School Board discuses “skeleton shifts”

PETER SILAS PASQUA news@postsouth.com
School board members, teachers and administrators celebrate North Iberville Elementary School’s Top Gain Award from the Louisiana Department of Education at the recent school board meeting. The board recognized the school for increasing its School Performance Score by 13.6 points. The Department of Education awarded the school $8453.85. The funds will be used to purchase two Smartboard computers and headsets for the new
Apple lab, according to North Iberville Principal Dawn Washington. Pictured from left, Pam George, Lawanda, Jackson, Principal Dawn Washington, Donald Patterson. Back, Kendra Thomas, Joyce Blanchard, Sandra Davenport, Karlitha Holmes, Terri Harris, Cynthia Pryer, Brittany Albarez, Lacey Bueche, Kimberly Bellelo and Karen Brooks.
COURTESY PHOTO/Angela deGravelles

PLAQUEMINE – Iberville Parish School Superintendent Ed Cancienne challenged an attorney general's opinion alleging the school district violated state law by letting 12-month employees work "skeleton shifts" during holiday breaks.

"There are statements made in the opinion that are incorrect," Cancienne said. "There is erroneous information in it that needs to be cleared up."

The opinion rendered was based on information provided.

"We all work modified schedules," said Supervisor of Policy and Human Resources Brandie Blanchard. "This is not what Iberville Parish does. If any 12-month employee takes off any additional days, we have to fill out an absence from our duties form."

The issue was originally brought up by School Board member Darlene Ourso, who asked for the attorney general's opinion.

"They told me something totally different," Ourso said.

Cancienne previously told The Advocate some 12-month employees in the district's Central Office received additional paid time off on designated work days during holiday breaks - like Thanksgiving and Christmas - through the use of minimally staffed shifts.

"This statement is sticking in my mind," School Board member Dorothy Sansonne said. "Something is not right. The superintendent said they were paid."

In its Dec. 20 opinion, the state's Attorney General's Office said the school district was violating the Louisiana Constitution, which prohibits the donation of state funds to any person.

"To compensate central office employees of Iberville Parish School Board when they are absent without leave for non-work, amounts to a prohibited donation of public funds," the opinion states.

Blanchard also presented the board with the district's 12-month calendar, which outlines its approved holiday vacations. However, Ourso interrupted Blanchard, accusing the administration of altering the district calendar after the release of the opinion and sparking a heated debate among board members.

"Did you alter it, Ms. Ourso," School Board member Michael Barbee said.

Ourso continued to urge the board to discuss "giving away public money" before Assistant District Attorney Scott Stassi, who was present at the meeting for a different matter, stepped in and told the board to discuss the matter in executive session.

"If you are making allegations of illegal activity, it is out of order in a public meeting," Stassi said.

Stassi previously provided legal advice on another Ourso allegation concerning the board's redistricting plan after a vote to decrease members. Ourso claimed School Board member Tom Delahaye gathered the needed votes for a certain plan at an illegal gathering.

"They just don't want you to make decisions hidden from the public," Stassi said. "Somebody said, 'I think one could have happened but acknowledged there is no proof. Let us have some teeth in what allegations we make because it affects the board."

Still, Ourso was not finished with her allegations accusing the systems' magnet schools' Chief Academic Officer Elvis Cavalier of preferential treatment for certain students on the brink of dismissal from the academies.

"Ms. Ourso, I really despise the comment," Cavalier said.

Cavalier attended the meeting to recommend the board include in its handbook a raise in qualifying grade point average for potential students from 2.5- 2.75.

"Why is it every time I open my mouth, I am getting attacked," Ourso said. "Ya'll need to take a chill pill. Is there some Xanax here."

The board also discussed implementing School Resource Officers in all schools in the wake of a mass killing at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. recently.

"We have to come together to create safety," former school safety coordinator Sandra Ezell said. "It is something that should not be taken granted for."

Iberville Parish Sheriff Office Capt. James Cox told the board the office is willing to hire more people to fill the positions but is asking for $50,000 per deputy.

"We don't need to argue because there is no price on a child's life," Barbee said.

Cox said it costs $55,000 to staff one deputy at a school. Currently, the only school with an officer on site is Plaquemine High, which is funded entirely by the IPSO.

School Board member Nancy Broussard said "every school needs the same resources," regarding the SROs.