BESE Report – January 2016
Veteran BESE members to lead state board
The only three members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education still serving after last fall’s elections were chosen for BESE’s leadership positions at the board’s January 13 meeting.
District 1 Member James Garvey of Metairie was elected president, District 7 Member Holly Boffy of Youngsville was elected Vice President, and District 2 Member Kira Orange-Jones of New Orleans was elected Secretary-Treasurer. All three were heavily supported in the fall election by business interests and out-of-state reform organizations.
New members of BESE sworn in at the January meeting were District 3 Member Sandy Holloway of Thibodaux, District 4 Member Tony Davis of Natchitoches, District 5 Member Gary Jones of Rapides Parish, District 6 Member Kathy Edmonston of Gonzales and District 8 Member Jada Lewis of Baton Rouge.
With the exception of Edmonston, all were endorsed by business interests in their campaigns.
Also sworn in as at-large members were Governor John Bel Edwards’ three appointees, Lurie Thomason of Grambling, a professor at Grambling State University; Thomas Roque of Alexandria, superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Alexandria; and Doris Voitier of Chalmette, superintendent of schools in St. Bernard Parish.
MFP faces $20 million shortfall this year
Former Lt. Governor and current Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne visited BESE to administer oaths of office to members, but also brought a warning about the state’s dire financial situation.
Just across the road from education’s Claiborne Building, legislative analysts were bringing the same message to newly inaugurated lawmakers at the state capitol.
The news is grim. Thanks to Gov. Bobby Jindal’s disastrous fiscal policies, the state is between $700 million and $750 million short of what is needed to balance the budget for the fiscal year that ends on June 30.
According to Dardenne, that means public education’s Minimum Foundation Program will come up short by $20 million of its approximately $3.7 billion budget. A number of school systems are also predicting shortfalls in their local revenues, all of which could lead to belt-tightening as the end of the school year approaches.
The picture for the next fiscal year is no rosier, as the state faces a predicted $1.9 billion budget shortfall, but must adopt a balanced budget by the time the legislature ends its session in June.
BESE must propose an MFP formula in February for the coming school year. LFT President Steve Monaghan urged the board to adopt the recommendations of the MFP Task Force, including a request to make raises approved for teachers last year a permanent part of the formula.
Sparks fly over superintendent’s academy
It was just a small percentage of the state’s multi-million dollar 8(g) fund, but it caused a big controversy when a few school superintendents asked for a $104,000 allocation to jump start a new Louisiana Superintendent’s Academy.
That group, represented by former Jefferson Parish Superintendent of Schools James Meza, found itself opposed by the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents and the Louisiana School Boards Association, as well as the LFT and Louisiana Association of Educators.
Meza’s group, comprising six current or retired district superintendents, was registered with the Secretary of State as a non-profit corporation last October without the knowledge of the official superintendents’ organization, LSBA or other recognized education associations.
As current LASS President Hollis Milton, superintendent of schools in West Feliciana Parish, testified, the official group has also been working on plans to create a new academy to help district superintendents enhance their credentials.
Milton, along with LFT President Steve Monaghan and LSBA Executive Director Scott Richard, questioned whether using 8(g) funds is an appropriate use of the money. The education trust was established to oversee spending of money from an offshore oil settlement, and is supposedly dedicated to one-time projects aimed at improving classroom instruction. Meza would not guarantee that his Superintendent’s Academy won’t ask for 8(g) funds again next year.
District 7 Member Holly Boffy brushed off concerns about continuation of funding for Meza’s project, saying, “I’m not comfortable putting restrictions on ourselves as to what we will fund in the future.”
Opponents questioned the secrecy surrounding the creation of Meza’s group and its application for funds. Monaghan said he is concerned by eh group’s lack of transparency.
Meza is notorious as the superintendent who oversaw the decertification of the Jefferson Federation of Teachers as bargaining agent for teachers in that parish. That was part of a plan by the local business community to diminish the strength of the teacher organization and rebuild the system on a corporate education model.
Some fear that his superintendent’s academy will be yet another venue to crank out corporate-minded superintendents along the lines of State Superintendent of Education John White, whose credentials were issued by the business-funded Broad Academy after several weekends of study.
BESE approved the funding.
Virtual charter school approved over objections
Over the objections of local school systems and the state school boards association, BESE approved a new virtual charter school, Greater Grace Charter Academy, Inc., which will be housed in St. James Parish but draw students from other areas. The school’s charter application had e rejected twice prior to this meeting.
Officials from St. James Parish, as well as from St. Charles, Ascension, Iberville and Lafayette Parishes all expressed concern that the new school would duplicate efforts already underway in their districts and siphon badly needed funds from existing schools.
In addition, spokesmen for St. James Parish said, the new school could upset a court-ordered desegregation plan underway in the district.
Former Ascension Parish Superintendent Donald Songy was of many to oppose the school, saying, “Just having charter in the name doesn’t guarantee quality.”
Songy said it is wrong to approve a school that is unaccountable to local taxpayers and an elected board. BESE President Jim Garvey responded that BESE members are elected and have oversight authority over charter schools.
The board approved Greater Grace’s charter with only two objections, from District 5 Member Gary Jones and At-large Member Doris Voitier.
The board did reject one charter application, from Red River Charter Academy in Avoyelles Parish.
Superintendent John White recommended against approving the charter because of the disruptive effect it would have on the parish’s desegregation plan. The school’s academic benefits, he said, would be outweighed by its risk to racial balance in the district. Opponents said the charter would cost Avoyelles public schools, one of the state’s smaller school systems, about $3 million a year.
The board voted unanimously to reject the application.
Still on the fence is a charter application for the Kingdom Builders Community Development Organization in Lafayette Parish. The board voted without objection to defer action on the application.
Superintendent John White has bitterly opposed granting the charter after learning that its chairperson, Aleashia Clarkston, was videotaped spanking her children on the TV reality show “America’s Supernanny.”
BESE approves return of high school to East Baton Rouge Parish
A school that was seized by the State Recovery School District in 2012 and shuttered in 2014 is being returned to the control of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board.
BESE signed off on an agreement that allows the parish to reopen Istrouma High school next fall. The school has lapsed into disrepair while under state control, and the local system will be responsible for paying about $10.5 million to prepare it for students.
Because state law stipulates that schools taken over by the RSD must remain under state control for at least five years, Istrouma will technically remain under BESE’s direction.
“For the next year and a half, (the East Baton Rouge School Board) will be tenants,” said State Superintendent John White. “After that, they will be landlords again.”
Hear Steve Monaghan on the Jim Engster Show Tuesday
Don’t miss LFT President Steve Monaghan’s take on current Louisiana political events at 5:00 P.M. Tuesday, January 19.
Steve will be the guest of prominent Louisiana journalist Jim Engster on a statewide broadcast of The Jim Engster Show. Listen live on the Web by visiting www.jimengster.com.