Acadiana native Picard flourished under two different governors, having been appointed in 1996 under Mike Foster. He oversaw sweeping changes to Louisiana's public schools, initiated tougher testing, gave birth to the accountability movement and launched special classes for 4-year-olds that are being copied by other states. Prior to this leadership role, he was a state senator, principal and teacher. Unlike many other bureaucrats, Picard came into the job with hands-on experience.
Knowing there was no treatment or cure for his disease, Picard returned to his Lafayette home late last year following his announcement of a May 1 retirement. To keep abreast of work at the department, Picard calls into Baton Rouge almost daily. However, he is no longer accepting media interviews and considers his current medical condition to be private, says Meg Casper, department spokeswoman.
The 11-member BESE is charged with replacing Picard, but no decision has been made as to how the search should proceed. Furthermore, according to board president Linda Johnson of Plaquemine, no official applications have been submitted for the job. It's a behind-the-scenes lobbying effort right now, mainly carried by whispers and private phone calls. One possible successor is reportedly House Speaker Joe Salter, a term-limited Democrat who formerly served as assistant superintendent for Sabine Parish. Carole Wallin, the department's deputy secretary, is also reportedly in the running.
Johnson says the board will discuss the matter at its meeting this month. Possibilities include a national search or promoting someone from inside the department. Either way, it will be an unprecedented appointment. If a new superintendent is selected in the coming months, that successor may have to go through further interviews next year, because eight new board members will be elected in the fall and take office in January 2008. "They could then decide to go with someone else, or they could keep them in place," Johnson says.
She says the next superintendent should be prepared to continue reforms initiated under the previous administration and be a vocal champion of education accountability. A keen eye should also be given to closing the learning gap between ethnicities. And the board needs to fast-track the selection process. "You want to put your money on something that isn't temporary or an interim," Johnson says. "That can be a hindrance."
The next superintendent will also be faced with addressing the challenge of operating a statewide school system with growing needs even though the number of students is decreasing. If Louisiana's devastating out-migration trend wasn't enough to drive down college enrollment and thin the pipeline of incoming high school grads, the state's top education officials also contend the slow pace of recovery is making a major dent as well.
Federal funding is on the line, along with the state's reputation, and the ongoing problems could cause Louisiana to slip further down the ranks in various lists. Commissioner of Higher Education Joseph Savoie says it will be a long haul back up. "Our supply of high school graduates has been steadily declining since about 2000," he says. "That decline was accelerated by the storms, and it looks like it will be several years before graduation numbers recover."
It's anticipated that the end of the next school year will see 3,000 fewer high school graduates in the state. Additionally, more than 58,000 elementary and secondary school students displaced by Katrina and Rita are expected to miss enrollment next year as well. Savoie says his department is working on a number of initiatives, including alterations to current high school curriculums. Dual enrollment for high school students to take college-credit courses is in the works, as are new college prep offerings.
Research indicates, though, that the most efficient way for a state to expand access to postsecondary education is to increase its investment in student financial aid. Savoie says details are still being hammered out by BESE, but a program is in the works that will provide opportunities to the economically disadvantaged and will encourage a shared responsibility for the costs of college among the student, their family, the institution and the state.
A major push will have to be made by the next superintendent to give these initiatives legs. Johnson says BESE knows what kind of leader the state needs; the trick is identifying those candidates and convincing them to take the job. "It would just be great if we could get another Cecil again," Johnson says, "but that's not going to happen."
After exhausting his appeals all the way to the state Supreme Court, the owner of the Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete has no legal remedy left save one: do an end run around the high court via a bill that would grandfather his “right” to keep a 550-pound tiger enclosed in a pin at his roadside business.
Louisiana poet Darrell Bourque has won the 2014 Louisiana Writer Award, given annually to recognize outstanding contributions to Louisiana's literary and intellectual life.
Drivers would have to secure dogs riding in truck beds while on interstate highways, if the Senate agrees to a bill backed by the House.
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Wednesday, April 23, 2014:
Wednesday's Blogs from the Bog!
An effort to prohibit employers from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity was shelved Tuesday for the legislative session.
Louisiana won't lessen its penalties for marijuana possession, keeping laws on the books that allow people to be jailed up to 20 years for repeat offenses of having the drug in hand.
“This is one of the oldest divides that exists, and that divide is about the haves and the have-nots.”
It took a few weeks for the pitfalls to emerge in the governor’s $25 billion budget, but the time of judgment has finally arrived.
With pressure continuing to build for him to resign, Congressman Vance McAllister announced plans recently to remain secluded during the Easter break, but the Swartz Republican has said he’ll be back on the Hill casting votes and attending committee meetings when the congressional recess ends April 28.
A bid to limit the use of unmanned aircraft on private property in Louisiana stalled Monday in the Louisiana Senate.
A Shreveport lawmaker said Monday he's scrapping his proposal to name the Bible as Louisiana's official state book.
Attorney hopes fellow lawyers will join him in urging the D.A. to step aside and allow a competent, ethical challenger to take over the scandal-ridden office.
An official with the Louisiana Department of Education was arrested on a range of charges Friday after allegedly breaking into a home and brandishing a knife.
State Rep. Stuart Bishop says he’s concerned with the quality of Capitol Lake, but when it comes to Louisiana’s coastline, this Lafayette Republican doesn't seem to give a damn.
Democrats sweating this year's elections may be hoping that the Obama administration's latest delay to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline takes a politically fraught issue off the table for the midterms.
Louisiana lawmakers are entering the second half of their three-month regular legislative session, which must end by June 2. Where some of the major issues stand:
Local and state agents Thursday night raided The Keg, the popular college bar located in the area known as The Strip, leading to the (at least) temporary closure of the venue.
Time and time again, the Lafayette Parish School Board shows an overwhelming tendency toward idiocy, but Wednesday night’s contentious discussion over Northside High School’s teen mother program tops the list of dumb discussions.
“The accomplishment of this goal within the next ten years is not only critical for the region to effectively compete with other regions for residents and businesses, but also to provide an amenity for everyone in Acadiana to enjoy.”
Education Superintendent John White says a continued push to try to keep Louisiana from using tests associated with the Common Core education standards are creating "a state of chaos" for public school teachers.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's plan to use $210 million in surplus and one-time money to help balance next year's budget received the backing Thursday of the State Bond Commission, support that was needed for the maneuver to work.
State wildlife and fisheries agents have arrested a 39-year-old man accused of stealing crawfish.
An East Feliciana Parish lawmaker has jettisoned his proposal to make it harder for a condemned prisoner to appeal a death sentence.
Senators advanced a proposal Wednesday that would let the governor remove New Orleans-area levee board members for violating what he considers to be public policy, despite concerns it would introduce political meddling into state flood protection.