Consulting contract provokes controversy at School Board

DEIDRE CRUSE, Governmental Reporter

An Iberville Parish School System employee who will start work next week at a new job at LSU will continue to work for the local school system on a $2,500-a-month consulting contract, the School Board decided in a narrow 6-5 vote.

Superintendent P. Edward Cancienne Jr. asked the board to approve the contract for Leslie Blanchard, who has secured nearly $4.2 million since the 2003-04 school year in “E-rate” funds for the school district's telephones, Internet access and internal communications systems.

Blanchard, who is the school system's instructional technology coordinator, has accepted a job as operations manager for LSU's Masters of Natural Science Degree Program, a $5 million teacher-training program funded by a National Science Foundation grant that Blanchard helped to write. Iberville Parish is a partner in the program.

Cancienne proposed a year-to-year contract for Blanchard to continue doing 40 percent of her current work after she takes the LSU job. She will continue to procure E-rate discounts and continue new teacher induction and support services for the system.

“It is a critical position,” said Executive Director of Personnel, Curriculum and Instruction Janet Marionneaux.

She said if the school system does not fulfill the requirements for E-rate services, the funds would be denied for the 2010-11 school year.

“This is very critical to your operating budget,” Cancienne said, noting the board would have to make up the money from its general fund.

Marionneaux said the school system would have to pay a grants consultant 10 percent of the amount of services procured.

“LSU is going to let her work both jobs?” asked Board Member Brian S. Willis of Plaquemine.

Board Member Michael “Chief” Barbee of Plaquemine questioned how Blanchard would hold a full-time job somewhere else and continues to carry 40 percent of her workload here.

“We have no one else on staff to do this,” Board Member Nancy T. Broussard of St. Gabriel said, adding the school system needs someone qualified. “When we put it out on contract before, the fee was 10 percent.”

Willis said his objections were not about Blanchard, but about taxpayer opposition to such deals. He said he received complaints from constituents earlier this fall after the School Board agreed to allow a Central Office supervisor to work from home.

“It's about what's right and what the taxpayers want,” he argued.

“This is about federal dollars,” the superintendent said. “It's not your taxpayers' dollars. It's really being efficient.”

“We're saving 50 percent of her salary, but retaining her services, so this is a good deal,” Broussard said.

Voting for the contract were Board President Melvin Lodge of St. Gabriel, Broussard, David “Worm” Daigle of Grosse Tete, Darlene Ourso of White Castle, and Michael Hebert and Glenna M. Kelley, both of Plaquemine.

Voting against were Barbee, Willis, Stanley Washington of Maringouin, Freddie “Sam” Malden of Bayou Gould and Alberta Hasten of White Castle.

Absent from the meeting were Yolanda Butler Laws, Paul Dipterans and Dorothy R. Samson, all of Plaquemine.

Canine said LSU selected Blanchard to work in 13 parishes to carry out the new masters program, which he said would complement the local school system.

Blanchard said the LSU program offers stipends and tuition to middle and high school teachers to continue their studies in their subject areas.

“We want to keep our better teachers in the classroom in their content areas,” she said.

Blanchard said she assisted in writing the grant as the Iberville Parish representative and would work with Dr. James Madden, an LSU math professor.