The scene at the Louisiana Department of Education on Monday and Tuesday could best be described as something slightly less than a feeding frenzy—but barely.
In show business, the auditioning for acting roles is referred to a cattle call. For Louisiana charter school wannabes, it’s called a request for applications and after the July 31 deadline for applications, applicant interviews were scheduled for Sept. 24-25—Monday and Tuesday of this week.
But you would never know that by making an inquiry of the department’s public information department.
When asked about the beehive of activity in the building on Tuesday, a spokesperson for the public information office allowed as he had no knowledge of what was going on.
Perhaps that is why State Superintendent of Education John White is paying $12,000 per month for a part time communications manager for the department—even though he already has a full time press secretary.
Just in case your math is a little rusty, that computes to $144,000 per year, although Deirdre Finn, the former deputy chief of staff for former Florida Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, is being contracted for only four months, from July 23 to Nov. 30, but may be renewed for up to three years.
She replaces René Greer who was paid $110,000.
And get this: She will be working part time, dividing her duties between Baton Rouge and Tallahassee.
All while, the Baton Rouge Advocate noted Monday, state aid to public education has been frozen for four years and public school districts have been forced to lay off teachers.
Does the word arrogant carry a special meaning here?
That, of course, begs the question of whether she will obtain a Louisiana license plate for her vehicle. She will probably follow the example of Carol Steckel, chief of the Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) Center for Health Care Innovation and Technology who says she maintains her primary residence in Alabama and does not intend to remain in Louisiana. In other words, it’s a virtual (DOE loves that word) certainty that she will not register her car in this state; ergo, no Louisiana license plate, no tax revenue from high-priced, out-of-state workers who were hired because there obviously was no one in Louisiana qualified to churn out PR flak.
(We would love to do a story about the number of out-of-state types have been hired at six-figure salaries and to give their individual and cumulative salaries but that would take some serious digging in all the state agencies.)
Jindal policy director Stafford Palmieri and DHH chief technology officer Zachary Jiwa are two other administration hires who neglected to pay taxes in Louisiana by obtaining state license plates for their vehicles.
The same question may well be asked of Heather Cope of Seattle who has been hired as the new executive director of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) at $125,000 per year.
One of her first tasks will be the hiring of a counterpart to Finn for BESE, a move that is unprecedented for the board at a time when state civil service employees have gone without a pay raise for more than three years.
The proposed hiring also has caught the attention of House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Fannin (D-Jonesboro), who said the proposed hiring of public relations employees may warrant attention from his committee. “If they have those extra dollars, they may have more money than they need in their budget,” he said. “It just doesn’t make sense to me,” he added.
When asked about the part-time status of Finn and of her splitting her time between Baton Rouge and Tallahassee, the same public information spokesperson said, “We don’t have a problem with that. She’s always available when we need her.”
Well, so are those 900 phone number operators. Of course, we hear they charge by the minute and that they’re pretty expensive, too.
We’ve heard of working from home, but when that home is in another state…?
While Jindal and his minions continue hell bent on their objective to hire at least one executive from each of the other 49 states, the charter school vultures were circling the department Monday and Tuesday.
Word was every available room in the Claiborne Building was being used for interviews with charter school applicants.
The guard desk in the building foyer contained a temporary sign instructing charter applicants to sign in as a group (not as individuals) and to wait until called for interviews.
Throughout the foyer, groups of proposed charter schools milled and talked among themselves and inside the cafeteria nearly every table was occupied with charter school representatives waiting for their turn for interviews.
Many of these were church-affiliated charter schools that will be subjected to none of the accountability required of public schools. Others were for-profit schools. All of them were casting greedy eyes at funding that will be ripped from local school boards to finance their schools.
And we haven’t even mentioned the online computer courses for which other vultures are circling or the vouchers that will further decimate public education.
In fact, the department has been saying for weeks that it will have names and social security numbers for students given vouchers so that local school districts the voucher students leave can cross-check them against students they know are attending the public schools.
The last word two weeks ago was that State Superintendent John White told the school districts he would have the information in a week. But as yet—nothing.
The times, they are a-changing but not necessarily for the better.
Just what is the arrogance saturation level for this state?