It’s highly improbable but there is an ever-so-remote possibility that State Superintendent of Education John White could find his job in jeopardy.
Whether he does or not, there is a much greater chance that State Sen. Bob Kostelka (R-Monroe) could find himself removed from his chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary C Committee and/or removed from three other committees on which he now serves.
That’s because Kostelka intimated on Thursday that he intends to introduce a bill in the upcoming legislative session calling for a constitutional amendment making the state superintendent of education position elective instead of appointive.
The office was previously elective until 1987 when it was changed to appointive but now Kostelka wants to change it back.
His announcement came on the heels of a news story this week by Capitol News Service that linked White and the state Department of Education (DOE) to Rupert Murdoch and his News Corp. which was embroiled in the hacking scandal two years ago in which cell phone communications were compromised in Europe.
Emails obtained by CNS revealed plans by DOE to enter sensitive student and teacher information—including names, social security numbers and grades—into a massive electronic data bank being built by Wireless Generation, a subsidiary of News Corp., as part of a project called the Shared Learning Collaborative (SLC) being spearheaded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The CNS story has generated a movement among parents to notify White and DOE that they do not want any information on their children provided to any outside entity.
The proposed collection of data on students has already begun in a few states and has created considerable controversy in places like New York. That state’s contract with News Corp. was first approved, then cancelled, only to be reapproved last August as one of several subcontractors for Public Consulting Group, one of four contractors chosen for the $27 million contract.
Under the proposal, Wireless Generation is supposed to store student test scores, student demographic information, curriculum materials, lesson plans and other information and would presumably perform the same function for Louisiana.
Though no cost estimates have been provided for the program in Louisiana, providers for the New York program will be paid in part based on the number of school districts that choose their data systems.
The Gates Foundation plans to turn over the personal data it collects to another, as yet unnamed corporation headed by Iwan Streichenberger, former marketing director for an Atlanta company that sells whiteboard to schools.
A copy of a 68-page contract between SLC and the New York State Educational Department was provided by a citizens’ watchdog group in that state. The contract said, in part, that there were no guarantees that data would not be susceptible to intrusion or hacking, though “reasonable and appropriate measures” would be taken to protect information.
“I have prepared a bill calling for a constitutional amendment making the Louisiana Superintendent of Education elected and not appointed,” Kostelka said in an email to CNS on Thursday. “It will be difficult to pass, but the people should decide who their superintendent is—not the governor.”
Technically, the state superintendent is not chosen by the governor but by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE). The reality, however, is that Gov. Bobby Jindal campaigned for and contributed monetarily to the campaigns of favored BESE candidates in the fall of 2011 after the previous board had held up the appointment of White, Jindal’s choice for the post. Only after several pro-Jindal candidates were elected did BESE eventually formally appoint White upon their taking office in January of 2012.
Kostelka, in authoring such a bill, risks incurring the wrath of Jindal who, in popular Baton Rouge parlance, would likely “teague” Kostelka out of this committee chairmanship and even demote him from his current committee seats to minor committees.
The term “teague” comes from Jindal’s firing of Melody Teague in October of 2009 one day after she testified before the Government Streamlining Committee. She appealed and eventually won her job back.
But six months later, her husband Tommy Teague, was fired as director of the State Office of Group Benefits because he did not endorse the privatization of his agency quickly or enthusiastically enough to please Jindal.
Jindal has a well-established tradition of demoting or firing legislators, state civil service employees and appointees who dare display any independence.
He doesn’t do the actual firing, of course, and even goes to great length to deny any involvement in the decision to fire or demote. Instead, he hands off that task to agency heads or cabinet members do the firing and either Speaker of the House Chuck Kleckley (R-Lake Charles) or Senate President John Alario (R-Westwego).