Shreveport Attorney John Settle
by John Settle

If casual observers were surprised by the Caddo School Board’s recent vote to not extend the contract of Superintendent Gerald Dawkins, then they had better sit down – the real shock waves will soon be rolling in like a tsunami. And, the forecast is that the after effects will not be pretty.

For starters, Dawkins is under contract through early August, if that is any solace. Many have questioned Dawkins job performance since he was first hired; how effective Dawkins will be as a lame duck is not subject to much debate. For all practical purposes Dawkins is expected to be a highly paid caretaker, at a time when real leadership is needed.

Prepare for "Educational" tsunami!
Prepare for “Educational” tsunami!

Before Dawkins cleans out his desk, the School Board must unravel some Gordian knots, only one of which is the replacement of Dawkins. Finding a superman who can fly in and rescue the day is a real tall order, especially when considering the quagmire the new hire will inherit – or sink into.

Before a new superintendent assumes command of what is a grossly over-extended school system stretched over too much territory, Caddo citizens will vote on 35 mills of local property renewals in May. This vote will be, in effect, a referendum on Caddo public education; the current sentiment is not favorable, to put it mildly.

Caddo Parish taxing entities are in the process of collecting more than $224 million in 2012 taxes. The bulk of that amount is school taxes; the May vote will be on roughly 50% of all local school taxes. An active, well funded opposition to the tax renewals, or selected renewals, can be expected.

Citizen Burden!
Citizen Burden!

Notwithstanding the outcome of the tax renewal election, finances will continue to be a millstone around the neck of a new superintendent. During Dawkins tenure the school board reserve funds have declined from $ 40.2 million to an estimated $ 19.5 million.(as end of fiscal year 2102/2013). This chronic financial overspending is compounded by recently announced freezes in K-12 educational support for the State of Louisiana.

The new superintendent will also inherit a system with schools still failing and the strong possibility of state takeover of many schools. A Memorandum of Understanding negotiated 5 years ago between the Caddo School Board and the Louisiana Department of Education expires soon, with little visible progress by the Caddo schools. The likelihood of an extension by State Superintendent John White is not a given by any means, and the Dawkins hiatus may not buy extra time for the Caddo Board.

Competition is, by nature, good!
Competition is, by nature, good!

If those challenges are not enough for any one super human, the reality of charter schools, state vouchers for private educations, and the blossoming private school alternatives will certainly further diminish public dollars for Caddo public schools. Until Governor Jindal leaves office, school funding by the State of Louisiana will undoubtedly be in constant flux and public education as known/experienced by most Louisiana citizens may become a distant memory.

Common sense dictates that the School Board should be looking for a extraordinary educational leader; a home grown product (at least from this state) is most likely the best choice. Dawkins never invested in the community and the new superintendent must hit the ground running. Personal knowledge of Louisiana politics, especially in the realm of education, is imperative.

questionmarkAdditionally, this person should quickly become knowledgeable of the Caddo system, and the movers and shakers in the local educations circles. There is no time for a real learning curve and the sooner the new hire is on the job the better, even if that means buying out the remaining months of Dawkins contract. Let’s hope the School Board gets in high gear on this challenge now, and works together in a bipartisan way.