The divisions created at Lusher Charter School during a spring union drive re-emerged Saturday when the board re-elected all but one member.

All nine board members were present Saturday. Secretary Rachel Wisdom made a motion to re-elect eight — excluding Chunlin Leonhard.

It was a break from the agenda, which called for the “reelection of current board members.” Generally, Lusher elects all of its board members in one vote.

Leonhard asked Wisdom to explain why she was left out.

“Despite our passing a neutrality resolution you went to the press and advocated acceptance of a union here,” Wisdom said.

Wisdom was referring to the board’s resolution to remain neutral on the union drive, passed in April, and a May 10 letter Leonhard wrote to Uptown Messenger.

Leonhard said her letter did not endorse a union.

“To argue that was breach of loyalty to the board and to Lusher, I strongly disagree,” Leonhard said.

This wasn’t the first time they debated the propriety of Leonhard’s letter to Uptown Messenger. Emails among board members this spring, reviewed by The Lens in response to public-records requests, showed deep divisions over the union drive, as well as potential violations of Open Meetings Law as they discussed board business outside public meetings.

In Saturday’s meeting, board member Alysia Loshbaugh stood with Wisdom: “To me that was a violation of the neutrality agreement.”

“I respectfully disagree,” Leonhard said. “Because the neutrality resolution does not mean I give up my right to free speech.”

Leonhard said Wisdom called her prior to Saturday’s meeting and asked her not to seek re-election. Wisdom further outlined her reasons for leaving Leonhard off the slate in front of about 30 members of the public, some parents, others Lusher staff.

“I did not speak to the press other than to tell them it was not a letter that reflected the position of the board,” Wisdom said. “And you indeed violated our neutrality resolution by doing that.”

Loshbaugh bolstered her side with a pop culture reference to the neutrality agreement.

“The first rule about fight club is you don’t talk about fight club,” she said.

After further discussion, Loshbaugh said she’d prefer to move on to public comment as nothing would change her mind.

Board President Blaine LeCesne offered an amendment to add Leonhard to the slate.

“I really had hoped the entire board would be re-elected,” LeCesne said. “She has been a zealous advocate for Lusher throughout her tenure here.”

Wisdom did not accept the amendment.

The board then took public comment.

Parent Jana Lipman said she thought the board as a whole violated the neutrality resolution by arguing to include a jurisdictional challenge against the union when it filed for recognition by the National Labor Relations Board.

“That is not a neutral position,” she said.

Touching on a larger topic, she questioned the method by which all charter boards are chosen.

“I’m concerned about the idea that the board chooses the board and that the board elects the board,” Lipman said.

Union organizer and Lusher teacher Jerome White said he’s seen some of his union-supporting colleagues lose their jobs at Lusher. To have Leonhard ousted brought back similar feelings, he said.

“What the intent is I don’t know, but it’s sending a loud and clear message,” White said.

Another man thought the action was just: “I think as a board this is something that is perfectly appropriate for you to do.”

Leonhard questioned why she was being singled out.

“That neutrality policy was not enforced,” she said, citing the jurisdictional challenge and a letter from the administration to teachers regarding the union.

Wisdom fired back.

“They had permission to do what they did,” she said.

The discussion continued and member Kiki Huston said it illustrated a board division.

“I think this is a perfect example of how damaged the relationship is,” she said. “But I feel like the trust moving forward has been damaged.”

Member Reuben Teague said he thought everyone should have the benefit of the doubt.

“I think those disagreements were good faith disagreements, not bad ones,” he said.

Parent Sue Kohn said Leonhard shouldn’t be singled out for violating the policy.

“To me it was violated by almost everyone on this board,” she said.

Board member Paul Barron said he would make a motion to re-elect Leonhard so the board could move on and vote on the motion at hand.

The motion to re-elect eight members passed 8-1. LeCesne voted against it due to Leonhard’s exclusion.

Barron then moved that Leonhard be re-elected.

Lusher teacher Julie Sanders said she thought Leonhard was wrongly targeted. “I think your problem, Ms.Wisdom, is with a policy not with a person.”

Another teacher chimed in with a sincere speech.

“I just want all the people at this table … whether they’re staff or parents or the press to just have at the forefront of whatever they’re doing or thinking to be in the best interest of this school,” she said. She described the last few months as a trauma, and said it was hard for her to come to work now.

“Stop all the focus on finger-pointing please,” she said. “I can’t stand all the accusations.”

Another audience member offered a final comment, “I hope that we keep our entire family together.”

Board members called for a vote.

LeCesne, Leonhard and Teague voted in favor of re-electing Leonhard.

Loshbaugh, Huston, Ann Salzer, Richard Cortizas, Barron and Wisdom voted against.

The vote to re-elect Leonhard failed 3-6.

The board then elected Wisdom as its new president, Cortizas as vice president and Salzer as secretary. Loshbaugh will continue to serve as treasurer.

This story was updated after publication to link to Leonhard’s letter in Uptown Messsenger and to note prior Lens reporting. (Aug. 21, 2016)

Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned...