School Board puts off contract vote for superintendent to discuss details

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The Orleans Parish School Board delayed a vote today on its new superintendent’s contract because board members want to further discuss details in the agreement.

For about 90 minutes, the board discussed the term of the contract and how the proposed base salary of $180,000 compared with other parishes, as well as with charter-school leaders.

Board President Seth Bloom made it clear the board likely would not  vote on Henderson Lewis Jr.’s contract, whom the board unanimously selected earlier this year. Bloom said this was the first time members had been in the same room since the contract was negotiated.

Board members could again consider the matter during committee meetings next week.

The contract circulated by board members Wednesday included a $180,000 salary and $1,000 per month stipend for work-related travel in Lewis’ personal vehicle. Lewis can also earn up to $10,000 in merit pay each year by meeting specified performance objectives.

The contract as written would terminate in March 2019. But state law prevents the board from hiring a superintendent for more than two years beyond the end of the board’s term, attorney Bob Hammonds said. Hammonds helped negotiate the contract for the School Board.

The term of the current board expires in December 2016, meaning at most Lewis’ contract could run until December 2018. The termination date the board appeared to favor, and Lewis confirmed he would prefer, is June 30, 2018.

Comparing Lewis’ proposed salary to other metropolitan areas isn’t as simple as comparing student enrollment though. A majority of the city’s students are in charter schools operated by the state-run school district. Those schools will not fall under Lewis’ purview, unless they opt to return to the local School Board.  The number of schools in the district could dramatically increase if all eligible RSD schools opt to return. Most recently, 36 school were eligible, though only two have taken steps to do so.

“Your enrollment last year was 13,385,” Hammonds said. “If you look at the other 13,000 [student] systems, you have Lafourche [Parish] paying $190,000.”

But Hammonds also cautioned the numbers he was providing did not include merit pay or other benefits.

“We also had to consider what some of your charter school principals were getting as well,” he said.

The School Board currently oversees 14 charter schools and six direct-run schools.

Some charter school leaders in the city make more than Lewis will earn.

Board members also agreed they wanted to give Lewis autonomy in hiring and firing decisions. This is something general counsel Ed Morris and Hammonds suggested they do through board policy.

Members Sarah Usdin, Woody Koppel, Nolan Marshall, Leslie Ellison, Cynthia Cade and Bloom were present at the special meeting. Ira Thomas did not attend.

Bloom and Cade will continue to negotiate with Lewis and his lawyer in the coming week.

Usdin requested board members have at least 72 hours to review the contract before being asked again to vote on it.

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