LIVINGSTON — At Thursday’s Livingston Parish school board meeting, the board convened in executive session for 1.5 hours to discuss Superintendent Joe Murphy’s future.
What happens in executive session is not and cannot be disclosed to the public.
After the session, the meeting re-convened but no one spoke a word about the item. The meeting adjourned immediately.
The item was added to the agenda on Tuesday morning, two days before the meeting.
After 31 years with Livingston Parish Schools and six as superintendent, Murphy announced on Aug. 11 he will retire at the end of the current school year.
The announcement coincided with an ongoing spat between Livingston Parish School Board members and Murphy. The board was in the middle of their assessment of Murphy ahead of his contract renewal.
Murphy’s contract is set to expire in 2024. Murphy was selected as superintendent in 2019 when he beat out Jody Purvis and Bruce Chaffin in two votes by the school board.
Murphy has faced backlash among teachers and the community since the failure of a one-cent sales tax to fund teacher pay raises failed earlier this year. Many veteran educators and even school board members blamed Murphy’s leadership and handling of the sales tax for a big reason it failed.
In early August, UWK reported that there were major shakeups among central office staff at the Livingston Parish School Board.
The shakeups included changes in the overall organizational flow of the Livingston Parish School District. Purvis and Chaffin are amongst the two names reportedly a part of the changes.
Many teachers and school leaders tell UWK that they feel Murphy stepping down will be a turning point for the district. They believe that Murphy has lost the confidence of the board, many teachers, and the community.
Lauren Kennedy, the principal at Juban Parc Elementary, spoke at Thursday’s meeting, highlighting some of Murphy’s successes during his tenure. Some of those successes included managing the school district through the pandemic, while maintaining safe practices.
“The year after he was named superintendent, he faced a world-wide pandemic with unprecedented state and national mandates,” she said. “During the spring of 2020, he repeatedly asked schools to stay connected with students – and we did (school district parades, drive through awards days, meal and school work pick-ups and deliveries – all with social distancing – and he participated in many of those events). He worked hard to provide new, digital teaching tools for teachers to help prevent learning gaps for students.”
“His top priority the next fall was getting students back in schools,” she added. “While maintaining safety and following state mandates, he continued to express the importance of social and emotional connections needed from schools for students. He made sure every student had a device just in case we would have to return home, and provided countless digital platforms to ensure that learning would take place no matter what. He has helped to maintain free breakfast and lunch for every student since 2016 to ensure every student has access to two meals each school day – and even several summers. He continuously puts the needs of students at the forefront of every decision he makes.”
“When you review the progress that has been made under Mr. Murphy’s leadership, it is very difficult to understand the recent news report stating that “despite announcing his plans to retire, last week, UWK has learned that the school board’s plans to discuss and take action on Joe Murphy’s contract at Thursday’s board meeting,” she said. “Mr. Murphy has never lost sight of the children of this parish, and he has continued to support the employees of LPPS. I am forever grateful for his leadership and mentorship.”
Karen Davenport, who said she’s worked with Murphy in a variety of different roles in the last 20 years, said Murphy should remain in his position.
“Voting to terminate his contract doesn’t make fiscal or logical sense,” she said. “If his contract is terminated, my understanding is that his contract would need to be bought out. That’s not a good look for this district an it would cost us additional funds because you’re buying him out then we have to put someone else in that position to pay them. We’re right at the beginning of the school year. If his position is vacated it’s going to leave a gap somewhere and who’s going to be affected? It’s going to be our students here.”
After Thursday’s meeting, sources spoke with UWK on the basis of anonymity.
“I don’t know what the right answer is, but by not doing anything, the morale remains the lowest I’ve see in 20 years with the district,” one person said.
“We should hold the board accountable,” said one source. “They’re not holding up their end of the bargain for their constituents. If they can’t tell how bad things are, they’re just as much of a problem as the superintendent. We need to clean house.”