Turmoil returns to Lycee Francais as board adds new members

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Lycee Francais board members Jacquelyn Simon, Paige Saleun and Jean Montes (center) vote in favor of considering nominees to the board individually, while board members Dan Henderson and Catherine MacPhaille prepare to vote against. (Robert Morris, UptownMessenger.com)

Loud protests of broken promises filled the cafeteria of Lycée Français de la Nouvelle Orléans on Monday night as the school’s governing board made an 11th-hour reversal on its earlier plan to add a group of new members en masse, instead picking through the six nominees individually and rejecting one popular candidate on a split vote.

Last month, the Lycee board approved a plan to empanel a five-member nominating committee to recommend new board members, and to give those nominees an up-or-down vote as a single slate. Over the course of the last two weeks, the nominating committee narrowed a pool of 29 applicants down to six people that all five members recommended unanimously, and the full LFNO was widely expected to give them final approval Monday night.

After committee chair Jeff Teague presented the nominees, however, board member Paige Saleun said she would prefer to consider them individually. Board chair Jean Montes criticized the committee for not forwarding him information on the nominees, and said he was only learning of their recommendations for the first time as Teague read them.

“I’m taking the time to do what is right,” Montes said.

After extended protests from most of the more than 20 parents in the audience — and a fair amount of procedural maneuvering — the board voted 3-2 to review the candidates individually. Saleun and Montes were joined by Jacquelyn Simon, and they were opposed by Catherine MacPhaille (who served on the nominating committee) and Dan Henderson. In public comments, various parents said they were “stunned,” “discouraged,” “appalled” and “saddened by the current board’s inability to step aside gracefully.”

Nominating committee member Robert Bell said the meeting’s turnout of 20 would have been much higher had parents known the board planned to deviate from the plan it had previously set.

“I am heartbroken that this is occurring,” Bell said. “You are violating the trust of the people who said, ‘I finally don’t have to come to another meeting.’ ”

Several parents suggested that the last-minute change of plan represented a violation of the public notice requirement of state open-meetings laws, at least in spirit.

“How do you not give proper notice of something this fundamental?” said Robert Rachal, who previously spearheaded a grievance effort against the board but had recently been full of praise for the nominating committee’s work. “You can’t just change the rules in the middle of the game.”

Once the individual review began, three nominees — Erin Greenwald of the Historic New Orleans Collection, attorney Alysson Mills and educator Elizabeth Rhodes — were unanimously approved. Two more, attorneys Ben Castoriano and Tim Gray, were approved by a 3-2 vote, when Simon switched to side with MacPhaille and Henderson in their favor. But the sixth, Mary Jacobs Jones of The New Teacher Project, was rejected by a 3-2 vote.

Jones previously taught under former Lycee principal Jean-Jacques Grandiere at a similar school in San Francisco, and Saleun said their relationship remained too close for her comfort. Teague said that he had raised that concern with Jones, and that Grandiere had rented a room in Jones’ family’s house for the first six months after he moved to New Orleans to work at Lycee. Teague said he was satisfied, however, that Jones’ friendship with Grandiere would not cloud her judgment on the school’s behalf.

Many of the parents — some of whom showed up midway through the meeting when they learned the nominations were being unexpectedly questioned — noted that Jones was unanimously recommended by the nominating committee. When Saleun, Montes and Simon voted 3-2 not to accept her on the board, loud groans and cries of frustration went through the cafeteria.

After the meeting, Teague said he deferred to the board’s decisions and would move forward with seeking a second round of nominees (applications are being accepted through April 19) as was previously planned. Some of the parents in the audience took a pragmatic view, noting that the new board members will be seated by the next full meeting, and that the nominating committee could simply re-submit Jones’ name and possibly get a much different outcome.

Consultant Jeremy Hunnewell, who crafted much of the process up until Monday’s meeting, said he would maintain an optimistic outlook.

“There are five good board members coming on,” Hunnewell said. “That’s a better result than zero.”

To read our live coverage of the meeting, see below.

6 thoughts on “Turmoil returns to Lycee Francais as board adds new members

  1. Once again I am reminded of how badly two of the current board members want to retain control of Lycee. It is quite clear that Chief Financial Officer Julianne Ruocco urging the committee to consider a transition plan retaining her buddies Montes and Saleun should spark fear in the hearts of those parents who had hoped that the leadership struggle was about to end. Ruocco, along with Schexnider, and the Sweet Olive duo will continue the tradition of division if they remain, as their loyalty is with the two most destructive individuals on the board. They owe them their jobs. I will not speak to the other three board members, as they have made an effort to enact change, although I believe that one is also culpable, but struggling to seek redemption. An entire sweep of the board will not relieve the tension that currently exists. The current administration must go, along with the board. LFNO needs to begin the new school year with a clean slate, and an environment of trust in order to begin rebuilding the school, and its reputation.

    I am curious as to why Saluen has such a deep resentment of Grandiere, going after the Jones’ nomination. Perhaps JJ should muster up the courage to step forward and finally tell the truth about what actually transpired during the board’s reign of terror. I know that he could shed considerable light upon the conflicts that took place when 12 board members stepped down, another CEO resigned, a CFO quit, three employees were terminated, a teacher fired, and two assistants left. Can’t forget the teachers, as 8 are not returning. No other charter school can rival that record. Most departed employees signed non-disclosure statements, excluding the first CEO. Why insist on silencing employees if your board has followed best business practices, acted professionally, and were a unifying force within the school? That suggests to me that something was rotten in Lycee Francais. All should be appalled about the selfishness of Montes and Saleun, given their actions during tonight’s board meeting. Have some finally seen the light or is there no hope for you?

    I have wondered why most parents could not use “common sense” in analyzing what was transpiring with the LFNO leadership crisis. Perhaps parents are lacking in that skill set, are naive, or just could not be bothered. Some seemed to be “babes in the wood” eager to believe anything they heard at board meetings and Friday coffees. Too bad, as now parents, who dragged their feet by prolonging this board’s tenure, have contributed to LFNO’s infamous reputation. Good job folks. I can’t imagine how any of you would be shocked by tonight’s outcome? So trusting as to not attend tonight’s board meeting? Too naive? Haven’t you been down this path before? I just don’t get it, and in particular – I don’t get you.

  2. Oh my! It’s like a bad horror movie where the killer keeps coming back to life. Even John White and Hunniwell cannot make 2 of these board members step aside. AND, if they do step aside, they will still be at the school, stalking victims in the halls and hiding in broom closets.
    I am intrigued by the fact that the school has not been able to survive without board members personally bailing them out. This indicates to me that the budget is a little squishy. I am also intrigued by this move to keep board members to help transition. I can’t help to think they desparately need to stay because they are hiding something.

  3. Joy, agree about Julianne. That speech was a “set up.” She is young, smart and wants her job. Suspect any/all of the Troika- MacFail, Montes and Saloon. Watch out for her spouse. He is dangerous, and will not go away.
    Can we imagnine a transition committee of the better board members?

    • I would be very concerned about a transition board. All must go. Unfortunately the new board members will have to learn on the job. i am very concerned that the board is top heavy with attorneys. When selecting a board, one must look at what skills are necessary to oversee the school’s operations. There should be at least one or two K-12 people who have had experience with elementary and/or secondary schools. Finance expertise is missing. The by-laws do permit a board of eleven, but I have found after serving on a bunch of boards that too many cooks spoil the broth. It is easier to reach consensus with a smaller number of board members. i know that most believe that having an outstanding CEO relieves the board of having to have knowledge in regard to curriculum, arts, etc., but I disagree. If the board knows nothing about these areas, a CEO could lead a school into the wrong direction particularly if he or she has a different agenda. Better to be safe than sorry.

  4. The LFNO is still seeking more Board members, if anyone awesome out there wants to roll up their sleeves and get down to it: LFNO, Inc. is seeking a diverse group of individuals with the following areas of expertise:

    * CPA/Finance
    * Facilities
    * Fundraising/Development
    * French Baccalaureate
    * Previous Charter School Board Experience

    Applications received by April 19 will be reviewed by the LFNO, Inc. Nominating committee for consideration at the May 13 board meeting.
    There should be a link on the LFNO website!

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