Deirdre Finn, the state Department of Education’s new communications director, is working “full-time” to revamp the LDOE website and oversee media relations for a state agency that’s been hammered in the press over the past few months following the passage of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s education reform legislation. The same full-time PR director, a one-time deputy chief of staff under former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush who’s raking in $12,000 a month at her new job, admittedly “divides her duties” between the Bayou State and Florida.

The Advocate reports Finn is under a four-month contract with DOE that started July 23 and ends Nov. 30, though it can be extended for up to three years if both sides agree. Her job duties include redesigning the agency’s website and working with lawmakers, educators, parents and students to “communicate” (read spin) DOE’s new education initiatives.

She replaces former DOE communications director Rene Greer, who left in June for reasons that were not made public. But a June 14 blog by Tom Aswell of Louisiana Voice cites an unnamed DOE employee speculating that Greer’s departure could have been tied to her response to IND Monthly’s records battle with the department in May over DOE’s federal No Child Left Behind waiver application:

Greer, who served at the pleasure of the education superintendent, may have fallen on her sword. “She worked very hard and put up with a lot of internal and external flak,” said one former co-worker. “If I had to guess, I suspect the department’s slow response to (a public records) request from The Independent (a Lafayette weekly publication) may have had something to do with her departure,” the co-worker said.
The Advocate also reports that the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is looking to hire its own communications specialist, a rare and potentially unprecedented move for BESE:
What that official will be paid is unclear.

Heather Cope, who starts her job as BESE’s new executive director later this month, is doing the hiring.

Both moves come at a time of sweeping changes in public schools, including expanded access to vouchers for some students to attend private and parochial schools; tougher teacher evaluations; and major changes in how courses are delivered to public school students.

But Louisiana House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro, said Wednesday that the hiring and planned hiring of public relations employees warrants scrutiny by his committee, especially amid tight state finances.

“It just doesn’t make sense to me,” Fannin said.

“If they have those extra dollars, they may have more money than they need in their budget,” he added.
Read more from The Advocate here.

For more on the role of press secretaries in state Cabinet agencies and how much they’re costing the state, check out Jeremy Alford’s May IND Monthly cover story, “Money Talks.”

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