Orleans school board nullifies deputy superintendent’s contract

For the second time, a last-minute addition to the Orleans Parish School Board’s agenda sought to nullify the contract of Kathleen Padian, deputy superintendent of charter schools.

While the motion died at February’s meeting, board President Ira Thomas, the driving force behind the nullification, succeeded Tuesday in having her contract nullified.

“It doesn’t affect Ms. Padian’s employment,” Thomas said. Padian will retain her position as an at-will employee reporting directly to the board but will not have a contract.

The measure passed with a 4-2 vote, divided along racial lines with board member Woody Koppel absent.

As board member Seth Bloom put forward a motion to amend the item by keeping the contract while modifying the problematic technicalities, Thomas initially said he would not recognize Bloom’s motion before acquiescing.

Board member Sarah Usdin seconded the motion, which failed to pass.

Board member Cynthia Cade, who was absent from last month’s meeting and last month’s special session, was vocal at Tuesday’s meeting regarding the contract.

If the board did not authorize the contract on May 15, 2012, then no contract exists, Cade argued repeatedly.

“The point remains: The board never directed general counsel to draw a contract,” Cade said. While the board did vote on Padian’s salaries and duties, the contention surrounded then-board President Thomas Robichaux’s signing of the contract.

Cade called Robichaux’s actions an abuse of power. “The contract did not come before the board; therefore it does not exist,” Cade said.

At February’s meeting, Padian said in an interview that she had no idea what motivated the sudden attempt to nullify her contract.

Prior to the February meeting, Robichaux said in a phone interview that, “There is nothing about either contract that I believe is improper in any way either in the way they were approved, negotiated or signed.”

Usdin questioned why the issue was not discussed in committee meetings and what the process was for having the same item put back on the agenda when it had died in the previous month’s meeting.

While at February’s meeting, board counsel Edward Morris said that Padian’s contract had gone through the standard human resources process and legal review, at Tuesday’s meeting Morris said that, “By my estimation, it is not a valid contract.”

After the vote, Bloom stated that “I believe this is the wrong decision by the board.” He said that it sends a bad message to charter schools and the reform movement. “I prefer the technical issues be repaired,” Bloom said.

Usdin requested outside legal counsel, given that the current legal counsel did not identify a problem in May.

Caroline Roemer Shirley, executive director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools, expressed concern at the board’s “inability to follow through on processes in a legal and compliant manner,” as they are urging Recovery School District schools to return to their governance.

Shirley said her association supports the deputy superintendent position and believes that Padian is an “ideal candidate.”

In an announcement at the end of Tuesday’s meeting, Thomas addressed a recent article in The Lens questioning the legality of his dual employment, as he also works as the chief of police at Southern University at New Orleans.

The law in question, section D of Louisiana Revised Statute 42:63, reads: “No person holding an elective office in a political subdivision of this state shall at the same time hold another elective office or full-time appointive office in the government of this state or in the government of a political subdivision thereof. No such person shall hold at the same time employment in the government of this state, or in the same political subdivision in which he holds an elective office.”

The law exempts public employees who work in a “professional educational capacity,” such as teachers or academic directors, but The Lens reported that based on public records requests, Thomas’ job at SUNO does not include any duties related to academics.

Thomas said that he would request at next month’s meeting that the board approve a request to the Louisiana attorney general for an opinion on the dual employment issue.

Aside from the bulk of the meeting being focused on the legality of Padian’s contract for the second month in a row, the board approved the 2013-2014 district calendar, a resolution to study the effectiveness of the OneAPP (due in July) and a proposed certified school personnel salary scale for the 2013-2014 school year to comply with new state law, though that law was ruled unconstitutional earlier this month and is still being battled over in the court.

An $828,000 contract was awarded to Arc Mechanical for the heating and cooling system at the Timbers III Office Building.

Cade asked about Disadvantaged Business Enterprise participation, which she was told would be at 35 percent.

The board also adopted a resolution authorizing participation in the state’s early childhood network pilot program.

During the executive session, the board discussed ongoing litigation, including a status report on the board’s lawsuit against the state regarding the automatic return of eligible charter schools to the School Board.