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Archive for the ‘BESE’ Category

On Dec. 7, 2010, Discovery Education, a division of Discovery Communications, announced that Louisiana and Indiana had joined Oregon in adopting the Discovery Education Science Techbook as a digital core instructional resource for elementary and middle school science instruction. https://www.discoveryeducation.com/aboutus/newsArticle.cfm?news_id=663

Thanks to a sharp-eyed researcher, Sissy West, who writes a blog opposing the Common Core curriculum, we have learned that on Nov. 30, seven days before the deal between the state and Discovery Education was made public, State Sen. Conrad Appel (R-Metairie) purchased Discovery Communications stock, according to financial disclosure records filed with the State Ethics Board. http://nomorecommoncorelouisiana.blogspot.com/2014/03/crisis-of-confidence.html

Appel is a major proponent of education reform in Louisiana, including the controversial Common Core curriculum.

He also is Chairman of the Senate Education Committee and was in a unique position to know not only of the pending deal between Discovery Education and the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) as well as the company’s agreement with Indiana and Oregon, as well as Texas and Florida.

The Discovery Education Techbook is touted as a “Core Interactive Text” (CIT) that “separates static text from a fully digital resource.” http://www.discoveryeducation.com/administrators/curricular-resources/techbook/K-8-Science-digital-textbook/index.cfm

Appel’s financial disclosure form indicates his Discovery Communications stock purchase was between $5,000 and $24,999. APPEL REPORT PDF

Discovery Communications is traded on NASDAQ and on the date of Appel’s purchase, the company’s shares opened at $40.96 and closed at $40.78.

And while there was no significant movement in the stock’s prices on the date of and the days following Discovery’s announcement of the agreement with BESE, the stock hit a high of $90.21 per share on Jan. 2 of this year, meaning Appel’s profit over a little more than three years, on paper, was in excess of 100 percent. Put another way, he doubled his investment in three years. The stock closed on Thursday (March 27) at $75.72, still an overall gain of 85 percent Appel.

The most significant thing about Appel’s Nov. 30, 2010, purchase of the Discovery Communications stock is the volume of shares traded on that date. More than 7.5 million shares of Discovery Communications stock were traded that day, more than double the next highest single day volume of 3.1 million shares on Aug. 1, 2011. Daily trading volume generally ran between 1.1 million and 1.9 million shares in a monthly review from December 2010 through March of this year. http://finance.yahoo.com/q/hp?s=DISCA&a=10&b=30&c=2010&d=02&e=28&f=2014&g=m

While there is no way to know with any certainty, it is possible that the Discovery Education’s Techbook deals contributed to the surge of trading activity on Nov. 30.

Appel’s 2012 financial report reveals that he also purchased between $5,000 and $24,999 of Microsoft stock on June 4, 2012, the same date that the Louisiana Legislature adjourned its 85-day session. MICROSOFT

Ten days earlier, on May 25, the Louisiana Legislature approved the implementation of Common Core in Louisiana after the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation poured more than $200 million to develop, review, evaluate, promote and implement Common Core.

www.gatesfoundation.org/How-We-Work/Quick-Links/Grants-Database

And while no one is suggesting that Appel is involved in any type of illicit behavior or insider trading, the timing of his stock purchases might raise a few eyebrows. It could appear to some as more than coincidental—and ill-advised—that such transactions and official state actions would occur in so close a timeframe not once, but twice, and would involve a single individual who promoted Common Core legislation and who served as chairman of a key legislative committee that dealt with education issues.

Perception, as they say, is everything.

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The more we look at that contract between the Louisiana Department of Economic Development (DED) and LR3 Consulting, the more unanswered questions arise.

LR3, you may remember from our Feb. 5 post, is run by Lionel Rainey, III, who also happens to be the PR spokesperson retained by those who wish to form their own city of the St. George area of East Baton Rouge Parish, separate and apart from the city of Baton Rouge.

If one didn’t know better (and we truly did not initially), Rainey could easily be taken as the leader of the movement since local television news reports on the pullout efforts invariably feature him reciting the proponents’ talking points. Turns out he’s just a hired gun.

(Proponents, by the way, don’t like the term pullout because, they say, the St. George area is not within the Baton Rouge city corporate limits in the first place, so technically, it is not a pullout or secession; it’s simply a movement to incorporate the currently unincorporated area as a city of its very own.)

Before LR3, there was 3 Lions Consulting which was awarded a three-year contract (July 1, 2012, through June 30, 2015) by DED to “establish a database of potential trainees for continued pre-hire training using a customized assessment instrument to determine skills proficiencies based on individual company requirements” for DED’s Louisiana FastStart program (LFS) at a contract cost of $699,999.

In other words, Contract No. 713974 called for 3 Lions to compile a data base of potential employees for Louisiana plants and businesses—the same thing that the Louisiana Workforce Commission had been doing and which it still does.

But barely three months into the contract and after being paid just under $31,000, Jeff Lynn, LFS executive director, sent a one-paragraph letter of termination to 3 Lions partner Stanley Levy, III. “In accordance with the terms of our contract…Louisiana FastStart hereby provides you with the required five (5) day written notice to terminate our agreement, effective Oct. 19, 2012…”

The reason given for the termination was a two-word message scribbled on DED’s performance evaluation: “Ownership change.”

Levy apparently had parted company with his partner, precipitating the contract cancellation. His 3 Lions partner? Lionel Rainey, III, who had incorporated his new business, LR3, only a month before. LR3 was subsequently awarded an even bigger three-year contract ($717,204) on Oct. 20, 2012, just one day following the termination date of the 3 Lions contract.

The LR3 contract, to run from Oct. 20, 2012 through Sept. 30, 2015, again calls for the “development, establishment and/or delivery of a database of potential trainees for continued pre-hire training using a customized assessment instrument to determine skills proficiencies based on individual company requirements.”

Through January 13 of this year, DED had paid LR3 $186,880.

But the LR3 contract, like that of 3 Lions before it, is broken into three yearly maximums of $217,204 the first year and $249,999 in each of the second and third years.

For 3 Lions, the payment maximums were $169,999 the first year and $249,999 in each of the second and third years.

This was done, according to DED Communications Director Gary Perilloux, so as to avoid the necessity of issuing a request for proposals (RFP) and thus avoid “competitive bidding or competitive negotiation.”

The issuing of service contracts is permissible so long as the “total contract amount is less than $250,000 per twelve-month period,” according to Title 39, Section 1494.1 of the Louisiana Revised Statutes which then goes on to say, “Service requirements shall not be artificially divided so as to exempt contracts from the request for proposal process.”

Section 1499 of the same title says, “The head of the using agency or the agency procurement officer shall negotiate with the highest qualified persons for all contracts for professional, personal, or those consulting services for less than fifty thousand dollars, or those social services qualifying under R.S. 39:1494.1(A) at compensation which the head of the using agency determines in writing to be fair and reasonable to the state (emphasis DED’s). In making this determination, the head of the using agency shall take into account, in the following order of importance, the professional or technical competence of offerers, the technical merits of offers, and the compensation for which the services are to be rendered, including fee. Negotiation of consulting services for $50,000 or more or social services not qualifying under R.S. 39:1494.1(A) shall be conducted in accordance with Part II, Subpart B hereof. [RFP]

To justify the contract, an undated letter was sent to Sandra Gillen, since retired as the Director of the Office of Contractual Review, by DED contracts reviewer Chris Stewart which certified that “The services (being contracted for) are not available as a product or a prior or existing professional, personal, consulting, or social services contract.”

But wait. Not so fast.

LouisianaVoice has found yet a third contract with Covalent, LLC, for an even larger amount–$749,997—awarded more than a month after the LR3 contract.

That contract, divided into three equal maximum payments of, wait for it… $249,999, calls for the “development, establishment, and/or delivery of a database of potential trainees for continued pre-hire training using a customized assessment instrument to determine skills proficiencies based on individual company requirements.”

In other words, Covalent’s contract calls for it to perform services which are identical to those of first 3 Lions and then of LR3.

And yes, there is that same letter from Chris Steward to Gillen’s successor, Pamela Rice which certifies that “The services (being contracted for) are not available as a product or a prior or existing professional, personal, consulting, or social services contract.”

But…but…what about the LR3 contract?

Good question. It looks as though someone misrepresented the facts with that certification. DED now has two firms performing services that appear to be duplications of work being done by LWC—and neither of the contracts which combine for almost $1.5 million, was awarded on a competitive bid basis.

Apparently, Covalent is performing some work, though not nearly as much as LR3. From Jan. 3, 2013 through May 30, 2013, Covalent has been paid a grand sum of $35,465—and nothing since May 30. That’s a far cry from the $249,999 allowed under its contract.

All of which raises the obvious question: Why do these firms require such massive contracts and why did DED find it necessary to break them up in apparent violation of state statutes just so it could make the contract awards to whom it wanted?

And why did DED desire the services of Rainey over Levy to the point of cancelling the 3 Lions contract so it could award a second no-bid contract to Rainey’s new company? And why, only six weeks after awarding Rainey a $717,000 contract did DED contract with Covalent for $749,997 to perform the same services as Rainey?

What were the backgrounds of Levy and Rainey? And why did they terminate their partnership, especially when it cost Levy a nice, fat state contract?

For openers, LouisianaVoice found records that show LR3 was on the payroll of State Rep. John Schroder (R-Covington) since November of 2012 and has received $16,250 in 11 monthly payments of $1,250, one payment of $1,875 and another of $625. All payments were made at least a year after the 2011 elections.

3 Lions, before the dissolution, also appears have spread its services around. The firm received $5,600 from John Conroy in 2012 before Conroy dropped out of the Baton Rouge mayor’s race; $8,000 from State Treasurer John Kennedy, $34,000 from Board of Elementary and Secondary Education President Chas Roemer during Roemer’s campaign for re-election in 2011, and $52,600 from Secretary of State Tom Schedler during his 2011 campaign for re-election.

While Rainey and LR3 got the $717,000 contract with DED and a $20,000 contract with the Secretary of State’s office, Levy, with his new company, Fuse Media, has only managed a modest $49,825 post-LR3 contract to “develop a strategic communications plan, video series and animated PowerPoint slides for the Governor’s Office of Coastal Restoration.”

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In the relative short existence of LouisianaVoice, we have deliberately avoided antagonizing the so-called mainstream media. First of all, we really don’t even like that term and second, we saw no reason to go out of our way to make additional enemies now that we have been removed from Gov. Jindal and John White’s Christmas card lists.

But today’s (Jan. 15) shameless publication—without proper vetting—of what obviously was a verbatim press release either from Jindal or White’s offices, perhaps both, does a serious disservice to The Advocate’s credibility and is nothing less than an insult to its readers’ intelligence.

The nine-paragraph story, credited to the Capitol News Bureau, is nothing more than a puff piece extolling Louisiana for having the best “policy environments” (whatever that may be) for improving public schools. http://theadvocate.com/home/4857391-125/studentsfirst-group-rates-louisiana-education

While the story does attribute the report to an outfit calling itself StudentsFirst and while it did mention in passing that StudentsFirst is headed by Michelle Rhee, it was woefully inadequate in explaining what—and who—StudentsFirst and Michelle Rhee are.

A maximum of five to 10 minutes of research would have shone a glaring light on both that would have gone far in putting this hoax of a story into its proper perspective.

We feel The Advocate owed that much to its readers.

And it failed. Miserably.

If you think we are feeling smug about this, think again. Investigative reporting, in our simplistic definition, simply means telling the full story. We are truly saddened to see a publication fail so glaringly in its duty to inform fully.

StudentsFirst has poured funds into the campaigns of Board of Elementary and Secondary Education candidates but more important, Rhee was forced out as head of the Washington, D.C. school system in 2010 after reports of widespread cheating on standardized testing surfaced. The episode turned into one of the biggest student test score cheating scandals in the nation and was the subject of a Frontline story on LPB on Jan 8, 2013.

We first reported on this organization and its leader on that date almost exactly a year ago at http://louisianavoice.com/2013/01/08/1st-in-education-reform-%CF%80-yush-john-white-release-glowing-report-from-michelle-rhees-less-than-credible-studentsfirst/ and at http://louisianavoice.com/2013/01/13/%CF%80-yush-white-hawk-yet-another-national-study-lauding-la-education-reform-oops-part-of-study-gives-state-an-f-grade/

Our friend Jason France over at the Crazy Crawfish blog also called out Jindal and White on the (forgive the bad pun) whitewash. http://crazycrawfish.wordpress.com/2013/01/08/1013/

At the time, we commented that we were “being asked to believe Jindal and White when they regurgitate a highly suspect report churned out by Michelle Rhee.”

Some things, apparently never change and now the State Capital’s daily newspaper is allowing itself to be used in such a sordid, unabashed manner.

Shameless. Shameless and sad.

And now, a few hours after first writing this post, we learn that the Lafayette Advertiser ran essentially the same self-serving press release—with no questions asked. The Advertiser even included quotes from Jindal meant to give us all that warm fuzzy feeling. http://www.theadvertiser.com/article/20140114/NEWS01/301140013/Louisiana-ranks-first-nation-education-reforms

At least Washington Post writer Valerie Strauss did a little digging and debunked Rhee and her report, saying that the report “has no solid evidence to back it up” and that The report card “wouldn’t be worth mentioning, except that she (Rhee) remains a force in the public education debate and is able to attract major money from private donors.” Strauss also noted that the fact that criteria used in arriving at the grades are not a factor in improving student achievement “doesn’t seem to matter.”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/01/14/michelle-rhee-gives-the-nation-a-d-in-school-reform/

Good to know there are still a few real reporters out there.

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Give Gov. Bobby Jindal credit: He, along with a gaggle of Louisiana politicians, is all over A&E Network like…well, like a duck on a June bug over the Phil Robertson flak stemming from his comments about gays and blacks in that GQ interview. http://theadvocate.com/home/7889023-125/gov-jindal-responds-to-ae

Without going into the full story (you can get that from virtually any news source, from ABC-TV to local newspapers), suffice it to say Jindal has already spent almost as much time on this issue as on that sinkhole in Assumption Parish—or even staying at home to address other Louisiana problems, for that matter.

And while offering moral support for Robertson, Jindal has had little to say in defense of his boy-child State Superintendent of Education John White in the wake of a devastating state audit of the Jindal administration’s showcase school voucher program or of a controversial employment questionnaire required of applicants by a Baton Rouge private academy that has received more than $1.4 million in state funds.

Bernard Taylor, on the other hand, acted promptly and decisively to head off attempts by a local organization claiming connections to Jindal and White and headed by a man recently arrested for misuse of Baton Rouge city transit system funds to gain access to the East Baton Rouge Parish school system.

Okay, that’s a lot to digest in one gulp so let’s take ‘em one at a time, beginning with Taylor and an outfit called Empowering Students for Success.

Empowering Students for Success http://www.educatingourfuture.org/, founded earlier this year to help prepare students for new Common Core standards, is headed up by one Montrell “MJ” McCaleb.

The organization’s web page features separate photos of McCaleb with Jindal and White and also contains an impressive list of corporate sponsors that includes Cane’s Chicken, Infiniti of Baton Rouge, Subaru of Baton Rouge, IBM, the Baton Rouge Advocate, Acura of Baton Rouge, Piccadilly Restaurants, Sprint, Coca-Cola, Kleinpeter Dairy, and the National Urban League.

The problem is McCaleb’s most recent gig was as a member of the Capital Area Transit System (CATS) board of directors until his resignation for health reasons and later arrested after being accused of using nearly $1,500 in bus system funds to pay his private satellite TV and cellphone bills over a three-month period earlier this year. http://theadvocate.com/home/7057877-125/former-cats-board-member-booked

An email sent to EBR school principals by Taylor assistant Jamie Manda, said, “It is our understanding that Montrell McCaleb may contact you or email you to request an appointment to discuss services he provides through his organization, Empowering Students.

“Dr. Taylor asked me to let all principals know that under no circumstances has he given permission for Mr. McCaleb to contact you on his behalf about his program.”

But…but…but he’s got photos of him and Jindal and him and White on his web site.

What more does a guy need to get a foot in the door?

Well, if you want to teach for Hosanna Christian Academy, you’ll need to provide quite a lot of potentially embarrassing personal information.

Besides the customary name, address, phone number, date of birth, and professional qualifications, the questionnaire also asks for the applicant’s marital status, general state of health, religious beliefs, if the applicant smokes or drinks alcohol, is sexually active, lives with a non-relative of the opposite six, and whether or not he or she engages in homosexual activity.

The application form then requires the applicant’s signature on a statement of faith based on Bible scripture. Here is the link to that questionnaire:HOSANNA EMPLOYMENT QUESTIONAIRE (Yes, we know questionnaire was misspelled, but it’s a pdf file and we couldn’t change it.)

Before we get too far into this thorny issue, let’s understand we have no objection to a church-affiliated school setting rigid standards for hiring personnel—so long as the school is completely self-sustaining and not reliant in part or in whole on public funding.

But Hosanna received more than $1.4 million in state funding in the 2012-2013 school year from the state’s scholarship (voucher) program for 284 voucher students, according to an audit of the voucher program released last week by the Legislative Auditor’s office.

That has prompted protests from the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT).

LFT President Steve Monaghan said no public funding should be sent to schools “that pry into a person’s life.”

State regulations governing hiring practices of schools receiving voucher dollars are vague, perhaps deliberately so as to allow greater leeway for church affiliated schools to receive public funds but to still act like private schools.

Monaghan said he will ask the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) to look into Hosanna’s hiring practices as well as those of other private schools with voucher students.

Josh LeSage, headmaster of Hosanna, said the school is within its legal rights in asking the questions of job applicants. “We are not breaking any laws,” he told the Baton Rouge Advocate.

Vouchers are offered as state aid to students attending C, D and F public school so that they may attend the private schools.

The problem with that theory is that 45 percent of Louisiana’s voucher students still attended D and F rated schools last year, according to data released last month by the Louisiana Department of Education (DOE).

The figures are incomplete because the department only released data on 20 percent of the 118 schools in the program, raising concerns about the lack of accountability in voucher schools.

Those concerns were echoed in a 27-page report by the Legislative Auditor’s office that said, among other things, “…there are no legal requirements in place to ensure nonpublic schools that participate in the (voucher) program are academically acceptable.”

The report further said the DOE review process “lacks formal criteria to ensure that schools have both the academic and physical capacity to serve the number of scholarship students they requested.”

That would reinforce reports last year by LouisianaVoice that New Living Word School in Ruston had been approved for far more vouchers than the school could accommodate. Even after the initial approval of 315 vouchers was reduced because the school had no computers are desks, it still was approved for 58 vouchers for which it was paid a whopping $447,300 by the state.

The audit report indicates that New Living Word overcharged the state by $395,520 and was subsequently removed from the scholarship program.

New Living Word was not the only one. The report says that auditors found that DOE overpaid or underpaid 48 of the 118 participating schools (41 percent) in the 2012-2013 academic year, leaving us to wonder just who is running DOE.

But rather than belabor the details of the audit, here is the link to the report so that you may read it for yourself:00036AA0

The rank and file employees of DOE are doing their best under extremely trying circumstances. Many classified employees were laid off and replaced by highly paid unclassified (non-civil service) employees brought in from out of state and who knew little to nothing about running the state’s largest agency. As a result, programs have been started, halted, re-started, changed, amended and scrapped as the young, inexperienced administrative personnel flail about in an effort to cobble together a policy for the department.

Were their efforts not so pathetic and wasteful, it would be light comedy to watch. Instead, John White and his minions are nothing short of tragic, pitiful excuses of pseudo educators who know only how to drive Enterprise rental Escalades and Jeep Cherokees on the state dime 24/7.

And while White himself must ultimately shoulder the blame for the procedural morass the department has become under his watch, it is David “Lefty” Lefkowith who is the poster child for all that is wrong with the voucher system. That is, after all, his job at DOE: he is in charge of the program—when he’s not jetting back and forth between Baton Rouge and his home in Los Angeles.

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© 2013

You’d think that John White would’ve learned from others’ mistakes.

He is, after all, the Louisiana Superintendent of Education and one of the definitions of education is the act or process of educating or being educated, according to our handy dandy Free Online Dictionary which also defines education as the knowledge or skill obtained or developed by a learning process.

Education.com further defines education as “the act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life.”

It was only four years ago that the news broke that Paul Vallas, White’s predecessor at the Recovery School District had taken 30 personal trips to his hometown of Chicago between 2007 and 2009 in a state-owned Dodge Durango in violation of state regulations governing use of state-owned vehicles.

He even took one of those trips to appear on a Chicago TV station to announce his intent to run for governor and while he did make the announcement, he never ran for that office. He currently is a candidate for lieutenant governor in next year’s election.

The use of the Durango for personal trips did not become public knowledge until the vehicle was involved in an accident in Chicago and the Louisiana Office of Risk Management received a claim for damages from the Department of Education (DOE). Vallas was en route to a press conference to discuss a constitutional convention for Illinois at the time of that accident.

Then-State Education Superintendent Paul Pastorek, Vallas’s superior, said he was unaware that it was against regulations for Vallas to use the state vehicle for such trips, an incredulous claim at best.

Vallas subsequently moved on to Hartford, Conn., (where he would ultimately be deemed by a state judge to be unqualified and directed out of office) and was replaced by Gov. Bobby Jindal’s choice, John White. When Pastorek was booted, White was then promoted to State Superintendent.

So, the precedent was clearly there for White to see and to learn from. Certainly he was perceptive enough to avoid that particular pitfall. Pastorek, after all, had to pony up about $4,000 (an amount that also covered $946 in fuel costs) in reimbursement to the state on Vallas’s behalf though it was never made clear why Vallas himself was not held accountable for the costs.

So White would never repeat that mistake, would he? Of course not. We’re not going to catch DOE employees running all over creation in state-owned vehicles, no siree.

That’s what Enterprise Car Rental is for.

John White’s expenditures on Enterprise rental cars make Vallas look like Ebenezer Scrooge.

Remember that Vallas accounted for an estimated $4,000 in documented personal travel in a state vehicle over a period covering nearly three years, including fuel costs.

Seven current DOE unclassified employees with combined annual salaries totaling north of $1 million have tallied more than $63,700 in car rental fees in just over a year—and that does not even include fuel.

And while state regulations stipulate that only compact or intermediate vehicles may be rented by state employees at monthly fees not to exceed $680, some employees have been cruising around town in vehicles like Jeep Grand Cherokee, Jeep Liberty, Jeep Compass, GMC Terrain, Nissan Murano, Chevrolet Yukon, and Cadillac Escalade at monthly rentals as high as $1,450.

And with the exception of a couple of skipped months, the vehicle rentals, while charged on a monthly basis, would appear to be on a permanent basis for the employees, each of whom has been on the job for less than two years.

The records could be incomplete because LouisianaVoice initially requested the records on Oct. 18 only for the months of July 1, 2012 through Oct. 18, 2013. The records were only made available on Wednesday, Dec. 11, nearly two months after they were first requested.

State law requires that public records be produced on demand unless they are unavailable. In such case, the state must respond immediately as to when the records will be available within three working days of the request.

LouisianaVoice has made a supplemental request for Enterprise car rental records for each of the seven employees for their entire tenure at DOE as well as a complete record of fuel costs for the rental vehicles.

Neither White nor his Chief of Staff Kunjan Narechania responded to an email request from LouisianaVoice asking them to justify the issuance of permanent rental cars to state employees in light of the state’s ongoing budgetary problems.

Of course no story of DOE chicanery would be complete without the participation of our old friend David “Lefty” Lefkowith.

He is, as might be expected, one of the Enterprise Seven.

You will remember the ubiquitous Lefty as the motivational speaker who worked with pre-collapse Enron and Jeb Bush’s administration in an ambitious but unsuccessful effort to corner the market on drinking water in the state of Florida.

He next showed up first as a contract worker for DOE and then as the head of the Office of Portfolio for the department at $146,000 per year. He currently works with the department’s course choice program which has had its own image problems.

Despite Jindal’s oft-proclaimed goal of keeping the best and brightest Louisiana citizens in Louisiana, the administration seems hell bent on going outside the state for its talent and Lefty is no exception. He has maintained his residence in Los Angeles and actually commutes from that city to his day job at DOE. He apparently works only four days a week and heads west on Fridays and returns Sunday night or Monday morning.

Of course when he is in town he needs a vehicle to get around Baton Rouge and to take him to and from New Orleans International Airport each weekend. Records show he rents his Enterprise vehicles on a weekly basis, usually for four days at a pop (Monday through Friday) with sometimes a couple of hours extra thrown in.

Incomplete records show that he has spent about $6,000 on car rental fees (not counting fuel, of course) since Oct. 14, 2012. LouisianaVoice has requested complete records dating back to his date of employment with the department and including the cost of fuel for his vehicles.

To his credit, it should be pointed out that Lefkowith generally stuck to the compact car requisite rate of $32 per day for his rentals. On those occasions when he did upgrade, it was only to $36 per day—unlike some of his co-workers who did not appear to even attempt to stay within the state-approved rate mandates.

Following is an itemized list of the remaining six employees, number of months they have driven an Enterprise rental car, the type cars and the total cost (In some cases, the make of vehicle was not provided):

  • Kerry Laster, Executive Officer ($135,000)—nine months, from Nov. 2, 2012 through Aug. 20, 2013 (no record for Feb. 9 to Mar. 4, 2013): GMC Terrain, Hyundai Tucson, Cadillac Escalade (four months), Grand Cherokee, Ford Explorer (two months)—$11,205;
  • Melissa Stilley, Liaison Officer ($135,000)—12 months, from Aug. 13, 2012 to Sept. 5, 2013: Malibu, Jeep Liberty, Jeep Compass, Dodge Journey (three months), Chevrolet Tahoe, Ford Edge (four months)—$13,550;
  • Warren Drake, Liaison Officer ($160,000)—12 months, from Sept. 10, 2012 to Sept. 5, 2013: Honda Accord, Kia Sorento, Ford Flex, Grand Cherokee (nine months)—$8,160;
  • Gayle Sloan, Liaison Officer ($160,000)—12 months, from Sept. 4, 2012, to Sept. 30, 2013 (no record for December of 2012); Chevrolet Impala (three months), Toyota Camry, Jeep Liberty (seven months), Jeep Patriot—$9,060;
  • Francis Touchet, Liaison Officer ($130,000)—15 months, from July 11, 2012, to Sept. 16, 2013; Nissan Altima (two months), Nissan Murano (seven months)—$11,800;
  • Gary Jones, Executive Officer ($145,000)—12 months, from Sept. 17, 2012 to Sept. 13, 2013; Nissan Sentra (nine months), Ford Fusion (three months)—$7,980.

The free use of a rental car on a year-round basis could pose another problem besides the obvious criticism that might come from the Legislative Auditor.

These Enterprise rentals are not the occasional rentals for quick one- or two-day trips on departmental business; they are perks by every definition of the word—used year-round, nights and weekends, for personal use as well as the occasional business-related trip.

And perks are taxable in-kind income.

Or at least they should be…unless DOE neglected to report the in-kind payments and the employees neglected to report them on their tax returns.

If that is the case, then DOE and the seven employees could have some explaining to do to the IRS and the Louisiana Department of Revenue, that is if Revenue Secretary Tim Barfield should be inclined to pursue the matter.

But don’t count on that.

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If public humility is your thing, all you have to do is appear before a state legislative committee or state commission unprepared to provide answers to even the most basic of questions.

That’s what happened last Friday in two separate legislative committee rooms during meetings of the State Bond Commission and the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget (JLCB) during discussions of capital outlay projects and BA-7 requests, respectively.

BA-7s are budget request forms used to make changes in revenues and/or expenditure line items during the year. Agencies submit them to the Division of Administration (DOA) Budget Office and if approved there, they are placed on the monthly agenda of the JLCB for consideration.

Bond Commission Chairman State Treasurer John Kennedy was particularly rankled over the shifting of construction projects to be replaced by $5 million in capital improvements to the LSU Health Sciences Building in Shreveport which is being taken over by Biomedical Research Foundation of Northwest Louisiana (BRF).

After Mark Moses of State Facility Planning and Control submitted changes to the commission, Kennedy said, “In July, you said the list was top priority and shovel ready. Now you’re saying they are not. What changed?”

“Cash flow needs have changed,” Moses said. “We’re shifting money. Eighteen projects are complete and on 76 others, there has been no activity and if the need is not there, we shift the dollars.”

“Why did you say in July that they were top priority?” Kennedy asked again. “The problem is if we replace them with something else, the original projects go to the back of the line. We’re shutting 90 projects down even though we have already spent money on some of them and now we’re sending those projects to the back of the line.”

Kennedy then launched into his ongoing criticism of the privatization of the Louisiana Medical Center at Shreveport and E.A. Conway Medical Center in Monroe. “We’re making $5 million in capital improvements to the Health Science Center. Who’s going to own that?”

Liz Murrill, DOA chief legal counsel, said, “We own the building. They (BRF) are leasing it.”

“We’re spending $4.8 million on scanner clinical and research imaging equipment for Biomedical Research Foundation…”

“This is a non-state entity. The dollars are being used for a public purpose,” Murrill said.

“Like an NGO (non-government organization)? We’re just giving it to them?”

“We’re providing money for this piece of equipment,” she said.

“Do we require them to file quarterly reports?”

“It’s contemplated it will be used for a public purpose,” she said, failing to answer his question.

Kennedy then asked if the legislative auditor would be able to audit the expenditure of the funds to which Murrill said, “I assume so, just as with any capital outlay projects.”

“One of the conditions of the agreement is there would be no public record,” Kennedy said, referring to a clause in the certificate of agreement between the LSU Board of Stuporvisors and BRF which says, “Financial and other records created by, for or otherwise belonging to BRF or BRFHH (BRF Hospital Holdings) shall remain in the possession, custody and control of BRF and BRFHH, respectively,” and that “such records shall be clearly marked as confidential and/or proprietary,” and thus protected from Louisiana public records laws.

“A public record is a public record,” Murrill said somewhat tentatively. “We have procedures to decide what is public record.”

“Who decides what’s public?” Kennedy asked.

“It depends on who gets the request.”

“Do you have a problem adding a condition to these purchases on the legislative auditor’s being able to audit the purchases?”

“I think that’s the case now,” Murrill said.

“Why are we buying this for the Biomedical Center instead of LSU?” Kennedy asked.

Mimi Hedgecock of the LSU School of Medicine—and formerly Jindal’s policy advisor—said the purchase was part of the partnership with BRF prior to the certificate of agreement between LSU and BRF.

“Is it accurate to say we have not picked an operator of the hospital yet?” Kennedy asked. “The testimony before the Louisiana Joint Budget Committee was they (BRF) were going to pick an operator. We’re entering a 99-year lease and don’t know who is even going to run the facility. The legislature has no say. How can we audit if we don’t know who’s running it? We can’t audit HCA (Hospital Corp. of America).

“This makes a mockery of the capital outlay procedure,” Kennedy said. “You’re supposed to be building a priority of projects. In July, you cam to us and said these projects were absolutely top priority and (were) shovel ready. Now they’re not shovel ready or top priority. Now we have new projects and these projects are going to the back of the line. I don’t think this is a good way to do business.”

Joint Budget Committee

Things got even testier at the Joint Budget Committee, thanks to the amateurish performance of witnesses appearing on behalf of the Recovery School District (RSD), just another ongoing embarrassment for the Louisiana Department of Education (DOE).

The fun began when committee member Jim Fannin (R-Jonesboro), who also serves as House Appropriations Committee chairman, questioned RSD’s claim to having $34 million in self-generated funds for the projects it was submitting.

“Explain how you self-generated $34 million,” he said. “It’s unusual for RSD to self-generate that many dollars.

The breakdown given was $27.13 million in new market tax credits, $3.37 million from insurance proceeds and $4.05 million from Harris Capital funding for construction of Wheatly and McDonough 42 schools.

Fannin responded that the way the budget was presented was “confusing.” He said he was seeing too many “other” expenditures on the BA-7 submitted by RSD. “You have legal expenses of $800,000,” he said. “I never saw legal expenses of $800,000 to rebuild two schools.”

“Those legal fees pay for 82 schools—the entire master plan,” said RSD spokesperson Annie Cambre.

But it was Sen. Ed Murray (D-New Orleans) who peppered the RSD types with a barrage of withering questions—withering because the RSD representatives were woefully ill-prepared with answers much as State Superintendent John White has been since his appointment in January of 2012.

Murray asked about the expenditure of $375,000 in funds for engineering and architectural costs before RSD had authority to spend the money. “Are we using any of this $375,000 to pay them already?” he asked.

“Most were paid from multiple fund sources,” responded a young, unidentified red-headed RSD representative who more resembled a high school FBLA member than a public education professional.

“Let me ask my question again,” Murray said. “Are we using any of this $375,000 to pay them already?”

“For some of them, yes. Some are eligible from FEMA, some not,” said Red.

“Then why are we just now getting this request if we’re already using the money?”

“We already had some authority but we just realized we need additional authority.”

Murray, beginning to show his exasperation, then asked, “How much of the $375,000 have we spent so far?”

“I don’t know,” said Red. “I can get that for you.”

“It disturbs me that we’re spending money without authority to do so,” Murray said. “Let’s go to the legal expense of $800,000. How much of that have we spent?”

“Again, I don’t have that exact number,” said Red. “I can get that for you.”

“Mr. Chairman,” Murray said to committee Chairman Jack Donahue (R-Mandeville), “can we get them to come back next month when they have answers?”

“That would seem appropriate,” said Donahue. “There’re a lot more questions than answers.”

Bordelon, in a last-ditch effort to salvage the request said, “It’s important that everyone understand the timing of the Wheatly-McDonough projects. There will be several thousand students affected by any delay. The New Market tax programs and closing times are specific. Timing is of the essence.”

“We’d like to help you guys,” Donahue said, “but when you come here you don’t have sufficient information to answer questions. I don’t know how you think we can approve something when you can’t answer questions about the money you’re asking for that you’ve already spent and how many dollars are involved.”

“We were utilizing previously granted authority,” Bordelon said.

“I appreciate that,” Bordelon said, “but on the other hand, you’re already spending it and didn’t come for authority to do that until you started spending the money. And when members ask how many dollars have already been spent, and you can’t answer, that’s a problem.”

“It was my understanding we were operating under previously granted authority,” Bordelon persisted.

“That’s not what was said,” Bordelon said. “That was not the testimony. The testimony was you were already spending that money but you don’t know how many dollars were spent.”

Murray’s motion to defer action until next month passed unanimously and Murray then had one last word of advice to Bordelon.

“You say this is going to affect ‘several thousand students.’ I’m pretty familiar with Wheatly and McDonough 42. You don’t have several thousand students in those two schools. We want you, when you come before this committee, to tell us accurate information.”

Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge) added, “When you come back, be prepared to discuss the oddly round legal expenses and issues related to that.”

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Another day, another embarrassing SNAFU on the part of John White and his dysfunctional Louisiana Department of Education.

For that matter, you may have to include our favorite Department of Education (DOE) administrator, Lefty Lefkowith, when handing out the stink weed bouquets for the department’s infamous course choice program.

That’s the program Lefkowith was being paid $146,000 a year to set up and run between his weekly commute to and from Los Angeles.

Now, thanks to the superb digging of the Monroe News Star’s Barbara Leader, we learn that athletic scholarship for Louisiana university students may be in jeopardy because the NCAA has not approved 17 of the 19 course choice providers for Louisiana college athletes.

Uh-oh. Just another day of putting out brush fires at DOE. Remember New Living Word School in Ruston? That was the school initially approved by DOE for 315 vouchers last year despite the fact it had no classrooms, no desks and insufficient staff.

Of course, if you read the department’s Course Choice Overview and Fact Sheet, you read on the very first page that “Course providers had to pass an intensive four-step selection process.”

House Concurrent Resolution 153 by Rep. Patrick Jefferson (D-Homer) and Sens. Mike Walsworth (R-West Monroe) and Francis Thompson (D-Delhi) during the 2013 legislative session urged the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) “to study issues relative to the enrollment of students by course providers and the approval of course providers…”

That resolution noted that the DOE website “states that course providers must ‘pass an intensive four-step selection process’…”

Despite that four-step process and DOE’s “rigorous review” which began in August of 2012, Leader said an email last month from DOE Director Ken Bradford to White indicated that 17 of the 19 listed providers were not NCAA-approved. http://www.thenewsstar.com/article/20131018/NEWS01/310180037

Course Choice, overseen at one time by Lefkowith, who works only four days a week at a salary of $146,000, allows high school students who attend a C, D or F-ranked school to enroll in online courses from state-approved private providers if their schools do not offer courses needed for them to graduate.

White told Leader on Friday that virtual classes offered by providers are often used by athletes to complete high school academic requirements. Eligibility problems have never arisen in the past, he said.

That was then. This is now.

Bradford, in his email, said, “Just wanted to put this on your radar. The Choice Academic team is working with our providers to ensure they get approval/authorized with the NCAA for their core offerings. Doomsday scenario for us is that a kid takes a course, gets a scholarship and then walks on to (sic) campus and NCAA will not clear him and the scholarship is in jeopardy.”

Somehow, John White, BESE and doomsday scenario just seem to go together.

Not to diminish the damage this would inflict on affected players, but if this little crisis du jour ends up costing the eligibility of key LSU players or worse yet (in the hearts and minds of Tiger football fans, anyway), causes LSU to forfeit any or all of its wins, the fecal matter will surely hit the oscillating air redistribution device. And the collateral damage might even be felt up on the fourth floor of the State Capitol.

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It has become so easy to catch Superintendent of Education John White in a lie that the exercise has also become boring.

The latest fabrication to come out of the Department of Education (DOE) was a simultaneous falsehood delivered to both LouisianaVoice and Crazy Crawfish and we’re both calling him out on it—simultaneously.

On Sunday, Oct. 14, LouisianaVoice submitted a public records request to White at 7:08 p.m. and a read receipt showed that he opened our email at 11:32 p.m. that same day.

Our request was straightforward enough, asking that White provide us with “all documents which indicate which employees, including your executive staff, in the Louisiana Department of Education have or will receive pay increases.”

A simple request to be sure and one with which it should have easy to comply.

Instead, the response we received on Monday, Oct. 14, was a lie, pure and simple.

“Our public information office has requested that I inform you that the Department is not in possession of any public records responsive to your request,” said the letter from department legal counsel Troy Humphrey.

That was a lie, as we learned from a similar request made to the Department of Civil Service. More about that later.

Fellow blogger Jason France, aka the Crazy Crawfish, http://crazycrawfish.wordpress.com/ has encountered similar difficulty getting straight answers from White and called the superintendent out on Wednesday.

Crazy Crawfish reprinted a Sept. 27 memorandum from White to DOE personnel in which White said budgetary constraints forced him to implement a hiring freeze after Oct. 7. He also said the department “will not provide performance adjustments (raises) this year.”

He said he would re-evaluate that decision later to determine if “one-time incentive award(s) to our employees” could be made.

While technically correct, there are no fewer than 43 DOE employees who received pay increases totaling nearly $500,000 (an average of $11,600 each) from September 2012 to October 2013.

What’s more, there were 40 new hires during this same time period totaling $3 million, or $75,000 per new employee.

So how could White say there would be no raises but at the same time bumped the salaries of 43 employees by an average of $11,600—some by as much as $40,000 and more?

Simple. He borrowed a page from the playbook of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

The Department of Civil Service, in providing figures to LouisianaVoice, noted that the majority of the salary increases “are the result of reallocations in career progression group, promotions, or movement from part-time to full-time.”

That’s what Walker did in Wisconsin, according to a story published this week. He created what is classified as “phantom jobs” to boost the salaries of his top aides. He simply shifts employees from one position to another, and back again, giving them healthy pay bumps at each stop along the way, thus circumventing state personnel rules limiting pay increases.

One employee, for example, received an increase of $11,100—from $60,902 to $72,000—when she was promoted from an Education Program Consultant 2 to Education Program Consultant 4.

Another got a $13,000 bump—from $65,200 to $78,200—when promoted from Education Consultant to IT Management Consultant I.

Three others received pay raises of $40,500, $49,400 and $54,200 respectively when they went from, in order, Educational Assistant to Educational Program Consultant 3, from Educational Assistant to Executive Management Officer 1, and from Instructor to Educational Program Consultant 3.

As noted by our friend the Crazy Crawfish, White brought in new hires with such vague titles as “Advisor” ($60,000), “Director” ($90,000), “Consultant” ($95,000) and “Fellow” ($100,000, $95,000 and $70,000). Apparently some fellows are worth more than other fellows.

White also “promoted” one employee from Computer Graph Designer at $39,000 to Public Information Officer 1 at $44,200, an increase of $5,200, and he had a new hire of a Public Information Officer 2 at $50,600.

This from a department that steadfastly refuses to release any public information unless threatened with litigation—with litigation sometimes even becoming necessary.

And keep in mind, these new hires and pay raises disguised as promotions and reassignments came during a time when White claimed it was necessary to lay off dozens of DOE employees.

Crazy Crawfish said it best when he said John White is just not honest.

“Unclassified personnel can be fired at will,” he said. “They should have been the first to go before scores of classified employees were laid off. He was not honest about raises to select employees. He was not honest about being under financial hardship and needing to lay off scores of employees when he can hire dozens more…”

To that we can only refer that that infamous email to the governor’s office in which White said he planned to “take some air out of the room” in upcoming testimony to legislators about the approval of 315 vouchers for New Living Word school in Ruston, a facility lacking in classrooms, textbooks and staff.

That is his M.O. It always has been and, with the backing of Board of Elementary and Secondary Education President Chas Roemer, that’s the way it will be as long as this state is saddled with this albatross of a superintendent.

In short, nothing the man says can be trusted and the time is long past when we should be asking if this is the type person we want in charge of our state education system.

After all, if he will so easily lie about something as basic as pay raises for department employees, why should we expect the truth about school performance scores?

We made that request also and we were told the report is not available.

And it’s only been eight months.

Perhaps he needs time to cook the numbers to support his claims.

Which, of course, would be yet another lie.

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If you like the way Mack Ford treated and taught the children at New Bethany Home for Boys and Girls in Arcadia, you’ll love the education reforms being put in place for Louisiana by Gov. Bobby Jindal, Superintendent of Education John White and Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) President Chas Roemer.

Though many of the students at New Bethany never received their high school diplomas as promised, Ford employed the Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) curriculum for whatever teaching that occurred at the facility.

And though the home closed more than a decade ago, students’ claims of beatings and rapes at New Bethany recently resurfaced when it was learned that two former board members—Ford’s son-in-law and grandson, Timothy Johnson and Jonathan Johnson, respectively— were working in the campaign of 5th District congressional candidate State Sen. Neil Riser, the candidate who is Jindal’s personal choice.

On Tuesday, Jonathan Johnson, Ford’s grandson who has worked for retiring 5th District Congressman Rodney Alexander since 2003 and who now works for Riser as an unpaid volunteer, was asked about the propriety of Riser’s allowing two men tainted by the reports of beatings and rapes at New Bethany. “This doesn’t involve him (Riser),” he said.

Jonathan Johnson never denied the beatings and rapes occurred. Instead, he said, “I was twelve when that happened.” He also denied that he ever served on the New Bethany board. But minutes of a board meeting on June 30, 2001, obtained by LouisianaVoice indicate otherwise.

Called for the purpose of “disposing of properties owned and operated by New Bethany Home for Girls, Inc.,” the minutes identify board members “acting on behalf of New Bethany Home for Girls, Inc.” They include Timothy Johnson (Jonathan Johnson’s father and Mack Ford’s son-in-law), Jonathan Johnson, Maxine Ford, Douglas Gilmore and Thelma Ford (Mack Ford’s wife and the board’s vice president and secretary).

As for the manner in which the property of New Bethany Home for Girls, Inc., was disposed of, records on file in the Bienville Parish Courthouse indicate little, if anything was actually liquidated. Instead, records show the home’s property was simply transferred to New Bethany Baptist Church—a paper transaction that kept control of the property in Ford’s name.

New Bethany Baptist Church is in the New Bethany Home for Girls compound, situated inside a chain link fence topped with barbed wire. Former residents of New Bethany said only residents and staff members—no outsiders—ever attended New Bethany Baptist Church.

And while the home officially closed its doors in 1998 (though some claim that a few girls remained there until 2004), LouisianaVoice found several Independent Fundamental Baptist churches across the country (including at least one in Louisiana) that continued providing financial support for Ford’s “ministries” long after the home closed and services at New Bethany Baptist Church were no more.

Among those churches which continued sending financial assistance to Ford:

  • Calvary Baptist Church, Sulphur, Louisiana, W.T. Darnell, pastor;
  • New Testament Baptist Church, Centralia, Illinois, Don Smith, pastor;
  • Faith Baptist Church, Spokane, Missouri, James Mohler, pastor;
  • Berean Baptist Church, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Ronnie Baity, pastor;
  • Gloryland Baptist Church, Lincolnton, North Carolina, Macon Ballard, pastor.

Baity, asked why his church continues to send money to a “mission” that no longer exists, said, “How this church spends its money is none of your business since you don’t help pay the bills.”

And though this is by no means an indictment of all church-affiliated schools, three traits prominent among many—far too many—fundamental Christian schools, including New Bethany, are child abuse, sexual abuse and fundamental Christian textbooks like the ACE curriculum, A Beka Book, and Bob Jones University (BJU) Press that teach such interesting things as:

  • Solar fusion is a myth;
  • A Japanese whaling boat found a live dinosaur;
  • Humans and dinosaurs co-existed;
  • The earth is only 10,000 years old;
  • The Ku Klux Klan tried to be a means of reform in some areas of the country;
  • God used the “Trail of Tears” as a means to bring many American Indians to Christ;
  • It cannot be shown scientifically that man-made pollutants will one day reduce the depth of the atmosphere’s ozone layer;
  • God has provided certain checks and balances in creation to prevent many of the global upsets predicted by environmentalists;
  • The Great Depression was exaggerated by propagandists, including John Steinbeck, to promote a socialist agenda;
  • Only 10 percent of Africans can read or write because Christian mission schools have been shut down by communists;
  • Unions have always been plagued by socialists and anarchists who use laborers to destroy the free-enterprise system that hardworking Americans have created.

The list of schools participating in the 2013-2014 Louisiana Scholarship Programs is peppered with church-affiliated schools, some two dozen of which employ one or more of the three curriculums cited earlier. Each was state approved by BESE, White and by virtue of his support of White and Roemer, Jindal.

  • Delhi Charter School: Until public opinion (and a threat of a lawsuit by the ACLU), Delhi Charter instituted a policy of forcing a female student to take pregnancy tests if the school suspected she might be pregnant. The policy was adopted after a 17-year-old student became pregnant by a school football player and was asked to leave the school. The boy was subjected to no disciplinary action.
  • Claiborne Christian School, West Monroe: Scientists are “sinful men” who exclude God in explaining the world. “Any stories that go against a biblical view of live in this series of books are skipped and are not read in the class.”
  • Faith Academy, Gonzales: Employs ACE textbooks. Students “defend creationism through evidence presented by the Bible verses (sic) traditional scientific theory.”
  • Northeast Baptist School, West Monroe: Uses A Beka and BJU science textbooks.
  • Union Christian Academy, Farmerville: Relies “heavily” on the BJU curriculum, as well as “selected materials that have been approved by the administration.”
  • Victory Christian Academy, Metairie: Uses A Beka and BJU curricula.
  • Northlake Christian Elementary School, Covington: Teaches from A Beka materials.
  • Northlake Christian High School, Covington: Student handbook includes policy against admitting prospective students and staff who do not meet “Biblical standards.”
  • Gethsemane Christian Academy, Lafayette: Uses ACE, A Beka and BJU curriculum.
  • Jehovah-Jireh Christian Academy, Baton Rouge: Uses A Beka curriculum.
  • Greater Mt. Olive Christian Academy, Baton Rouge: Uses A Beka curriculum.
  • Faith Christian Academy, Marrero: Uses A Beka curriculum.
  • Lafayette Christian Academy, Lafayette: Uses BJU and A Beka curricula.
  • Cenla Christian Academy, Pineville: Uses BJU and A Beka curricula.
  • Family Worship Christian Academy, Opelousas: employs A Beka curriculum.
  • Trinity Christian Academy, Zachary: uses A Beka for high school science.
  • Old Bethel Christian Academy, Clark: Uses A Beka curriculum.
  • Eternity Christian Academy, Westlake: uses ACE curriculum.

So while Jindal bemoans “government control” of Louisiana’s education system, he apparently has no problem with fundamental church schools gaining control of students’ minds through curricula that conflict with scientific knowledge—and doing it with state funding.

Anyone who has the ability to see through Jindal’s “reform” package has to be asking whatever happened to the doctrine of separation of church and state.

And that doctrine appears to be the only real difference between the Mack Fords and Lester Roloffs of the world, who steadfastly refused state funding to avoid the necessity of state licensing (and state supervision) and those Christian schools who crowd their way to the public trough for a share of state funding to support their curricula that border on mind control.

Can anyone say “Stepford students?”

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BATON ROUGE (CNS)—The Walton Family Foundation, already the largest single donor to Teach for America (TFA), recently committed an additional $20 million to recruit, train and place an another 4,000 unqualified teachers in America’s classrooms.

That includes $3 million to the New Orleans region, administered by one Kira Orange Jones who sits on the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) which just happens to be the agency that contracts with TFA for those novice teachers.

In case you live in a cave, the Walton Family Foundation is the benevolent offshoot of Wal-Mart, one of the most successful retail businesses in American history but which is alone responsible for the demise of more neighborhood mom and pop stores than any one factor since the Great Depression—all while enjoying the benefit of almost $100 million in various tax breaks in 19 Louisiana cities, according to incomplete figures that do not include newer state stores.

More on that later.

The Louisiana Board of Ethics, apparently kept in the dark as to Jones’ title of Executive Director of the New Orleans TFA regional office, ruled that her serving on BESE was not a conflict because her salary was not affected by the contracts with the state.

The ethics board member—its vice chairman—who lulled the board into believing she was a mere rank and file employee of TFA, has since resigned after it was revealed that he had his own conflict as a legal counsel for Tulane University which also had a contract with TFA.

LouisianaVoice recently obtained through a public records request of the Department of Education (DOE) copies of three separate contracts between DOE’s Recovery School District (RSD) and TFA. Two of those contracts, dated in September of 2009 and 2011, were signed by Kira Orange Jones, complete with the notation beneath her signature identifying her as “Executive Director.”

Exercising a bit more caution in 2012, the contract was signed by Michael Tipton, Jones’ boss.

Those contracts, by the way, called for the state to pay TFA up to $5,000 per teacher provided for RSD—up to 40 teachers—and RSD would then be required to pay their salaries.

TFA alumnus Jack Carey, vice president of the greater New Orleans program said the money would fund more than 500 positions in the 2013 to 2015 school years, though with the state paying that generous “finder’s fee,” and local school boards paying the salaries, it’s rather difficult to imagine why an additional $3 million is needed other than to surmise the whole TFA thing is one gigantic scam designed to line someone’s pockets. That “someone” would be someone other than Louisiana teachers who have invested thousands of dollars on bachelor’s, master’s, and plus-30s and even Ph.Ds., but suddenly find themselves taking a back seat to those who train for five weeks over the summer to become teachers.

But it’s not only established teachers who take a dim view of TFA. Many of TFA’s own alumni are critical of the organization to which they once pledged their loyalty.

http://truth-out.org/articles/item/17750-teach-for-america-apostates-a-primer-of-alumni-resistance

One former TFA teacher now says that the organization glosses over issues of race and inequality but “fits very nicely into an overall strategy of privatizing education and diminishing critical thinking.”

Whenever a TFA teacher begins to questions the motives and intent of the program, “The staff would get together and talk about how to handle these people,” another former TFA member says. “They’d plunk him down with groups of ‘stronger corps members’ to improve his attitude” by “trying to further indoctrinate others and myself.”

Yet another dissident said he no longer recognized TFA. “All I see is a bunch of liars who are getting themselves rich and powerful. They just can’t stop lying.” He added that TFA refuses to recognize established evidence that a child’s socioeconomic level at birth better predicts his future tax bracket and educational attainment than how well her teachers prepare him for standardized tests.

“We really get to know what schools across our community need in the way of high-quality teachers,” Carey said, “and we work with them over the course of a year to understand their needs and help make great matches.”

Wow. How noble.

But perhaps Mr. Carey has not taken a trip down to the Ninth Ward to George Washington Carver High School.

I have.

Has Kira Orange Jones toured Carver High?

I have.

Washington Carver High School is the alma mater of Marshall Faulk, Heisman Trophy runner-up at San Diego State and all-pro running back for the Indianapolis Colts and St. Louis Rams (where he won a Super Bowl).

But you’d never know it.

Eight years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the entire Ninth Ward, the school still has not been rebuilt. Today, it consists entirely of T-buildings. Superintendent of Education John White’s annual report, released last February, lists Carver as among the schools scheduled for new construction. Even though the proposed construction is to be funded by the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), no steps have actually been taken to start construction other than the naming of two architectural firms. No contractor, though, eight years post-Katrina.

The football weight room is pathetic, consisting of three or four weight benches any other school would have thrown out years ago. There is no cover for the foam padding on the benches—padding that is crumbling. And the players’ lockers consist of plastic bins scattered across the floor—easy pickings for anyone who wanted to steal a watch or an i-Pod.

No one visiting the T-building weight room would ever believe that an NFL Super Bowl player once escaped the Desire Housing Project by playing his high school ball here.

Despite these conditions, George Washington Carver made it to the quarter-final round of the state high school football playoffs last year.

But far worse than the deplorable athletic facilities eight years post-Katrina is the fact that incredulous as it may sound, the school has no library.

Let that sink in. There is a public high school in Louisiana today that does not have a library.

Yet John White and Bobby Jindal and BESE President Chas Roemer would have us believe they’re all about education.

Gov. Jindal, Superintendent White, Chas Roemer, BESE member/TFA Director Kira Jones: what say you to the revelation that a public high school has allowed to exist under your watch that has no library? A school comprised exclusively of T-buildings? We’d love to hear your take on this. But please don’t hide behind Kyle Plotkin or your respective public relations sycophants in your response. (Surely is quiet; are those crickets we hear chirping?)

And so the Walton Family Foundation goes about with its press releases that glorify its generosity on behalf of education.

In truth, the Walton Family Foundation is all about the Waltons. TFA is simply the vehicle by which the Waltons try to put on their civic face. They are probably among the least civic minded of all.

Remember those patriotic television ads of a few years back when Wal-Mart was all about “American made” products? How long has it been since you’ve seen one of those ads? But we do hear about Bangladesh sweat shops collapsing on workers even as they turn out products for Wal-Mart.

And we hear plenty about how Wal-Mart exploits its U.S. workers with low wages and no benefits—all so it can keep corporate earnings up and competition out.

Wal-Mart is all about tax credits and making money. Here are 20 examples of economic development subsidies in 19 Louisiana cities, subsidies that total $96.5 million (the figures are probably higher because it’s virtually impossible to get updated figures from the Louisiana Department of Economic Development):

  • Abbeville: $1.665 million;
  • Alexandria: $2.5 million;
  • Bossier City: $1.7 million;
  • East Baton Rouge: $1.385 million;
  • Hammond: $1.365 million;
  • Monroe (Supercenter): $840,000;
  • Monroe (former discount store) $3.09 million;
  • Natchitoches: $1.5 million;
  • New Orleans: $7 million (estimate);
  • Opelousas (distribution center): $33 million;
  • Port Allen: $1 million;
  • Robert (distribution center): more than $21 million;
  • Ruston: more than $947,000;
  • Shreveport: $6.3 million;
  • St. Martinville: $3.725 million;
  • Sulphur: $1.8 million;
  • Vidalia: up to $1.65 million.

Wal-Mart’s expansion has been made possible to a large extent by the generous use of public money. This includes more than $1.2 billion in tax breaks, free land, infrastructure assistance, low-cost financing and outright grants from state and local governments, though the precise figures aren’t always available.

That’s because in Ruston, for example, the total subsidy was more than $947,000. That included a $647,000 enterprise zone tax break, plus $300,000 from the city in infrastructure improvements around the site through a state grant. But the city also made $12 million in road improvements throughout the area through a sales tax increment financing district. But since the district includes neighboring developments and because other area businesses benefitted from the road improvements, the benefits to Wal-Mart were impossible to quantify.

In addition, Louisiana Wal-Mart stores also receive about $5.4 million a year from a state policy that allows stories to keep a portion of the sales tax they collect from customers.

So, while the Walton Family Foundation gives itself a metaphoric pat on the back with its news release trumpeting its $20 million gift to TFA ($3 million allocated to Louisiana), it conveniently ignores how it has managed more than a billion dollars in tax dodges (nearly $100 million in Louisiana)—money that could have been used to support education.

Like perhaps permanent buildings, including a library, at George Washington Carver High School.

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