Supporters of a now-dead effort in the legislative session to enact reforms of Louisiana school boards are regrouping after a crushing check mate by the opposition, notably the Louisiana School Boards Association, which lobbied vigorously against any change to the status quo. Reformers ceded all hope last week with the defeat in the House of Representatives of House Bill 851, the last of four bills filed by Rep. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge.
“Reform is hard,” state Superintendent Paul Pastorek says flatly. “I said it would be very difficult to succeed on this from the beginning. There real challenge out there is, no one has really tried to push back on school boards for as long as I’ve been doing this — 20 years, 25 years — and I think the first time you try to push back on school boards, they push back very hard.”
Supporters of 851 had their fingers crossed when the bill cleared a House committee on May 19 with amendments that watered it down to what many thought was a digestible form. Gone was the requirement that a two-thirds super majority be required for a school board to hire or fire a superintendent. But the bill fell on a blade in the full House. It was rejected 51-46. HB 851’s kindred spirits — HB 371 (defining nepotism laws for school boards), 664 (imposing term limits), and 808 (placing a $200-per-month ceiling on school board pay) — never made it out of committee, and two were done within two weeks of the session’s start.
“We’re certainly disappointed with the House’s defeat of school board reform legislation this session,” acknowledges Barry Erwin, president of the Council for a Better Louisiana, a good-government group that lobbied for the Carter legislation. “What’s most disappointing is that this was all about politics, not the merits of the bill. For whatever reason many House members chose to listen to their local school board members rather than a diverse group of citizens and business groups who are extremely concerned about the education of children.”
Indeed, as Louisiana politics columnist John Maginnis observes in a recent column, some lawmakers acknowledged a desire to dodge tension with their own local school boards, and support from the governor’s office was tepid at best:
“... the governor’s staff put less pressure on members than they have on other measures. Some of the governor’s floorleaders told colleagues to feel free to vote with their local politics. A number of committee chairmen, including Appropriations Chairman Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro, voted no. He said, ‘I don’t have a problem with my school board back home and I don’t want to create one.’”
“It’s unfortunate that legislators failed to pass HB 851,” laments Public Affairs Research Council President Jim Brandt. “We think it would have been a good first step in the school board reform effort because it would have clearly delineated the lines of responsibility for local superintendents and for school board members.”
Before 851’s demise, CABL and the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry commissioned a Southern Media & Opinion Research poll that found solid support among state voters for school board reform. “It showed,” says Erwin, “that citizens really do believe their school boards are too bogged down in small details that distract them from improving student performance.” The issue also received widespread endorsements from chambers of commerce in virtually every metropolitan area in Louisiana, including the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce. But reform was strongly opposed — scoffed at even — by individual members of school boards across the state who argue they’re being made scapegoats for Louisiana’s poor educational performance relative to the rest of the nation. Teachers unions were also suspicious of reform.
Some observers, Maginnis included, attribute at least part of the reform movement’s failure to a general dislike in the state’s public education community of Pastorek, known to shoot from the hip when it comes to his support of reform and condemnation of school boards. But Pastorek says there was support within the education community — silent support. “A lot of retired educators and retired board members and retired superintendents were for this. In fact, people ask me, ‘How come superintendents didn’t speak up?’ and I say, ‘Superintendents can’t speak up. If the bill doesn’t pass they’ll be lunch meat.”
Many of the proponents of school-board reform acknowledged before the session began that there was virtually no hope of all four of Carter’s bills passing through the legislative gauntlet; one, perhaps two, reaching the governor’s desk would have been a victory. But virtually all of the movement’s supporters saw this year’s push as an opportunity to establish a beachhead — to educate the public and to chip away at the LSBA’s formidable ramparts. With HB 851 managing 46 favorable votes in the House, and buttressed by the statewide poll, the movement’s leading lights have reason for optimism. “These issues are not going away,” says Erwin. “The public knows more about them than ever before and we will be back next year to build on the foundation we laid this session. Real reform isn’t easy and takes time. This was real reform and that’s why the defenders of the status quo came out in force against it. But we will continue fighting for this and school board reform will become a reality in Louisiana.”
MAY 24 Blogger Robert Mann posts this entry about the Baton Rouge Chamber's recent report on Louisiana's higher education system. It's critical to economic development, and yet our system is facing a "funding crisis" with no way to resolve it, the report says. The Chamber says control of tuition and fees must be returned to the higher ed governing boards.
MAY 24 Here's a NBC33 story about Tyrann Mathieu. He has signed with the Arizona Cardinals, inking a $3 million, four-year deal. He gets a signing bonus of $265K, but gets another, larger bonus if he doesn't get cut from the team for doing drugs. The deal reportedly includes mandatory tests and meetings for the player.
MAY 24 Jarvis DeBerry posts here about the redonkulus rhetoric that would have us believe NOLA is a safe city with a murder problem. Maybe the city's crime stats don't compare with its murder stats because you can't manipulate a murder, he says: a dead body's a dead body. It just doesn't make sense, he says, and his readers agree: a poll asks if they believe the city is safe, and more than 90 percent say no.
MAY 24 Jindal administration officials announced Thursday that the privatization of public health care is going to cost a lot more than they budgeted for, the Advocate reports here. "I'm so surprised," said no one. Anywhere. The cost they're projecting now is more than $1 billion - a lot more than the $626 million budgeted for it. And, it's more than it cost the state to operate those hospitals. So why are we doing this again?
MAY 24 Blogger CB Forgotston ridicules the recent PR campaign by the state GOP in the wake of a legislative auditor's request to both major parties. The GOP (apparently unaware that the Dems got the same request) started yammering about being targeted because it had "killed" a tax increase. CB finds that laughable, but it's also pretty funny that the GOP was comparing this episode to the IRS scandal (Because the President has so much to do with our state auditor. Right?).
MAY 24 Politico details some recent fund-raising efforts by Sen. David Vitter, which have raised the question of his future political plans. This time, it is a $5,000 per head "bayou weekend" that includes "Cajun cooking" and an all-caps "alligator hunt," the story reports. Funds raised go to a super PAC that can spend money to support Vitter in federal or state races, the story points out.
MAY 24 The pink building on Royal in the quarter was sold at a sheriff's sale Thursday, this Picayune story reports. An injunction that would have halted the sale wasn't enforced because the family failed to post a $150,000 bond, the story reports. So the owner of the mortgages on the building bought it, for nearly $7 million. Now the feuding family will have to negotiate with that company to get a lease on the building that has housed their business for close to 60 years.
MAY 23 This post in Louisiana Voice tells us about a bill by a Winnsboro lege that would require all public high school students to take at least one Course Choice online class in order to graduate. (What?) Blogger Tom Aswell says it's a monument to "waste and corruption," especially in light of the problems he's exposed with the program in recent weeks. Idaho had a similar program, but voters removed it by a 2-1 margin, Aswell says.
There will soon be a whole lot of shakin’ going on at Benny’s Sportshack Supplement Depot, a new concept by Opelousas native Benny Nele. Located at 2002 Johnston St., the supplement shop, smoothie bar and café, featuring hot off the press paninis and wraps, plans to open in late May.
Philip deMahy Sr., a once respected New Iberia ad exec, was sentenced May 2 to spend the next two years (he faced up to 100 years) in a state penitentiary after state and federal investigators found dozens of images depicting children engaged in lewd sexual acts on his personal computer.