A FEW MINUTES WITH … David Tatman

POSITION: President of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board.

AGE: 50.

Tatman joined the School Board in January 2011, one of six new members on the 11-member board. Tatman was elected without opposition to represent the south Baton Rouge-based District 1. He has been an active board member, serving as co-chairman of a citizen’s committee that spent much of 2011 rewriting the school system’s strategic plan. In January, the board elevated him to president in a 6-5 vote. Tatman’s day job is president of the Tatman Group, a government relations firm that does traditional lobbying but also manages or consults with industry and other trade associations.

The School Board has split 6-5 on several keys issues, including during key stages of the search that led to the hiring of Superintendent Bernard Taylor. There is a perception of a split between board members supported by business leaders and members with ties to school employees. To what extent is that an accurate view?

I think the votes are more about philosophy than anything else. Vice President (Tarvald) Smith and I are working together to ensure that the leadership is sensitive to the needs of the individual board members’ districts. I think our board looks very closely at issues that come before us and is diligent when voting. A split vote is often a sign of an engaged and well-informed body. Each board member brings a unique skill set and great value to the debate. I respect their positions on issues, even when I may disagree.

Superintendent Taylor and the School Board have begun making sweeping changes to the school system. What parts do you find the most promising and what aspects of these proposals would you like to see improved?

I am most encouraged by the tremendous community involvement in the process. Many parents and community leaders have participated in the public forums and provided valuable input. Community engagement is a critical part of building a strong education system. I would like to continue to solicit community input and to improve and increase community engagement in our district.

District 1, the district you represent, includes areas where there is an ongoing legislative effort to separate from East Baton Rouge Parish and form a new independent school system. Where do you stand on these breakaway efforts and what would you like to see happen?

We have been working with the proponents and opponents of the breakaway effort. The dialogue has been good and I think we are making progress. We are hopeful that we can find solutions that benefit children in our district. People are very passionate when it comes to educating their children. Our goal should be to work with the community to ensure that all voices are heard and that we develop solutions that best serve children.

How have your views of the school system changed during your two years on the School Board?

I recently attended a program in Washington D.C., and what was most apparent was that our problems are not unique in Louisiana. Like so many other systems, we are facing tremendous budgetary issues. We are also grappling with the enormous state and federal regulations. I am convinced that we need to work harder to ensure that all children have access to early childhood education. We must find ways to coordinate services offered through all agencies in a way that ensures that all children have access to early learning.

Advocate staff writer

Charles Lussier