EBR School Board votes against Supt. Taylor contract extension

The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board on Thursday voted 10-1 not to extend Superintendent Bernard Taylor’s three-year contract past its expiration in June 2015, but left open the possibility of seeking an extension later, perhaps after Nov. 4 School Board elections.

The board, which has become increasingly at odds with Taylor, stopped short of attempting to buy out the superintendent. Several board members told The Advocate last week that they were open to the idea, but no one mentioned it Thursday night. In any case, Taylor has said he’s not interested in discussing a buyout.

To get rid of Taylor against his will, state law says two-thirds, or eight members, must vote yes.

The mood was tense Thursday and the discussion short and muted. Taylor mostly looked down throughout. This is the same board that in spring 2012 voted unanimously to make the Pittsburgh native the leader of the second-largest public school district in Louisiana, one with almost 42,000 students.

Board member Craig Freeman was the only board member who voted no Thursday. He didn’t see the need for a discussion on Taylor’s contract at all and said he may press the issue again in the near future.

“I think he’s done a good job, and he should be extended,” Freeman said.

He said the internal board member talk of a buyout, which he considers a stupid idea, continued “until 3 o’clock this afternoon.”

Board member Barbara Freiberg was one of the board members who made clear to The Advocate last week that she was looking at ways of ending Taylor’s term early and finding new leadership. After Thursday’s meeting, she said it’s possible to bring the issue up again, but sounded doubtful.

“I’m a little frustrated right now,” she said.

Board member Evelyn Ware-Jackson, Taylor’s other key supporter on the board, voted with her colleagues Thursday only after getting assurances from general counsel Domoine Rutledge that the board could revisit the idea of renewing Taylor’s contract.

The trigger for Thursday’s discussion is a provision in Taylor’s contract requiring the board to 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.

Taylor urged the board not to have the discussion at all, saying he would waive that provision of his 2012 contract.

After Thursday’s meeting, Taylor said he’s been happy with his time in Baton Rouge and is prepared to leave.

“This was never the last stop for me,” he said. “I’m very proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish and I look forward to our next year.”

In a letter to the board sent earlier this month, 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.

Taylor, however, has made it clear in interviews since that he does not want to remain superintendent past June 2015, no matter what happens in the fall election. He noted that seeking an extension makes little sense given the number of board members already against extending his contract and the likelihood most will remain on the board.

Ware-Jackson said it’s possible a new board would want Taylor to stay longer, perhaps long enough to see newly rebuilt Lee High School open in January 2016, a project Taylor has championed. She said she’d hoped some board members and Taylor would grow more comfortable with each other over time, but that hasn’t happened.

“I was hoping for some longevity,” she said. “We’ve seen superintendents come and go.”

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.

Taylor’s 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.

As that first year came to a close, his relations with many board members soured as they clashed over a variety of issues.

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. The board on Thursday released his second-year evaluation and it was slightly worse, 2.27 out of 4.

No parish superintendent in recent memory has received lower than a 3 overall on an annual evaluation, much less twice.