BCS board should learn from past mistakes

Published 7:56 am Sunday, August 5, 2012

In an editorial published more than one year ago The Daily News discussed the importance of the Bogalusa School Board identifying and hiring a new superintendent with exemplary vision who would grab the reins of the school district and move it forward.

Even some board members agreed that the future of the school system hung in the balance.

Over the objection of at least two board members, Louise Smith was hired from neighboring Poplarville, Miss., where she mostly served as a staff support specialist and grant writer.

Unfortunately, Smith fizzled, and left in the backwash of her one-year flameout are an array of problems the board must address, including an academically unacceptable middle school and the scheduled opening of a charter school during the 2013-14 school year that could further dilute the district’s enrollment.

The board is the convenient scapegoat for Smith’s failures but members are not superintendents and were not involved in her decision-making process. In fact, they often had difficulty discerning what her agenda was, and her lack of transparency is likely one of the issues that led to her resignation.

The reality is board members extended Smith far more rope than was likely justified, especially after she made decisions that were directly opposed to the board’s public demands on several key issues. Her mishandling, or rather abject refusal, to lay off any employees despite a state mandate that was also supported by her own board members also played a critical role.

At this point, however, there is precious little time to play the blame game, not when the future of so many students once again is at stake. Rather, the board must come together and conduct an exhaustive search to identify an educational guru who can steer the troubled school district back to respectability.

By all accounts, the board made the correct decision by appointing Toni Breaux as acting superintendent. She is a longtime district employee and for the short term can bring stability to the listing entity.

Is she the answer for the future? Perhaps, but board members cannot rush into any rash decisions based on familiarity.

To their credit, board members understand the importance of conducting a national search and bringing in viable candidates to see who has what to offer. Ultimately, Breaux may be the answer, and if so, good for her. But as of now no one should make that blanket assumption, not until the board explores its options. 

Because of Breaux’s appointment, however, the board does have the luxury of taking more time than it did in its hiring of Smith.  Board members need to take that time to define what qualities candidates must possess and then go about the business of identifying and hiring that candidate, even if means stepping above their comfort level when it comes to salary.

Already the system will face competition from a charter school, and the possibility of a state takeover remains a possibility. Board members are not to blame for Smith’s ineffectiveness but more mistakes could prove to be fatal.