Archive for the ‘BESE’ Category

By Monique Harden (Special to LouisianaVoice)

Before state lawmakers on the Louisiana House of Representatives Education Committee on May 7 unanimously agreed to pass House Bill 180, which would prohibit the building of a new school on a waste site, an official with the LA Department of Environmental Quality gave a full-throated defense of the department’s astounding decision to do just the opposite.

The LDEQ gave the thumbs up to a plan by the Recovery School District to build a new school on the old Clio Street/Silver City Dump in New Orleans. According to Chance McNeely, an Assistant Secretary at the LDEQ who spoke to the Education Committee, the LDEQ uses “the safest, most stringent standard,” but “didn’t find anything that pointed to a toxic landfill or dump site there.” This conclusion is absurd. Governmental records show that this dump received more than 150 tons of waste on a daily basis and operated from the late 1890s to the late 1930s. According to the technical reports prepared by environmental consulting firms working for the RSD, which the LDEQ purportedly reviewed, the site of this former waste dump remains contaminated to this day. These reports show “unacceptable levels” of toxins at the ground surface down to 15 feet below ground that exceed the risk-based standard for residential use and would “pose a risk to children occupying the site.”

It is more than eye-opening that the LDEQ would turn a blind eye to information showing the existence of the Clio Street/Silver City Dump and revealing present-day soil contamination that can harm human health. The LDEQ lacks credibility in concluding that it is safe to build a school on a waste dump.

When McNeely discouraged the idea of avoiding the health risks at the former waste dump by looking at an alternative school site he raised the ire of Representative Wesley Bishop from New Orleans.  McNeely suggested that “probably the same thing” would be found at the alternative site as was found at the former waste dump.  When Rep. Bishop asked McNeely to explain why, McNeely admitted that he was not familiar with the alternative site.  Showing his frustration with McNeely, Rep. Bishop declared, “You’re not making any sense.”

Perhaps the only “sense” driving the LDEQ’s apparent opposition to House Bill 180 is the pressure of approving the RSD’s plan to build the school on the former waste dump in order for the RSD to collect $69 million dollars from FEMA.  According to McNeely, “FEMA requires that, if you’re gonna spend that money, you gotta confirm that there’s not a contamination that would be a danger.”

 Monique Harden is an attorney and co-director of Advocates for Environmental Human Rights, a public interest law firm in New Orleans, LA.

…And for the record, we have, courtesy of Ms. Harden, the transcript of the testimony of Chance McNeely, assistant secretary, Office of Environmental Compliance, Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality.

You may remember Chance McNeely, who moved over from the governor’s office (with a big raise) to become the DEQ Environmental Compliance Officer while simultaneously attending law school. Here are links to some of our earlier posts about Chance:









(We have attempted to edit out numbers that do not belong. If we missed any and you see numbers that look out of place, ignore them; they’re just the line numbers for the official transcript.)

Chance McNeely: “I would just say. If I may just give you a little bit of history that you guys may already be aware of, but I’ll just proceed anyway. Obviously, we had the Industrial Revolution in the last century. And all of that pre-dated any environmental regulations or laws. So in the sixties and seventies, we started environmental regulations. And so, in the time between there, we obviously had contamination that would take place in various locations. This is not unique to Louisiana. This is something that every state deals with. And so, I just, I guess my comment would be that the point of RECAP [Risk Evaluation and Corrective Action Plan] is to put sites back into commerce. And if RECAP says that it’s, if our system shows that it’s safe, we stand by that system. And I think it’s important for y’all to be aware that there are statewide implications for this bill.

Rep. Carmody: Mr. McNeely, you’re with the Department of Environmental Quality. In these situations where – again, I’m not familiar with the areas in New Orleans were talking about here – but these former sites, impacted sites, the school has then come back over at some point and built on top of them. And the [unintelligible] I was just kind of given was that the remediation plan, I guess presented, has gone through DEQ approval process to say that in order to address the concerns regarding the high standards for some of these chemicals to a depth of – whatever it was – three feet, this has to be removed. And then at that point, encapsulation on top of that should create a barrier to prevent the migration of any of these chemicals. Correct?

Chance McNeely: That’s right. I mean, it’s essentially taking three feet of dirt out, 40 putting six feet of dirt in. Well, before you put the six feet of dirt in, you put a layer – like a fabric –so if you ever dig down and hit that, you know to stop. There’ll be six feet of dirt on top of that that’s clean. And then most of the facility, you know, it’s going to be the school built on top of it. So, there’s not, I assume that there, I think there is going to be some grass area, but a lot of it’s going to be covered with the building.

Rep. Carmody: Do all of these qualify as Brownfields sites?

Chance McNeely: Ummm

Rep. Carmody: And the reason I guess I’m asking you that question is that if it’s a Brownfields site, you don’t go all the way to the bottom of that hole until you finished digging out everything you find, is it?

Chance McNeely: Right. And that’s part of RECAP, where they evaluate all the factors. For schools, it’s treated like residential standards. So this is the safest, most stringent standard for remediation that we have. And we stand by it. So does the EPA. We kind of lead the nation in RECAP. We got a great program. And so it’s, again, we do stand by our standards and say that it is safe.

Rep. Carmody: Just to clarify, you’re here for informational purposes only as a representative of the Department of Environmental Quality.

Chance McNeely: That’s correct.

Rep. Patricia Smith: Question I have for you is when you mitigate a particular site do you inform anyone who’s building there what’s there? Are they aware when they first build 60 of what is actually in the ground?

Chance McNeely: I guess the way to explain that – I’ll use the example that we’re talking about. So the Recovery School District is being funded by the feds, FEMA. FEMA requires that, if you’re gonna spend that money, you gotta confirm that there’s not a contamination that would be a danger. And so, RSD does sampling. We have oversight of that. That’s how we got involved in this is that FEMA requires RSD to make sure that the site is okay. And so that’s how the sampling got done and we got involved. Again, we have oversight. We approved all the sampling plans, everything like that. We run it through our RECAP system to determine, you know, the risks. I’ll also point out and I’ll say that, you know, the sampling that came back was consistent with urbanization throughout the, you know, 1900s. We didn’t find anything that pointed to a toxic landfill or dump site there. So, you know, we’re talking about lead. Lead is the primary thing that we found. And we all know there’s lots of sources of lead, you know, that have existed. And you’re gonna pretty much find that in a lot of urban areas.

Rep. Smith: Well, the question I have though is the school opened in 1942. I’m sure that folks knew it was a dump site at that time. 1942 standards compared to 2015 standards ought to be quite different.

Chance McNeely: They are. There were no standards back then.

Rep. Smith: There probably were no standards. You’re absolutely right. Therefore, there ought to be more stringent standards when we’re looking at something that was already there to be able to determine whether or not anything was emitted from it. You got samples. Did you go all the way down to the 15 foot level for any samples that you know of?

Chance McNeely: I believe we did. I believe we went all the way down. It’s either 12 or 15 feet, I believe.

Rep. Smith: But even if you build and you’re looking at only the three foot level, what’s to say that you cannot disturb what’s under the layer that you put in there? There’s nothing to say that. A bulldozer or something can go farther down – just like folks hit water lines, gas lines, you know, that are underground. So, what’s to say that it doesn’t go beyond that?

Chance McNeely: Again, dig down three feet. Put that fabric in. If you ever get to that point, you see it, and you know you’re supposed to stop. But, during construction, we’re talking about constructing on top of six feet of clean, new soil. And so, the reason you need six feet is out of an abundance of caution. You know, if they had any kind of pipe burst or something that it would be in that six feet of barrier without ever having to down 95 to the area that has any contamination.

Rep. Smith: I guess because of the fact that dump sites and waste sites, Brownfields, and all these are mostly in urban, African American communities. That when we begin to build that’s where we’re building. When we begin to build and looking at trying to replace schools that often times they’re not many places to go unless we look for new 100 sites outside of the urban areas where these have been located and that’s an atrocity in itself. We know that.

Chance McNeely: My response to that would be we’re on the same page. The point of a Brownfields program and RECAP is to put contaminated properties back into commerce. We don’t want to have to build schools for the children of New Orleans way 105 outside of town. We want them to be in town. And there’s contamination in town that we address through RECAP.

Rep. Wesley Bishop: Quick question for you. I am familiar with this area. I am familiar with this district. It’s in my district. And the one thing that stands, I think, as a stark testament as to why we should not be doing this is Moton School. Moton School is in my district. Reason why I know is because my mother-in-law is the principal of Moton Elementary School. And when you look at it right now, you drive in my district, that school has sat there abandoned for years for the very same concerns that we’re talking about. You put that same remediation piece in place. You remediate this particular area, it would actually make it good. The one thing no one has been able to answer for me is why in the world do we have this conversation when we talk about our kids. I can’t figure that one out. My understanding and, Representative Bouie, correct me if I’m wrong, this situation came about based upon the Booker T. Washington High School. I’m also saying also that there is a $40 million budget to erect a new Booker T. Washington High School. I understand that there are some alumni, who have some concerns as to whether or not this will slow down the process. And that’s a valid concern because we’re many years beyond Hurricane Katrina and it’s still not built. But I also understand that there is an alternative site that’s present right now that you could build this very school on right now. Only $4 million has been spent to remediate this process. So, basically you eat the $4 million. As an attorney, it makes sense to eat the $4 million. Because if you don’t and you build this school, the number of lawsuits you’re going to face based upon parents [unintelligible] sent their kids into what most folks consider to be harm’s danger would pale in comparison. Rep. Bouie, can you talk a little bit about the alternative site that’s available for the building of this school?

Rep. Bouie: [Discussion of the Derham School property as an alternative site.] 

Chance McNeely: If I may, if it’s the pleasure, if it’s determined that the site has to move, my understanding would be that, you know, FEMA would still require sampling. And I’ll just tell you they’re probably going to find the same thing they found [stops].

Rep. Bishop: But is there reason to believe that a landfill [unintelligible] at the new site? 

Chance McNeely: I’m not familiar with that site.

Rep. Bishop: You’re not making any sense. How do you get to interject that into the argument when you have no reason to believe that that’s the case?

Chance McNeely: Because what we found through sampling at the current site has nothing to do with a landfill. It has to do with is standard urbanization: lead. It’s not, we 140 didn’t find anything that said, “Oh, there was a hazardous landfill here.”

Rep. Bishop: I disagree with you totally, sir.

Chance McNeely: Ok.

Rep. Bishop: I disagree with you. I know you gotta job to do and gotta come and make this argument, but I totally disagree with what you said.

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The late comedian Brother Dave Gardner once said, “If a man’s down, kick him. If he survives it, he has a chance to rise above it.”

Well, Gov. Bobby is definitely down and we would be remiss if we did not accommodate Bro. Dave’s sage advice to the fullest extent possible.

Besides, that appears to be pretty much the same philosophy of Gov. Bobby as evidenced by his failed economic policies and by his depriving the state’s working poor adequate health care.

Plus, it’s fun to watch Team Jindal screw up to this extent. There’s a quote by author Patricia Briggs that keeps coming to mind at times like this: “Some people are like slinkies. They aren’t really good for anything, but they still bring a smile to my face when I push them down a flight of stairs.”

In what has to be his most embarrassing gaffe since his European Islamic “no-go” zone blathering of a few weeks ago or his empty boasts about Louisiana’s robust economy, Gov. Bobby has released his endorsements for this year’s statewide elections. http://www.bobbyjindal.com/news/610-bobby-jindal-announces-endorsements

Except, it turns out, they weren’t endorsements for this year, but for 2011, as featured in this New Orleans Times-Picayune story from Sept. 13 of that year. http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2011/09/gov_bobby_jindal_makes_endorse.html

Now that’s embarrassing.

How did that happen? As one of our readers observed, heads may well roll. Another said this SNAFU is just an example of what happens when Gov. Bobby is always gone from the state and never around to see that things are done correctly.

And it’s not as if someone simply pulled up an old page by accident and posted it. The page also contains clips of current news events involving Gov. Bobby, including the CNN interview with Wolf Blitzer given on the same day as Bobby’s infamous Islamic “no-go” zone fiasco of only a couple of weeks ago.

But, at the same time, it’s just another indication of how disorganized, dysfunctional, and disconnected  this administration is and how this governor can no longer be taken seriously.

About anything.

Here are a few interesting names off the list of endorsements posted by Team Bobby:

  • Walter Lee, former DeSoto Parish School Superintendent and former Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE). Lee, who pleaded guilty to reduced charges in December, has since retired from the DeSoto Parish school system and resigned from BESE.
  • State Treasurer John Kennedy who has yet to announce whether he will run for re-election, or for governor or for state attorney general. Regardless which office he seeks, it is extremely doubtful he would obtain Bobby’s endorsement—or seek such. It’s equally improbable that Kennedy solicited the 2011 endorsement. Kennedy and Bobby have been at odds over state spending for most of Bobby’s seven years in office.
  • Jane Smith of Bossier Parish for State Senate District 37. Smith previously served in the House but lost her election for the Senate in 2011—despite Gov. Bobby’s authentic endorsement. Bobby subsequently appointed her to a cushy post with the Louisiana Department of Revenue but she now serves as a member of BESE, also by gubernatorial appointment.
  • Don Menard of Opelousas for House District 39. Menard, a two-term St. Landry Parish President, lost his bid for that seat in 2011 and last month he was arrested for issuing worthless checks.

There was no explanation of why Team Bobby would make such a stupid blunder as posting endorsements from 2011, particularly when one might expect a candidate to run fast and far from any Bobby endorsement these days—even one that’s four years old. These days, such validation from this governor could well be perceived as the political kiss of death.

Even more embarrassing for Bobby, who will probably be teaguing some hapless aide or student intern for this latest misadventure, is the fact that 14 legislators who are either term-limited or who are seeking other offices were among the list of those “endorsed” on the web page.

State Sen. Sharon Weston Broom (D-Baton Rouge), for example, is vacating her senate seat to run for Baton Rouge Mayor-President and will not be returning to the Senate despite her “endorsement” by Bobby.

Term-limited but “endorsed” senators:

  • Jody Amedee (R-Gonzales). His seat is likely to go to similarly term-limited Rep. Eddie Lambert (R-Gonzales), who is looking to move to the upper chamber.
  • Robert Kostelka (R-Monroe). Eying that seat is House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Jim Fannin (R-Jonesboro) who also is term-limited from returning to his House seat.

Over in the House, Rep. Simone B. Champagne (R-Erath) is not term-limited but she has resigned to become the new Chief Administrative Officer for the City of Youngsville.

Term-limited “endorsed” representatives in addition to those already cited:

  • Richard Burford (R-Stonewall). Unable to run for his current House seat, he is running for the Senate seat now held by Sherri Smith Buffington who also is term-limited and running instead for Burford’s House seat (see how this term limits stuff works?).
  • Henry Burns (R-Haughton). He is running for the Senate District 36 seat now held by term-limited Robert Adley (R-Benton).
  • Speaker Chuck Kleckley (R-Lake Charles). Kleckley has indicated he may run for Lake Charles mayor.
  • Ledricka Thierry (D-Opelousas) is considering a run for the Senate District 24 seat now held by Sen. Elbert Guillory (R/D/R-Opelousas), who is running for lieutenant governor.
  • Mickey Guillory (D-Eunice). Keeping it in the family, his son, John Ross Guillory, is said to be considering a run for Papa’s District 41 seat.
  • Joel Robideaux (R-Lafayette). Term limits present no problem for Robideaux who is running for Lafayette City-Parish President.
  • Gordon Dove (R-Houma), like Robideaux, may be term-limited but plans to run for Terrebonne Parish President. A possible candidate for his House seat is Republican Jerome Zeringue, formerly one of Bobby’s top advisors—not that that gives him any special qualifications.
  • Karen St. Germain (D-Plaquemine). No word from her whether she intends to continue her political career by seeking another office.
  • Tim Burns (R-Mandeville). Again, no word of his plans for another office.
  • Austin Badon (D-New Orleans). Badon has announced no plans for other elected office.

Jeremy Alford of Louisiana Politics, gives a nice wrap-up of all the term-limited incumbents and those who are taking advantage of other opportunities available to them.


So now at least we have a reasonable explanation for Gov. Bobby’s inability to come to grips with the dire financial crisis facing the state: he’s obviously caught in a time warp and thinks it’s still 2011. He has the job he wants, and he plans to endorse Texas Gov. Rick Perry for President in 2012. And just in case things don’t go as planned, he has a speech in his pocket about some stupid party.

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To call Gov. Bobby Jindal disingenuous would be to belabor the obvious. The evidence is there in plain view for everyone to see: his painfully patronizing platitudes, designed to appeal to his ever-shrinking core base, induce involuntary winces of embarrassment not only from his critics, of which there are many, but from objective observers as well.

But now it turns out that Jindal is trying his best to out-imitate Attorney General Buddy Caldwell as he heads into his final year as governor.

Caldwell, as some still may not know, was probably best known for his Elvis impersonation before being elected as the state’s highest legal counsel.

Jindal, not to be outdone, has set about impersonating everyone in sight, beginning on that fateful night in 2009 with his pitiful attempt at a Reagan-esque response to President Obama’s State of the Union address. Woefully inept as a polished speaker, that performance was universally panned and his status as a rising star in the Republican Party appeared to have been prematurely snuffed out.

But Jindal is nothing if not resilient. Seemingly oblivious to critics, he has spent the ensuing six years doggedly trying to re-claim his status among the Michelle Malkins and Rush Limbaughs as the nation’s savior.

To do that required his forcing the media to give him ink in the daily newspapers and face time before the unblinking eye of network cameras. The BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill did just that and he took full advantage. He grabbed every opportunity to express his concern on the nightly news. Of course, when the national media ignored that growing sinkhole that threatened only a few homes in Assumption Parish, so did Jindal. The fact that local media gave the hole that was swallowing entire trees ample coverage was insignificant since that could not enhance his national image, so one quick trip long after the sinkhole first developed had to suffice for someone so bent on burnishing his presidential image. In a way, it was reflective of the way George W. Bush had to be goaded into doing a flyover of the carnage inflicted by Hurricane Katrina and to rush through the photo opt with “heckuva job, Brownie.”

And then there was Jindal near the end of his first term and already running for re-election as he traversed the state handing out those cherished veterans’ pins in appreciation of those who had served the country in the armed forces.

A great gesture, right? Also reminiscent of President George Bush the First in his 1990 run-up to his 1992 re-election campaign when he was handing out those “Thousand Points of Light” awards to such people as Sam Walton and about 5,000 others.

But the most blatantly transparent rip-off of another’s idea by this governor, who can never be accused of originality, came with his Jan. 24 Prayerpalooza at the Maravich Assembly Center on the LSU campus.

That event, which crammed all of 3,000 attendees into the 18,000-seat P-Mac, was a direct clone of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s event, The Response, held four years ago in Houston’s Reliant Stadium. Perry, you may recall, announced his candidacy for the GOP nomination only days after that rally.

Jindal might be wise not to base his decision to seek the nomination on his rally, which drew only about 10 percent of the 30,000 who attended the Houston rally despite (or perhaps because of) the participation of Cindy Jacobs.

Understandably, Jindal and his supporters have played down her part in this year’s event, even going so far as to take down the video that featured her endorsement of the Baton Rouge rally while all the other promotional videos were retained.

Jacobs apparently is a bit much even for Jindal. All she has ever done is suggest that her child’s stomach ache once prevented the assassination of President Reagan; that she could foresee terrorist attacks and prevent coups; that birds died and fell from the sky because of the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and that she had the power to raise the dead.

Undaunted, his weekly Team Jindal email blast described Jindal as “speaking to a crowd of thousands” at the prayer fest. While we do concede that the 3,000 in attendance did, in fact, constitute “thousands,” by purposely failing to mention the actual head count, Team Jindal was implying that the crowd numbered in the tens of thousands. Laughable as that may be, it is nevertheless a disturbing trait of this administration to parse words so as to convey the message that all is well in the land of Jindal.

And then there is the subtle, under-the-radar form of imitation that may have escaped observers’ attention: Jindal’s channeling of the later Gov. Earl K. Long.

Earl, many will recall, once said, “Someday the people of Louisiana are gonna get good government and they ain’t gonna like it.”

Prophetic words from a man who also once said, when asked by a legislator whether ideals had any role in politics, “Hell yes, I think you should use ideals or any other g—d— thing you can get your hands on.”

Louisiana history buffs (and those of us old enough to remember the events vividly) are aware that ol’ Earl’s train left the tracks during 1959, his final year in office. He was in and out of mental institutions and had an affair with stripper Blaze Starr that grabbed national headlines. He even cut a deal with former Gov. James A. Noe of Monroe to have Noe run for governor and Earl for lieutenant governor on Noe’s ticket. (Yes, candidates ran on tickets, from governor all the way down to comptroller of voting machines, back then.) The deal was for Noe to get elected, take office, and resign, allowing Earl to become governor. Up until the first term of former Gov. John McKeithen, a Louisiana governor could not serve consecutive terms, thus necessitating the flim-flammery. Noe and Long even had LSU All-American Billy Cannon campaigning with them under the banner of “The Noe Team is the Go Team.” The problem with that slogan, which no one apparently caught, was that Cannon, played under the system of former head coach Paul Dietzel in which LSU actually had three separate teams—the Go Team (which played offense only), the Chinese Bandits (exclusively defense) and the White Team (both offense and defense). Cannon played on the White Team.

That was the same election in which arch segregationist Willie Rainach, a state representative from Homer in Claiborne Parish, ran third behind New Orleans Mayor deLesseps  “Chep” Morrison and former Gov. Jimmie Davis. The Noe-Long team finished out of the money with Noe failing even to carry his own precinct in Monroe and Davis went on to defeat Morrison in the runoff election.

So now, we have the gubernatorial train barreling headlong toward a similar mental derailment. Jindal, caught up in the throes of delusions of grandeur (some would say delusions of mediocrity) that leave him convinced he is presidential timber, apparently feels his repeated budget fiascos are of little consequence. He has abandoned any vestiges of leadership except where it might appeal to his support base, which probably explains his actions with Common Core.

For it before he was against it (another imitation: remember John Kerry’s position switch on the Iraq war), Jindal issued an executive order declaring that parents should be able to opt their children out of taking the Common Core standardized tests this year.

Besides putting Jindal at odds with the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, the order calls into question the status of a couple of state contracts with a testing firm totaling $117 million.

Data Recognition Corp. (DRC) has contracts of $68.8 million and $48.2 million, both of which expire on June 30 of this year, that call for DRC to develop test forms, printing and distributing and collecting materials, scoring and reporting test results. It is unclear how much, if any of those contracts, are for Common Core testing, but if that is included in the contracts and the executive order is implemented, litigation is almost certain to follow. (And we know how well Jindal, represented by attorney Jimmy Faircloth, has fared in courtroom appearances.)

A pattern of irrational behavior on Jindal’s part is beginning to emerge as he flails away at attempts to grab onto some issue which will resonate with voters—even at the cost of abandoning the post to which he was elected by the people of Louisiana.

And we don’t even have to elaborate on his silly gesture of producing his birth certificate during the hoopla over President Obama’s citizenship. It was not only silly, it was pitifully superficial and sophomoric considering no one had even questioned his birthplace.

Jindal received the Thomas Jefferson Freedom Award from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) at its 2011 national convention in New Orleans. But as he systematically tears down the programs designed to help the less fortunate among us, he ignores the philosophy of the man for whom that award was named. It was Jefferson who said, “The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government.” That sentiment was echoed more than a century later by President Harry Truman: “The whole purpose of government is to see that the little fellow who has no special interest gets a fair deal.”

There is no question that Jindal is an intelligent man. But intelligence alone cannot overcome the avalanche of problems besetting our state and that appears to be the one lesson which has thus far escaped him.

Perhaps A.E. Wiggin, the character from the novel Ender’s Game, said it best: “Intelligence appears to be the thing that enables a man to get along without education. Education appears to be the thing that enables a man to get along without the use of his intelligence.”

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By guest columnist James D. Kirylo

It is said that education is the great equalizer.  Yet, we know when it comes to resources, opportunity, and the quality of a teacher, not all educational experiences are equal.  Then we react with a bevy of voices coming from a variety of corners on how to better equalize the great equalizer.  To be sure, when making sense of gray matter, complexity, and multi-layered challenges inherent in education, the solutions are not easy.

Yet, when it comes to navigating through this entangled web, a leading thread to direct that charge ought to have the name “teacher” at its pinpoint.  There are few absolutes when it comes to education.  And of those few, one is this: There is positive correlation between a high quality teacher and student success.

It is, therefore, logical that if we want to move toward educational transformation, we need to ensure that teacher education is right up there on the priority list.  It is no coincidence that high achieving countries, like Singapore, South Korea, and Finland are quite selective as to who teaches their youth, how they prepare those who are to teach their youth, and how they maintain ongoing development while teaching their youth.

That a common thread in high-achieving countries is an elevated priority on teacher education ought to raise our collective sensibilities, stirring movement toward embracing that model right here in Louisiana.  To that end, the following summarizes what we need to qualitatively do in our backyard if we expect to move toward long-lasting transformative educational change:

  • Entrance requirements and processes into teacher education programs need to be more rigorous and more selective.
  • Those who are accepted into teacher education programs should be provided tuition waivers, grants, and other incentivizing initiatives.
  • Teacher education programs across the state must be creatively innovative, systematic, and unified in which not only content knowledge is emphasized, but also concepts, practices, and theories related to human development, pedagogy, curriculum, and learning are thoroughly explored in light of the diverse country in which we live.
  • Field experiences and rich mentorships are emphasized that works to connect the thoughtful relationship between theory and practice.
  • Upon graduation, teacher candidates leave their programs with great expertise, expectation, and adulation as they move into the teaching profession.
  • Once in the classroom, teachers regularly engage in ongoing and meaningful professional development, with them at the center of facilitating that endeavor.
  • The school curriculum in which teachers teach is wide-ranging, with an inclusive priority on the various arts, physical education, and foreign language.
  • When it comes to curricula, assessment, and evaluation decisions at the school setting, teachers are integral members at the table.
  • At the school setting, a test-centric focus has to be abandoned and replaced with a learning-centric focus that is energizing, inspiring, and imaginative.
  • Students, teachers, and schools are not in competition with one another, but work to cooperate, collaborate, and lift each other up.
  • All schools, regardless of location and economic demographic have equal access to quality resources, material, and high quality teachers.
  • The teaching profession is viewed with great respect, indicative of the competitive salaries, the working conditions in which teachers are placed, and how teachers are professionally viewed, treated, and honored.
  • A top-down hierarchal structure needs to be replaced with a teacher leadership empowerment structure.
  • “Fast-track” teacher training programs, such as TFA and LRCE, are not acceptable routes to teach our youth.
  • The waiving of requirements for those going into administrative type roles are not acceptable routes to work in leadership positions in our schools, systems, and state.
  • Only well-prepared, qualified, and certified teachers from high quality teacher education programs must teach our youth.

While there are certainly some examples of good efforts occurring in teacher education programs in our state, we are not doing nearly enough. Without doubt, if we are to move toward educational transformation in Louisiana, the systematic prioritization of teacher education is a must, the fostering of the professionalization of teaching is vital, and ultimately education must be viewed as an investment in which the entire state can be richly furthered.  Indeed, our international friends have provided us with an outstanding model.

(James D. Kirylo is an education professor, a former state teacher of the year, and his most recent book is titled A Critical Pedagogy of Resistance.  He can be reached at jkirylo@yahoo.com)

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Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) member Walter Lee has been indicted by a state grand jury and the FBI is investigating State Rep. Joe Harrison (R-Gray)—both for double billing for travel.

Investigators may want to take a look at the expense records of State Rep. and Shreveport mayoral candidate Patrick Williams (D-Shreveport).

Lee’s indictment by a DeSoto Parish grand jury accuses him of the felony theft of $3,968 in fuel expenses and $1,578 in lodging in meals charged to both BESE and to the DeSoto Parish School Board at a time when Lee was simultaneously serving as DeSoto School Superintendent and as a member of BESE.

A state audit used as the basis of Lee’s indictment said he collected travel expenses from BESE for attending state board meetings even though he used a parish school system credit card to pay for those expenses and failed to reimburse the school system after receiving payment from BESE.

DeSoto District Attorney Richard Johnson, Jr. said Lee also terminated a lease early on a vehicle which cost the school system around $10,000 and then got a substantial discount on the purchase of another vehicle shortly thereafter.

Williams’ expense reimbursements, however, more closely resemble those of his colleague in the House.

Harrison has been ordered by federal investigators to produce travel expense records after the New Orleans Times-Picayune revealed in a lengthy investigative series that Harrison was reimbursed more than $50,000 by the House for travel in his district from 2010 to 2013—travel that he had also charged to his campaign.

House reimbursement records and campaign expense records reveal that in 2012 alone, Williams systematically doubled his campaign and the House for more than $4,000 for expenses that included postage, subscriptions to the Shreveport Times, travel to and from Baton Rouge, hotel accommodations in Washington, D.C., airport parking, cab fare, and air travel.

LouisianaVoice was alerted to Williams’ expense payments by former Shreveport attorney Michael Wainwright who now lives in North Carolina.

Wainwright said Williams accepts campaign contributions which then pays “thousands of dollars” in travel and other expenses. “Rep. Williams then bills the taxpayer for those same expenses (and) then keeps the reimbursement checks. He has converted the money to his personal use.”

Wainwright said the practice “is conduct which seems to fall squarely within the definition of theft,” which he said is defined under Louisiana Criminal Law as “the misappropriation or taking of anything of value which belongs to another, either without the consent of the other to the misappropriation or taking, or by means of fraudulent conduct, practices or representation.”

He provided us with a detailed itemization which we verified through our own check of Williams’ campaign expense report and House reimbursement records.

The following list includes the month of the House expense report, the amount and purpose. In the case of each expense item listed, Williams also billed his campaign:

  • January: $113.73—Purchase Power Postage;
  • February: $52.88—Shreveport Times Subscription;
  • April: $85.51—Pitney Bowes Postage;
  • May: $53.95—Shreveport Times Subscription;
  • May: $107.99—Pitney Bowes Postage;
  • June: $65.68—Pitney Bowes Postage;
  • August: $17.98—Shreveport Times Subscription;
  • October: $37.04—Shreveport Times Subscription;
  • October: $85.48—Pitney Bowes Postage;
  • November: $17.98– Shreveport Times Subscription;
  • December: $17.98—Shreveport Times Subscription;
  • November 5: $70.00—Fuel & Travel to Baton Rouge;
  • November 29: $50.32—Fuel & Travel to Baton Rouge;
  • December 4-8: $40.00—Shreveport Airport Parking;
  • December 4-7: $838.16—Hilton Hotel, Washington, D.C. (Campaign billed for entire $912.71 amount);
  • December 4-8: $169.94—Washington Travel Expense (Note: Rep. Williams was paid $745.00 in per diem expenses by the State of Louisiana while attending a NCSL conference in Washington, DC Williams also charged his campaign account $169.94 for the following per diem expenses related to this trip: Delta Airlines Travel baggage ($25), Supreme Airport Shuttle ($13), Hilton Hotel ($103), Meals ($28.44);
  • February 1: $158.00—Holiday Inn, Lafayette;
  • March 12-16: $197.00—In Session Fuel & Mileage (This amount was billed to his campaign while the House paid $291.38);
  • March 17-20: $327.04—In Session Fuel & Mileage (billed to campaign; House paid $582.75);
  • March 31-April 13: $373.09—In Session Fuel & Mileage (billed to campaign; House paid $582.75);
  • April 14-27: $335.00—In Session Fuel & Mileage (billed to campaign; House paid $582.75);
  • April 28-May 11: $257.00—In Session Fuel & Mileage (billed to campaign; House paid $582.75);
  • May 12-25: $262.12—In Session Fuel & Mileage (billed to campaign; House paid $582.75)
  • May 26-June 4: $146.00—In Session Fuel & Mileage (billed to campaign; House paid $582.75);

This is the same Rep. Patrick Williams who in 2011 authored House Bill 277 which would have required the posting of the Ten Commandments in the State Capitol. There’s no word as to whether his bill proposed deleting the Eighth Commandment.


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