Iberville School Board erupts over appointment

Members of the Iberville Parish School Board got into a shouting match Monday night when they were asked to retroactively ratify the superintendent’s appointment of a district athletic coordinator.

A majority of the board, ultimately approving the measure, accused other board members of waging a personal vendetta against Paul Distefano, whom Superintendent Ed Cancienne appointed Feb. 3.

“Dr. Ed and I had a huge debate about this. Why did we put this back on the agenda?” board member Brian Willis asked during Monday’s meeting. “I’m just tired of it. I’m tired of hearing people beat up on people after they’ve worked their tails off.”

“It’s a personal vendetta; that’s all it is,” board member Michael Barbee chimed in.

Board member Darlene Ourso claimed Distefano’s appointment possibly violated state law because the School Board never properly “activated” the position for Cancienne to fill.

Ourso also alleged Scott Allen, the person Cancienne appointed to the position in 2012, which pays $83,247 annually, did not receive the same pay and employee benefits Distefano, a former School Board member, currently has.

“Some men will sit around here and try to make this like its a personal attack,” she argued Monday night. “It has nothing to do with Paul. It has to do with policy. The correct thing to do is be transparent. I don’t understand why we had to do it under the table.”

Barbee jumped out of his seat and shouted at Ourso, “You can’t be right because you ain’t right. You have to be right (in your heart) to be right.”

“This was nothing but the good ol’ boy system,” Ourso said.

“This was not the good ol’ boy system!” Cancienne retorted.

The personnel and instructional coordinator for the school district, Brandie Blanchard, said the superintendent asked that the item be placed on Monday night’s agenda as a cautionary measure because several board members were raising questions about Distefano’s appointment.

She also said Act 1 of the 2012 Louisiana Legislature gives superintendents the authority to fill open positions.

A portion of the law prohibits local school board members from interfering in the hiring, firing, demotion or transfer of teachers and other school employees.

Those decisions are supposed to be left to the superintendent.

Blanchard said the superintendent’s appointment of Scott to the position in 2012 was backed by a legal opinion from the board’s attorney.

“To err on the side of caution, we’re asking the board to ratify it because of the questions that have been raised,” Blanchard said of the Distefano appointment.

The board voted 12-2 to ratify the appointment. Board members Ourso and Nancy Broussard cast the two no votes.

“If it was Mrs. Ourso and she resigned from board and she two years later worked out a scenario where she had less responsibilities of people who held the position prior and was paid more, I’d have a problem with that too,” Broussard said.