Former members of the Lafourche Parish School Board spoke out in defense of Superintendent Dr. Louis Voiron, following a unanimous vote at last night’s School Board meeting to keep Jarod Martin as Acting Lafourche Parish Schools Superintendent while Voiron continues his medical leave.
While the floor was open for public comments, allegations were brought to the floor that were similar those mentioned by Lafourche School District educators at a board meeting on July 19 that Voiron has been under intense pressure in recent months – undue pressure brought onto him by board members.
Lafourche Parish School Board members told the Times Thursday afternoon that they support Voiron and these recent accusations were either false or not made aware to them.
Voiron was appointed to his position late last year by a one-vote margin. Since that time, there has been turnover in the board and speculation has been heavy in recent weeks that there's a disconnect between the superintendent and the board.
“There’s no truth to it, strictly rumor,” said board member Ray Bernard, who attributed the allegations to people’s perceptions, not reality.
First to address the Board and substantial crowd at Wednesday's meeting was former Lafourche Parish Schools administrator Dr. Charles Michel. Although Michel said he had no facts on why Voiron had taken his medical leave, he did mention the rumors circulating that Voiron had been micromanaged and endured other “questionable” management tactics by certain board members, which subsequently caused him to take his leave.
“Operating a business of this design is a much larger responsibility than most that you can even imagine,” said Michel. “And Louis has been training for this job for decades and was selected by the previous board as superintendent because he was the best candidate for the job.”
Michel referred to Lafourche Parish policy as a reference for what the school board members’ job entails, and later followed that with, “...keep your job as a board member by doing your job as a board member.”
Former Lafourche School Board member Ann Sanamo gave short remarks after Michel and echoed his sentiments on Voiron. “My wish is that the school district, as a whole, to continue to climb, get to the top of that ladder, and with Dr. Voiron’s guidance, skills and incredible voice of Lafourche Parish, the district can move forward,” she said.
Next, Calvin Duet, another former school board member, spoke his mind. After he praised Voiron – who he admitted he did not vote for when he was on the board – for his open-mindedness, professionalism and dedication to education.
He then addressed to what he felt the root of Voiron’s sick leave was – shifting attention back to the rumors regarding his absence.
“In my opinion, some members of this board have placed Dr. Voiron under undue stress since he first took office, which may have affected his need for sick leave,” Duet said. “...At the time this board took office, I heard that several of the present board members were against him and had already decided not to renew his two-year contract. If true, I feel this is unethical, unprofessional and extremely disheartening.”
Duet continued to speak on other concerns he heard, including a board member asking for emails sent and received by the superintendent and his secretary; a board member constantly harassing Voiron with calls, asking for updates; several members putting constant pressure on Lafourche's central office personnel, which is causing them to consider quitting; and that some supervisors/directors have been told that they can be fired by certain board members, even though that is not legally in their job description.
He did acknowledge, however, that everything he heard was “through the grapevine.”
“I commend all the school board members who recognize the duties of their positions and who were not responsible for these actions described tonight,” said Duet during his closing remarks. “I sincerely hope for an attitude change of some board members in an effort to alleviate undue stress for all current and future employees of our parish.”
Former school board member and president Julie Breaux closed out the public comment portion of the meeting. “I implore you to put aside any personal differences and do what our superintendent, our administrators, our teachers and our support staff do well, and that is put our students first,” she expressed. “And move Lafourche Parish schools forward with the guidance of a knowledgeable and experienced leader.”
Breaux, Duet, Sanamo and Michel’s comments were all met with an enthusiastic applause from the room.
At the meeting, several school board members voiced their support for Voiron and wished him a fast recovery.
“The board hires the superintendent. That is our only hire. We don't get involved in any of the business outside of policy, procedure and finance. I'm not aware of any pressure, or any outside forces or anything of that nature that was spoken about either night,” Lafourche Parish School Board President Brooke Huddleston told the Times. “What I do know is that the Board itself has Lafourche Parish children at heart and first, along with our employees – and that includes our superintendent.”
Both Bernard and Huddleston said they still don’t know why Voiron – whose return is still indefinite as of Thursday afternoon – took his sick leave but wished him a quick recovery and hoped he would be able to resume his superintendent duties.
“I’m definitely wishing him well; I’m keeping his family in my thoughts and prayers,” shared Huddleston. “I know all of the Board has spoken that sentiment.”