Superintendent’s future with district set for discussion Thursday

The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board plans to determine Superintendent Bernard Taylor’s future with the district during its Thursday meeting.

Taylor, who started in 2012, has almost completed two years of a three-year contract, which expires in June 2015.

The board is considering whether to: extend the contract for a year or more; let Taylor’s contract expire as scheduled at the end of three years; or press for an early exit for the educator.

The trigger for the discussion is a provision in Taylor’s contract requiring that the board inform him before the end of his second year, which is June 30, whether it will “extend or not extend” his contract. The idea is to give the superintendent a full year to land a new job if the board doesn’t want him to stay.

Only two board members, Craig Freeman and Evelyn Ware-Jackson, have expressed interest in extending Taylor’s contract. That’s a sign of how far Taylor’s star has fallen in the 24 months he’s run the second-largest public school district in Louisiana, which has almost 42,000 students.

The remaining nine board members are debating whether to let him finish out the remaining year or to find a way to get him to leave sooner. The surest way to get him to leave early would be to buy him out.

If Taylor is unwilling, state law says two-thirds, or nine members, must vote in favor of an early buyout. If Taylor is willing to talk, a simple majority of seven members can vote to start buyout talks.

“Personally, while I like taxpayers’ money to be spent on educating kids, that’s not to say I wouldn’t join in if that’s the pleasure of the board,” board member Jerry Arbour said.

Arbour also floated the idea that a third party could pay for a buyout.

“I see no legal impediment to that,” he said.

Board Vice President Tarvald Smith said he’s leaning toward letting Taylor finish his contract, saying while he’s not perfect, Taylor has performed well on some of the bigger issues on his plate. Smith is leery of a third party paying for a buyout.

“What’s the price for that money?” Smith asked.

Freeman is staunchly opposed to a buyout.

“In a year when we’re not giving raises and cutting core personnel, I can’t imagine doing a buyout,” Freeman said. “It’s the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard.”

Taylor makes an annual base salary of almost $232,000. It increases to almost $239,000 in the third year of the contract. At his previous job as superintendent in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Taylor agreed in 2011 to a $330,000 buyout in exchange for the several years remaining on his contract.

The agenda for Thursday’s regular board meeting has not yet been finalized, but board members say internal drafts call for discussion of the superintendent’s contract, possibly in a closed executive session.

Taylor, however, sees no need to have the discussion. He has informed the board that he is willing to waive that one-year notification provision, meaning he would remain on track to leave in June 2015.

“I’m not asking the board to do anything,” Taylor said Friday. “Right now, there’s too much uncertainty, and I don’t want to be a contributing factor in any of that discussion.”

A new School Board, however, will take office in January as a result of Nov. 4 elections.

In a recent letter to the board, Taylor said “contract renewal should be left to the board of education that will be elected in November.” Two board members read the excerpt of the letter to a reporter.

Board member Barbara Freiberg said there’s internal debate about whether to prevent that from happening.

“Some board members are saying that they want to determine the length of his contract, not to have another board to do so,” Freiberg said.

Freiberg, however, won’t say where she stands on the matter.

“I have some thoughts, but at this point, I’d just rather not express them,” Freiberg said.

Some board members doubt that a new board would keep Taylor.

“If I were Dr. Taylor, I would be looking for a new employer. I wouldn’t rely on a new board doing a 180-degree change,” Arbour said.

“That’s between him and the new board, a board most of us expect to be on,” said board member Connie Bernard, who is planning to run for re-election.

Taylor defended his record as superintendent. His first year saw continued growth in test scores, including when a dozen F-rated schools improved to Ds, which allowed them to be removed as targets for state takeover. This year, elementary and middle school test results have been less stellar as the state shifts to new tests. High school results aren’t released until July.

“I think we have done good work,” Taylor said.

Still, he expressed little desire Friday to stay past the end of his contract. Each year, he’s been in Baton Rouge, he’s had to wage legislative battles to fight proposed breakaway districts. In the legislative session that ended this month, he had to fight an unsuccessful push to strip the superintendent and board of most of their power and instead give it to school principals.

“I don’t want to spend four months of every year on whatever the legislative fight is going to be,” Taylor said.

Thursday’s meeting also will include an evaluation of Taylor’s second year on the job. Board members have until Monday at noon to turn in their evaluations.

His first evaluation last summer didn’t go so well, with the board rating Taylor just satisfactory on his evaluation, a 2.3 out of a possible 4. No parish superintendent in recent memory has received lower than a 3 overall on an annual evaluation.

Freiberg said while she understands that Baton Rouge is a tough town when it comes to public education, Taylor has fallen well short, in her estimation, when it comes to communicating with the general public and maintaining and improving relations with key stakeholders.

“I really thought we had the right person, so this is a disappointment for me,” Freiberg said.