Orleans Parish School Board members meeting as a committee of the whole unanimously voted in favor of a $300,000 annual salary for Avis Williams, the newly selected NOLA Public Schools Superintendent who will replace outgoing district chief Henderson Lewis Jr. in the coming months.
Board members will have to take another vote to approve the proposal at its full board meeting on Thursday.
According to the proposed agreement, Williams’ four-year contract would begin on July 11. It runs through the same date in 2026. For leadership transition, Williams can also work for up to 20 days as a consultant before her contract begins, paid daily at a rate equivalent to her soon-to-be salary.
The salary offer is an increase from Lewis’ $250,000 per year contract. Williams, like Lewis, also has the opportunity for incentive pay. She can earn up to $20,000 per year for meeting certain goals. The four incentive areas concern performance in district facilities, finance, accountability and truancy.
Williams currently serves as the superintendent of Selma City Schools in Alabama. In Selma, she was earning about $150,000 per year in 2021, according to an annual state report. The district has 10 schools.
In her new contract, she’ll receive $12,000 in relocation expenses and $2,500 per month for temporary housing for up to three months.
Holly Reid, with New Schools for New Orleans, said the organization was excited to welcome the new district leader. She also implored the board to include some details on its current enrollment decline in her contract.
“One thing I saw missing in the performance objectives was a focus on enrollment declines and right-sizing in the next few years,” Reid said.
“To do it well in the timeline you’ve set out, she is going to need a lot of support.” Reid said, calling it a “tall task.”
Board members also heard facility reports and an update as part of the school district’s annual charter application process.
Two of the three charter applicants applying to open new schools withdrew their applications. The sole remaining applicant is Collegiate Academies, which already operates several schools in the state.
As the district experiences declining enrollment and works through its “right-sizing” plan, which has included school closures and could also include consolidations, officials have explicitly stated that no new charter schools should expect to open in the next few years.
The district is also discussing adjusting its standards for approving charter renewals. A working group has been meeting on the issue for the last few months.
“Can you talk more about the impetus for this working group?” board member Katie Baudouin asked.
Interim Chief Schools Accountability Officer Litouri Smith said old school performance data — brought on by a year of canceled state standardized testing due to COVID-19 and second year of data they argue is heavily impacted by disruptions from the pandemic — needs to be accounted for in renewals.
“Making sure we’re taking into consideration the pandemic and impact it’s had on learning,” Smith said.
He said the group is paying closest attention to what has happened in schools since the beginning of the pandemic rather than pre-pandemic testing data from the state.
“We’re not looking at [2018-2019] data … but we’re actually looking at what has taken place over the last couple years to make sure we’re giving schools a fair assessment,” Smith said.
Lewis said potential policy recommendations could come before the board next month.
Chief Operations Officer Tiffany Delcour updated the board on school construction projects and introduced a new project underway. She said a “more thoughtful process” is needed for surplus property and how it affects surrounding communities.
Recently, when Plessy Community School wanted to move from its French Quarter campus to a larger facility, Plessy parents and some community members voiced concerns that the district may sell the historic campus which would be converted into condos or other uses. It’s the only remaining school in the historic district.
Delcour said their work to develop a more clear process for what happens with surplus property will take eight to 10 months. In 2019, the board approved policies around what could be done with surplus property once it was placed on that list — offered to a charter school, sold or exchanged with another governmental agency.
“What that plan didn’t do, was create a really well thought out process for what should happen when a building does become surplus,” Delcour said.
“What does it mean to let go of something for short-term financial gain versus keeping it for long term community benefit projects?” she said.
Delcour said nonprofit development, teacher housing, and other uses could be community benefit projects the district could consider undertaking with surplus property.
Board member Ethan Ashley supported the idea, and said he hoped the district could lead the way to preventing the “eyesores” of some dilapidated city-owned buildings.
“We can not be like the city,” he said. “We have to do a better job.”
“We have not always been great stewards of our property and this is how we get there,” Baudouin said.