Six of the nine East Baton Rouge School Board members vie for the top two spots on the board

The Advocate

At least four of the nine members of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board have expressed interest in serving as its president when the newly elected board holds its first meeting Thursday.

David Tatman, elected president two years ago, says he would stay on. Tarvald Smith, who has served as vice president for more than four years, said he’d like to be promoted to president. Barbara Freiberg, president from 2011 through 2012, said she is open to moving back to the president’s chair. Finally, Jill Dyason, the longest-serving board member but one who has never held a board leadership position, is also interested in the top job.

Meanwhile, Connie Bernard and Evelyn Ware-Jackson say they are considering the vice president’s job, but are not seeking the presidency.

Bernard, Dyason, Freiberg and Tatman are white. Ware-Jackson and Smith are black.

Freiberg is a retired educator, and Smith is a self-employed attorney. Dyason is system development and communications manager for Magellan Health, based in suburban Hartford, Conn. Tatman is president of The Tatman Group, a governmental relations and association management company, and is a registered lobbyist.

Dyason and Tatman are the busiest of the four workwise, but both say they can handle being president.

Tatman said he starts his days at 5 a.m. to make sure he can get both his private and public work done and has a capable staff.

Dyason said she would work to make the board more efficient and thereby reduce demands on the president’s time.

“If things are being done proactively, it shouldn’t require someone having to do it full time. If it does, then something is wrong,” she said.

The board plans to meet at 5 p.m. Thursday at the School Board Office, 1050 S. Foster Drive, and choosing its leaders will be its first order of business.

The nine-member School Board includes eight incumbents and one newcomer, Mark Bellue, who is representing District 1. They all swore the oath of office last week at a special ceremony.

The more crowded the field for the president’s position, the greater likelihood of a split vote. To even be considered, however, requires at least one other colleague to make the nomination. Board rules prevent board members from nominating themselves for leadership positions.

Dyason said she’s had constituents call her, suggesting she finally become president. But she said she’s not lobbying for the job and would take it only if there was a clear interest from her fellow board members. She also said she need not be in leadership to lead.

”I have always felt like we’re all leaders,” Dyason said.

Bernard said she is supporting Dyason, whom she said is “certainly qualified.”

Former presidents Tatman and Freiberg have track records in the job and as a result have supporters and detractors.

Tatman said he’s not actively campaigning but would serve if asked.

“A number of people, including board members, have talked to me about staying on as president,” he said. “I said I am honored.”

Relations are already tense. The atmosphere has grown toxic since an unsuccessful legislative attempt to shift power from the School Board and Central Office to school principals, and then a successful July 24 vote to reduce the board from 11 to nine members.

The fall elections for the reduced School Board proved expensive and in some cases ugly. Voters sent home incumbents Jerry Arbour and Mary Lynch. Craig Freeman opted not to run for re-election.

The result is that a 6-5 majority for board members backed by business leaders has grown to a stronger 6-3 supermajority — with Bellue, Ware-Jackson, Bernard, Dyason, Freiberg and Tatman making up the six.

Dyason said she hopes Thursday’s vote produces a quick, clear result that everyone accepts.

“I don’t want it to be a matter of contentiousness right off the bat,” Dyason said.

On Monday, the Iberville Parish School Board deadlocked and could not settle on a president. Like East Baton Rouge, Iberville’s board underwent its own reduction, shrinking from 15 to nine members.

Smith said he has a lot of institutional knowledge — after Dyason, he’s served on the board the longest — and is well-known at schools all over town.

But, he said, he’s also a “political realist” who knows he is actively opposed by Baton Rouge Area Chamber.

“I feel like I can bring this board together to move into the future,” Smith said, adding that he is concerned about who will end up controlling the board: the Baton Rouge Area Chamber or School Board members.

The last board president who was black was Pat Smith in 2007. Tarvald Smith said it makes sense to have at least some black leadership in a school district where the students are overwhelmingly black.

“I can go between both sectors of the community, and I honestly believe I’m the only person on the board who can do that,” he said.

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