Orleans Parish School Board re-elects leaders in bid for stability

The Orleans Parish School Board unanimously re-elected its president and vice president Tuesday.

There was little lobbying for the two positions behind the scenes, save that of returning President Seth Bloom, board members said. That’s a change from past elections, which occasionally grew contentious and exacerbated animosities on the seven-member board.

The board’s president calls and presides over board meetings and often acts as the group’s public face; the vice president takes that responsibility in the president’s absence.

This year’s decision to preserve the status quo seems largely tied to the perceived successes of Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr., who was hired by the board in March, and Bloom’s support for him, as well as Bloom’s success in keeping board meetings businesslike and punctual.

Bloom, a lawyer with no educational experience, will again work alongside Cynthia Cade, the returning vice president and an early childhood educator. That each won the backing of their colleagues again was a show of unity for a board that had often been split, with Bloom and Cade typically on opposite sides.

Bloom said he plans to continue trying to woo schools governed by the state-run Recovery School District to come back under the School Board’s purview — also a top priority for Lewis — and to improve the board’s approach to educating students in the juvenile justice system.

“I want the return of schools to be a compromise and done correctly to benefit the children of New Orleans,” he said.

The RSD took control of most of the city’s low-performing schools shortly after Hurricane Katrina and has turned over their management to autonomous charter operators. The School Board has sought for years to have the schools returned to its fold, though state law allows the independent boards that run each charter to decide which entity will oversee their operation. Of the 52 RSD schools, 33 are eligible because of their academic performance to make the switch this year.

Some eligible schools have been turned off by the board’s bickering, which could be another motivation to keep the current leadership intact. Nolan Marshall Jr., who as the board’s leader in 2014 sought to bridge the bitter divides, said that enmity has died down under Bloom.

The relative quiet could also be due in part to the absence of former board member Ira Thomas, a firebrand who is serving a yearlong prison sentence for accepting a bribe.

“I think everybody on the board finally feels like we are getting something done,” Marshall said. “So let’s not rock the boat. Let’s just keep it going.”

Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA.

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