EBR School Board votes down ‘tone-deaf’ contract renewal for superintendent

BATON ROUGE — After nearly three hours of debate, the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board voted 5-4 on Thursday evening, declining to renew Superintendent Sito Narcisse’s contract for four more years.

Narcisse’s current contract will expire on June 30, 2024, and Thursday’s vote likely signifies that the school system will soon start the process of finding its next leader. Thursday night’s debate was the culmination of nearly a year of divide between Narcisse and the board over a contract renewal.

The debate over Narcisse’s contract included many opposing a $55,000 pay raise in 2024. That would have been a 22% increase in pay ($310,000 base salary), and would have made Narcisse the highest-paid school superintendent in Louisiana, surpassing New Orleans Public Schools superintendent Avis Williams.

“We feel like nobody’s hearing us when we say that it’s unfair for you all to find money for him to get a raise like that, but you can’t find money to sustain our raises,” said EBR educator Sondia Funchess. “It’s just unfair because we have our boots on the ground. We’re doing the hard work. If test scores go up, it’s because of us because we’re doing the work.

“When you are considering what a fantastic job y’all think he is doing, open your eyes, read the room. We’re suffering, and we’re leaving EBR,” she continued. “I came here from Ascension because someone asked me to come, and I came, but I’m not happy.”

The board members who voted not to renew Narcisse’s contract were Emily Chatelain, Cliff Lewis, Patrick Martin V, Carla Powell-Lewis, and Nathan Rust.

The members who voted no, which means they favored keeping Narcisse, were Mark Bellue, Mike Gaudet, Dadrius Lanus, and Shashonnie Steward. Mark Bellue, Mike Gaudet, Dadrius Lanus, and Shashonnie Steward voted to renew the contract.

“What I have seen in this role since January of 2023 has been a level of disorganization,” said Powell-Lewis. “I’ve also seen that we have teachers who are no longer happy in their roles. I have worked in different districts, including this one, and teachers, just for the small things of receiving commendations or extra opportunities, will jump through hoops for kids, and the morale is down. It’s lower than what I’ve ever seen in this district. And I have lived here all 44 of my years. We have talent in this state that has not been tapped. That is why I am making this particular vote.”

Rust said he and other board members were not involved in the contract negotiations.

“Despite the challenges we have faced this year, the audacity of this proposal is not only tone-deaf but also leads the public to believe that your board as a whole agreed to present this, and it undermines board confidence,” he said.

Gaudet urged the board to allow Narcisse to consider amending the contract. Gaudet’s request was to table it for a later meeting. The request was unsuccessful. Gaudet stated outside interest groups are pushing to get rid of Narcisse and lining up potential replacements with goals to convert East Baton Rouge to an all-charter district like New Orleans.

“Be careful what you ask for,” Gaudet told the audience. “I think you are in the process of winning the battle to lose the war. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. I’ll tell you why the grass is greener because they have a lot of manure on the other side of the fence.”

Narcisse was hired in January 2021 to take over the EBRP School District, which has more than 40,000 students and more than 5,000 employees. He was a finalist to be superintendent of Broward County, Florida, schools earlier this year, but he was ultimately passed over.

Several people who spoke Thursday were in favor of keeping Narcisse.

Jack Harrell, a Capitol High School graduate, sits on the high school’s governance board since it returned to local control earlier this year.

“We on the Capitol board must be in a bubble,” Harrell said. “I have nothing but positive things to say about the programs that Dr. Narcisse has created at Capitol High. From 2008 to 2023, Capital High was in educational, academic hell because we were tied to a charter system. We were taken over by the state when Dr. Narcisse came in and brought Capitol High back into the system. What has happened at Capitol in one year compared to the last 15 years is unbelievable.”

Community activist Gary Chambers said leadership in the school board has been an issue.

“The scores went up. We pay him to fix education, not to do buses. We hired them (school board) to do the buses. We hired them to fix the budget. We hired the board to do those things. And we will have five superintendents in five years because of board incompetence. You guys wanted the leadership positions. Lead! and leadership means that we need continuity in this community.”

East Baton Rouge Parish Federation of Teachers President Angela Reams-Brown said she felt certain minds were already made up before Thursday night’s meeting.

“You’ve already decided what you wanted to do, which makes me feel as though I’m defeated,” she said. “I have board members who sat here tonight and talked about how important it is that teachers be paid, that support workers be paid, that bus drivers be paid, but yet you gave money away when you gave Exxon a tax exemption.

“The superintendent is the person who suggested that an 8 percent pay raise be given across the board, but our board members voted no,” she continued. “The governor suggested that a pay raise be given to teachers or support workers of this state, but our legislators voted no. I’m not going to argue about the salary because I don’t get paid for that. That’s your job. I believe he is the best bet for this district. Not only did all kids benefit from him, African American students definitely benefited from him.”

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