St. Landry board interviews superintendent candidates

Special to The Advocate

The St. Landry Parish School Board will vote on a superintendent again in May after interviewing and listening to presentations this week from the remaining two candidates seeking the post.

Interim Superintendent Joseph Cassimere and Edward Brown, the district’s supervisor of child welfare and attendance, each faced three rounds of questioning Thursday after giving opening statements.

The board at its regular meeting earlier this month voted to have Cassimere and Brown return for another round of interviews after failing to select either man despite several rounds of voting over several months. Each man got four or five votes in each round. To become superintendent, a candidate needs seven of 12 votes.

The search started with five applicants, including Cassimere and Brown.

Board members Randy Wagley and Donnie Perron said there were not on the board when the first interviews were held in September. They asked to interview Brown and Cassimere before voting again.

Board President Harry Fruge said the board will again vote on a superintendent at the next regular meeting in May.

Cassimere told the board that he has wanted to be superintendent since he began a career in education as a classroom teacher in Evangeline Parish.

In his opening comments, Cassimere said his three major goals would be to improve the district’s test scores, improve the system’s financial condition and create a safe campus environment for students.

Cassimere, who has served as interim for the last 13 months, said his test score improvement plan includes hiring instructional specialists in core curriculum areas such as math, science and language arts.

Creating safer campuses would require the district to seek grant money in order to train personnel in the handling of crisis situations, said Cassimere.

Cassimere also said Finance Director Tressa Miller is projecting a $4.5 million fund balance at the end of the fiscal year ending June 30.

Brown said in his opening remarks that district’s most serious problem is changing the overall public perception of the district. If chosen, he said he would become “more visible” in the communities.

St. Landry has lost 1,443 students over the last several years to home schooling, private and parochial schools and virtual learning.

Brown said one way of solving the district’s plummeting scores on state tests is to develop a vigorous program of early childhood intervention for pre-kindergarten students.

The district needs to restore libraries to all middle schools, since state testing is being done in core curriculum classes, Brown said.

The district has reduced last year’s projected $3.9 million general fund deficit, Brown said, but it was done through applying for multi-million dollar loans and employee layoffs.

During questioning by the board, Brown said he would propose more vocational education options for students to curb St. Landry’s expulsion rate.

Cassimere said he would facilitate vocational education starting next school year by having better transportation opportunities to the district’s various vocational campuses.

Cassimere replaced Donnie Terron as superintendent. Terron replaced Michael Nassif, who stepped down as superintendent in November 2011. Nassif replaced the late Lanny Moreau.

Board members Quincy Richard and John Miller are accused of asking Cassimere for $5,000 each last year in return for their votes to give him the job.

Cassimere had been cooperating with federal agents and met the two board members in September for an exchange of cash that was videotaped and audiotaped by FBI agents, according to the court filings from prosecutors.

A federal grand jury in October indicted the two board members on bribery counts.

Neither Richard nor Miller stepped down from the board after the federal indictment.

Both men have pleaded not guilty, and a trial in the case is scheduled for Aug. 19.