Search Process Draws Criticism
The search for a new superintendent of the Jefferson Parish Public School System has generated a storm of controversy, revolving around the openness of the search process and the relatively few number of applications received.
Only eight candidates applied for the Jefferson Parish position; that number was whittled down to five because three of them did not meet the minimum criteria established by the state. Within this final group of five candidates, only one is from outside Jefferson Parish. (Comparatively, in Orleans Parish, the final field of 40 candidates includes mostly individuals from outside Louisiana.)
Criticism has been mounting from members of the Jefferson Parish community, who want to reopen the search process. Also, members of the actual superintendent search committee appointed by Jefferson Parish School Board members Barry Bordelon, Libby Moran and Judy Colgan have publicly expressed their dissatisfaction with the search process. Despite the critics, the Jefferson Parish School Board voted 7-2 at their meeting last week not to reopen the search.
Current Superintendent Elton Lagasse will be retiring on June 30, and the board wants to make a final decision by March 1 so that the new superintendent will have the proper transition period. The decision to close down the search process was blasted by Jefferson Parish School Board member Julie Quinn. "Our board members decided that they knew better than the screening committee and the parents' advisory committee who recommended that the search continue," she says.
At the same time, Quinn praised the Orleans Parish search process. "New Orleans did more advertising," she said. "They advertised from Louisiana to Canada, whereas we only advertised in Louisiana. Look what you can do when you are proactive." Orleans Parish had a search budget of $15,000. Jefferson Parish spent $13,761, mostly on advertising in newspapers throughout Louisiana and on letters that were sent to each school district in the state.
Some Jefferson Parish School Board members have cited the low superintendent salary of $116,000 as a reason the search did not produce more applicants. (The school district in Birmingham, Ala., only pays its superintendent $108,000.) Quinn believes the real reason the search did not yield more candidates is that "the majority of the board did not want to search because they had two favored candidates."
Screening committee chairman and Jefferson Parish School Board member Gene Katsanis will hold a meeting this week. One thing the committee will consider is a plan to rank the remaining five candidates in order of preference.
Copeland Explores Litigation
Al Copeland is exploring litigation in response to recent Jefferson Parish Council actions on a zoning issue, but still hopes to find an amicable solution, according to attorney Robert Kutcher.
In an effort to provide additional parking for Al Copeland's Cheesecake Bistro on Veterans Memorial Boulevard, the restaurant recently purchased two lots on Yale Street that currently contain four-unit apartment buildings. Copeland had hoped to have the property rezoned from RR-3 multifamily residential to C-1 commercial, which allows stand-alone parking lots. Neighborhood opposition to the project was strong from several groups in East Jefferson, including the Pontchartrain Gardens neighborhood association, and at the last Jefferson Parish Council meeting, a proposal was passed to study whether the property can be rezoned to GO-2 light commercial, but not the C-1 designation that the restaurant needed to build the parking lots.
According to Kutcher, the restaurant only purchased the lots after receiving encouragement from Councilman Nick Giambelluca. "We met with Mr. Giambelluca, and he was in favor of it and told us to go ahead with it." Now, according to Kutcher, the restaurant owns properties that it does not have a use for.
Giambelluca says he did meet with Emerson Simmons, vice president of corporate affairs for Copeland Enterprises, about the zoning question. "I asked him to talk to the neighbors and get their opinion on it," Giambelluca says. "He said they had already talked to the neighbors and felt the neighbors would support expansion. Then, I told him I felt it was a good chance that it would get done." Giambelluca says he was surprised by the opposition to the restaurant's plans to rezone the block to a commercial designation, but adds that he never made any assurances to Simmons because of experience with the political process. "I've been doing this for a long time," he says.