall can sway either way on any given day or night (he calls it morality, but that has nothing to do with it – it’s an “M” word alright – “M”oney, “Me,” “Mine”…). Ellison sways too. This is a very shaky situation indeed.

  • nickelndime

    Let me add something to this question: “Is THE LENS aware of Ms. Glapion’s public track record when it comes to education?” ADDITION: Is THE LENS aware of Ms. Glapion’s public track record when it comes to the misappropriation of public money (taxpayer dollars for education) and resources when she was a member of the OPSB?