BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A bid to make Louisiana's education superintendent an elected position failed to gain traction Wednesday in the state Senate, but only after showcasing the deep divide between state and local education leaders.
The state superintendent is hired by the 11-member Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, often with heavy influence from the governor. BESE includes eight elected members and three gubernatorial appointees.
The Senate Education Committee voted 4-2 against Sen. Bob Kostelka's proposal to return to an elected superintendent, which the state had in place until the mid-1980s. Gov. Bobby Jindal opposed the bill, along with BESE President Chas Roemer.
Kostelka, R-Monroe, said it wouldn't take effect until current superintendent John White's contract expired. But Kostelka made it clear he was not pleased with the policies pushed by White or the BESE members who hired him.
"We've got what I consider a bad one now," Kostelka said of the superintendent.
Kostelka criticized the spending and contracts AT the Department of Education and said White and BESE members were too influenced by out-of-state organizations pushing education agendas. He suggested BESE simply approves White's policies without question.
White didn't testify about the bill.
Roemer said BESE evaluates the superintendent annually. He said 13 states have elected superintendents, and 12 of them have lagged behind Louisiana in education improvements in recent years.
"I take great offense to the idea that we're a rubber stamp not taking our job seriously," Roemer said.
Offering support for the election proposal were local superintendents and school board members who have bristled at efforts by Jindal, White and BESE to expand charter schools, to create a statewide voucher program to send children to private schools and to move away from traditional public schools.
"We don't feel like we have a superintendent or a BESE board that is in touch with us," said Bill Norris, a member of the Ouachita Parish School Board. "I think an elected superintendent would give the people someone that they have access to."
The Louisiana Association of School Superintendents supported Kostelka's bill, along with the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, a statewide union.
Lottie Beebe, a BESE member and superintendent-elect of St. Martin Parish, also backed the proposal. She is often at odds with the Jindal administration, White and a majority of BESE members.
Critics of the bill said that in local school districts, the school board members are elected and then choose the superintendent — just like BESE does.
Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, voted for the proposal, saying he thought the full Senate should debate the idea. But he said he doesn't think that would necessarily change the policies that Kostelka opposes. He noted that lawmakers have voted to support the proposals offered by the governor, White and BESE.
"I just don't know that we should change the entire process because we're not happy with current policy," he said.
Voting against Kostelka's bill were Sens. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge; Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville; Elbert Guillory, D-Opelousas; and Mack "Bodi" White, R-Denham Springs.
Voting for Kostelka's bill were LaFleur and Sen. Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe.