School Board splits on choice of coaches

Deidre Cruse

The Iberville Parish School Board Monday night appointed Erik Willis as a teacher and coach at Plaquemine High School, but not as athletic director for the school system to avoid any potential ethics problems.

A wider controversy came over the selection of Kelcy Dotson, a former PHS coach now at Zachary High School, as administrative assistant of discipline and coach at East Iberville High School, instead of White Castle Coach Ferante Dominique.

Later, after both coaches were appointed in a 9-5 vote, Board Member Albertha Hasten of White Castle’s motion to elect new board officers failed in a narrow 7-8 vote.

Dominique said he was a finalist for both positions and was devastated to learn he had been passed over for both.

Several board members and citizens said they had no problem with Willis’ appointment, since Willis has Iberville roots. But, they protested the choice of Dotson over Dominique for the $80,000 a year job at East Iberville, since Dominique is a resident of Iberville Parish and a fully certified teacher.

Superintendent P. Edward Cancienne Jr. said the selection committee was unanimous in its recommendation of Dotson.

Board Member Dorothy R. Sansoni of Plaquemine said the selection was “like a slap in the face” to fully qualified, certified teachers, especially to local school personnel. Dotson was in competition with a field of seven or eight applicants, the rest of whom were local, according to Sansoni.

“The people of this parish have been slapped in the face too many times,” she said.

Janet Marionneaux, director of personnel, curriculum and instruction, said Dotson is fully certified with a Level 2 teaching certificate. He must have an additional 150 hours of continuing education between now and 2011 to retain his certification, she said.

“He will have that based on what we offer in the parish,” she said.

Marionneaux and Cancienne said both Dotson and Willis were certified in physical education.

Willis, who has been coaching at Brusly High School, was one of four applicants for a new position of district athletic coordinator, with duties that included teaching and coaching at Plaquemine High.

In advisory opinion, the Louisiana Board of Ethics said the School Board could hire Willis, a certified teacher, even though his brother, Brian, is a School Board member. State ethics law makes an exception to the anti-nepotism law for certified teachers.

But, when the appointment came up at the Personnel Committee Monday, Cancienne recommended appointing Erik Willis only as teacher and coach, but not as “athletic director,” as the position was listed in the personnel recommendations.

When the POST/SOUTH reporter attempted to question the superintendent about the decision, he would say only that he was not recommending hiring an athletics coordinator “at this time.”

Brian Willis said the director’s position was dropped to avoid any ethical questions that might arise.

“No. 3 could have been a question mark,” he said. “We want to do this right.”

Willis had abstained from voting on all issues pertaining to the position and his brother’s appointment.

A line of residents spoke in support of Brian Willis’ appointment, including Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso Jr., who said Willis had coached his sons in football at St. John High School.

“Don’t miss an opportunity to give this man a chance,” Ourso said. “However you vote, I’m still going to be here for you.”

Brad Daigle, who worked with Erik Willis at St. John and was a member of the advisory board there, said Willis had increased the school’s fundraising ability, as well as camaraderie among students.

“This guy is a winner. I’m talking about the total package,” he said.

Hasten and Board Member Darlene Ourso of White Castle said they had no problem with Erik Willis.

“You shouldn’t change the rules in the middle of the game,” Ourso said. “It’s not because of Erik, it was how it was done.”

“I’m confused,” said Board Member Tom Delahaye of Plaquemine. “If it’s not about Erik, what is about...I want the best man for the job and everybody seems to agree.

“It wasn’t done right,” Board Member Stanley Washington of Maringouin said. “We haven’t interviewed for a head football coach at Plaquemine High School.”

The parish president also asked the board to “please consider giving [Dominique] a look,” for his ability to instill respect and discipline in his team members. Those are traits, he indicated, that would help locally educated young people meet the rigorous qualifications for jobs at local chemical plants.

The controversy over Dotson’s selection came not long after the board recognized Dominique’s White Castle High School football team for being runner-up in the District 9-1A competition and participating in the state playoffs.

Several people spoke in support of Dominque, and Dominique himself addressed the board, starting with giving “Erik Willis the highest respect there is.”

“My heart was broken when I read the recommendations,” he said. “I believe I should have been recommended for at least one.”

He said he had been asked by one committee member to withdraw from consideration.

The committee making the hiring recommendations includes three supervisors and the principal of the school involved.

Board Member David “Worm” Daigle said Coach Dominique seemed to be a good fit at White Castle.

“If it’s not broke, why fix it,” he asked.

“But East Iberville is a promotion,” Sansoni said.

After the board voted Dotson in, Dominique maintained the stance he uses helping students deal with setbacks – “Adversity is just another stepping stone to success.”

“I’m never surprised by the actions of this board,” he said. “...I’m not in it for political favors. I’m in it for the kids.”

The personnel action also included the appointment of Chantel Distefano, daughter of Board Member Paul B. Distefano of Plaquemine, as a teacher at Plaquemine High School.

Her proud father, who abstained from the vote on her appointment, said she is the fourth generation of the Distefano family to serve in the Iberville Parish School System.

Board members Michael “Chief” Barbee and Michael Hebert, both of Plaquemine, moved for the board to accept the entire list of Personnel Committee recommendations, including the appointment of Erik Willis and Dotson.

Sansoni’s substitute motion for the board to take separate votes on the two coaching positions failed in a tied 7-7 vote, with Brian Willis not voting.

Voting for Sansoni’s motion were Nancy T. Broussard of St. Gabriel, Yolanda Butler Laws of Plaquemine, Hasten, Freddie “Sam” Molden of Bayou Goula, Ourso, Sansoni and Washington.

Against her motion were Barbee, Daigle, Delahaye, Distefano, Glyna M. Kelley, Melvin Lodge and Hebert.

Broussard, the board’s unofficial parliamentarian, said the board normally allows individual votes on particular appointments simply on the request of a board member.

“Let’s do it like we’ve always done it,” she said.

“We just voted on it,” Delahaye said.

The motion to accept the entire report in a 9-5 vote, with Sansoni, Laws, Washington, Hasten and Molden voting no.

Later in the meeting, Hasten moved to reorganize the board; Washington seconded.

“We have a policy that requires us to do it once a year in January,” Broussard said.

Delahaye insisted there was no such policy.

“That we have not followed the policy does not change the fact that we have a policy,” Broussard replied.

The motion failed in a 7-8 vote. Voting yes were Laws, Broussard, Ourso, Hasten, Washington, Molden and Sansoni. Voting no were Barbee, Daigle, Delahaye, Distefano, Kelley, Lodge, Hebert and Willis.

Broussard said she voted yes only to follow the policy.