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Peter Schroeder, a writer for The Hill, has drunk the Kool-Aid.

The Hill is a subsidiary of News Communications, Inc. that covers the U.S. Congress with an emphasis on business, lobbying and political campaigns and is one of the first web pages accessed each day by those wishing to stay abreast of events in the nation’s capital.

But Sunday’s story by Schroeder has to leave readers in Louisiana scratching their heads and wondering about his credentials or his sanity—or both.

His story, The New and Improved Jindal, touts the prospects of Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-Iowa, R-New Hampshire, R-Anywhere but Louisiana) as a legitimate challenger for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. http://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/219759-the-new-and-improved-bobby-jindal

Perhaps unwittingly, however, the headline to his story may have provided an insight to what’s in store for the Boy Blunder.

By invoking the term “new and improved,” we immediately are left with the idea that he is being packaged and sold like so much washing powder or toothpaste—or perhaps more appropriately, toilet paper.

To bolster his evaluation of Jindal as a real comer, Schroeder relied on people like Tony Perkins, founder of the Louisiana Family Forum, former legislator, failed U.S. Senate candidate and president of the Family Research Council and Jindal’s former chief of staff, current political adviser Timmy Teepell and Baton Rouge political pollster Bernie Pinsonat.

The fact that Jindal and Perkins are in lock step on family values issues does not exactly make Perkins an impartial observer and Teepell certainly has much to gain if he and his consulting company, OnMessage, can ride Jindal’s coattails into the White House (or as Sarah Palin would say, 1400 Pennsylvania Avenue).

Schroeder also hangs his analysis on a single speech by Jindal last week when he cracked a couple of jokes that actually got chuckles from his conservative audience at the Values Voters Summit in Washington. “Jindal showed a dynamic style as he paced across the state,” he wrote.

What!!? Really? You’re staking your writing career on that thin bit of evidence?

Well, not exactly. There is this from Teepell:

“Most people’s impression of his speaking skills go back to his State of the Union response (of 2009), which was just a terrible speech.

“You’re having to do it (speaking) all the time, and on a number of different issues every single day, and so he just gets better and better.”

So, there you have it. By Teepell’s own admission, Jindal is making these speeches “every single day,” which leaves damned little time for him to devote his attention to the mundane duties of governor—a job to which he was re-elected by 67 percent of 20 percent of the state’s voters, a veritable mandate.

If he’s such a rising star, perhaps Schroeder can explain to us how Jindal managed to finish behind “nobody” in a recent straw poll. Maybe he can tell us why he remains a bottom feeder in the polls, along with Palin who can’t seem to get the address of the White House right.

Jindal’s supporters argue that his low numbers can be attributed to the fact that voters in the heartland don’t know him, not because they don’t like him.

News flash: we know him in Louisiana and his numbers have never been lower here and it’s precisely because we do know him.

Louisiana pollster Bernie Pinsonat said Jindal simply needs an issue that will give him national exposure.

We have several such issues:

  • He was for Common Core before he decided it would be politically expedient to oppose it.
  • He regularly hopped all over north Louisiana handing out stimulus money at Protestant churches and “awarding” military veterans’ pins during his first term but has not visited a single church of any stripe nor has he delivered any military pins since his re-election where only 20 percent of registered voters even bothered to vote.
  • He has bankrupted the state with tax giveaways to corporations while attempting to rip state employees’ pensions from them with a patently unconstitutional legislative bill.
  • He is now attempting to do the same thing with state worker health benefits while at the same time depleting the fund balance of the Office of Group Benefits.
  • He has handed out hundreds of millions of dollars in questionable state contracts to consultants and favored firms.
  • His hand-picked Secretary of Health and Hospitals has been indicted on nine counts of perjury in connection with one of those contracts.
  • He has given away the state hospital system to private entities though the move has yet to be approved by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).
  • He has repeatedly cut the budgets of higher education in Louisiana.
  • He has consistently promoted school vouchers and charter schools at the expense of low-income students who are left in the underfunded public schools.
  • He attempted to give the State Police Superintendent a $55,000 a year retirement raise while ignoring rank and file state police and state employees.
  • He has broken his promise not to use one-time money for recurring expenses—not once, but six times.
  • He has enveloped the governor’s office in secrecy.
  • He has cloaked himself in a mantle of self-righteousness that is betrayed by his callous lack of concern for the people of Louisiana.

“People are going to have plenty of time to get a better impression of Gov. Jindal,” Teepell said. “That (2009) speech won’t be the only thing they remember about him.”

The business of remaking or re-packaging of the new and improved Jindal reminds of the wisdom of Mark Twain who said, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”

As far as we’re concerned, Jindal is going to have plenty to try to remember in his quest for the brass ring that is the GOP nomination.

Or, as we prefer to think, if you’re genuine—if you’re the real deal—there’s really no need for a makeover.

And if ever a person needed a makeover, it’s Jindal.

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Regardless of how you might feel about Common Core, Gov. Bobby Jindal has shown in no uncertain terms that he is either a liar willing to twist facts to his own political advantage or that he is just too dense to comprehend the English language.

As our friend Stephen Sabludowsky over at Bayou Buzz noted in his blog post today (Monday, Sept. 22), Jindal, having crashed and burned in state court (for what seems like the umpteenth time) has now filed a “frivolous” lawsuit in federal court challenging Common Core and by some extension as yet undefined, President Barak Obama. http://www.bayoubuzz.com/buzz/item/748889-jindal-misleads-in-his-legislative-auditor-common-core-spin

Jindal, Sabludowsky noted, said in a press release following the release of an issue brief by Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera’s office that the report “declared that Common Core Standards are driving curriculum in the classroom.” http://gov.louisiana.gov/index.cfm?md=newsroom&tmp=detail&articleID=4678

Jindal added that while the report says that standards are not synonymous with curricula, “the report clearly declares that standards drive curriculum.”

The report, however, says nothing of the sort.

That sent Sabludowsky into orbit. “The word ‘drive’ does not even appear in the report, nor does the word ‘drives’ or even ‘driving.’”

Jindal filed his lawsuit against the Obama administration, saying the federal government (read: Obama) “has hijacked and destroyed the Common Core initiative.”

That, of course is the only tact he could have taken, given the fact that he once was an ardent proponent of Common Core

Yet, blaming Obama for the Common Core standards is more than a little misleading. Our friend Gregory DuCote correctly pointed out that the standards were adopted by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. “I do not see Barak Obama’s name” in the report. “I do not see him credited with the standards.”

All of which got us to wondering what would happen should Jindal somehow, against all odds, be elected POTUS and attempt (either by misinterpreting or by manipulating) to skew the meeting of an international communique or a clause in a peace treaty or trade agreement?

With that in mind, we take you to the White House Oval Office sometime in say, 2018 or 2019:

President Jindal: I’ve just read the report on the Chinese economy and I don’t like what I see.

Press Secretary Mike Reed: Why is that, Mr. President?

Jindal: Well, it says here in black and white they want to initiate an “aggressive tirade mission aimed at exploding western markets. It’s obvious they’re planning to bomb Wall Street.”

Reed: No sir, it says “aggressive trade mission aimed at exploiting western markets.”

Jindal: Don’t correct me. I’m POTUS. Get me the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the NSC, Homeland Security and CIA Director Edmonson. Where’s my Budget Office director?

Kristy Kreme Nichols: I’m right here, Mr. President. I’ve been practicing my half-truths, distortions and denials.

Jindal: Kristy Kreme, where do we stand on Social Security and Medicare?

Kristy Kreme: It’s just Kristy, Sir. Some jerk in Louisiana hung that stupid name on me. Our program to cut Social Security and to offer less coverage under Medicare at higher premiums has resulted in 93 percent of senior citizens having to go back to work to supplement their retirement income. And eliminating the funding for unemployment certainly was effective. We have handicapped military veterans and homeless people cutting lawns and doing landscaping now. By the way, Susan West is doing a great job running Medicare under DHH Secretary Greenstein.

Jindal: Excellent. More people working. That’s what we wanted. Mike, put out a press release about our full employment program. How does Attorney General Faircloth feel about the legal issues involved?

Executive Counsel Thomas Enright: I spoke with him on this and he thinks it’s a slam dunk.

Jindal: Good. I knew I could rely on Jimmy. Always there when I need him. Oh, I need to talk to Secretary of State Teepell about that Russian threat to deploy its nuclear missiles.

Teepell: I’m here, Mr. President. That communique from Putin said he was offering to destroy his nuclear weapons, not deploy them.

Jindal: Destroy, deploy. Whatever happens, we know it’ll be Obama’s fault. Is the Secretary of the Interior here to give his report?”

Scott Angelle: Yes sir, Mr. President, I’m here. I’m happy to report that we have finalized contracts with Exxon/Mobil to open up oil and gas drilling in all the National Forests. Of course, we may have to cut down a few redwood and sequoia trees. Fracking in Yellowstone, however, could pose a problem with the geysers. Especially Old Faithful.

Jindal: Frack it. Those tree huggers probably believe in global warming, too. Do we have a report from Treasury?

Secretary of Treasury Tim Barfield: Everyone on Wall Street sends their best, Mr. President. The Dow set an all time record yesterday, thanks to our sweeping deregulation programs.

Jindal: You’re doing a heckuva job, Barfee. How’re we doing on our legislation to create a new cabinet position?

Chief of Staff Kyle Plotkin: It looks good, Mr. President. I believe we have the votes for the Secretary of Morality position.

Jindal: How does Gene Mills feel about his nomination to the post?

Plotkin: He’s warming up to it, sir. He’s taking a page from the Koran and informing senators and congressmen that if they adhere to a strict monogamous marriage, they will go to heaven where they will be rewarded with 70 virgins.

Jindal: How’s that working out?

Plotkin: We have complete bipartisanship in the House and Senate on this. And ALEC is seriously considering it for their model legislative package for state legislatures next year. We’ve never seen such enthusiasm. It’s a breakthrough of historic proportions.

Jindal: Well, I fail to see the hysterics in that but I’m glad they’re receptive.

Reed: Sir, it seems to me that you spent eight years as governor beating up on the federal government for trying to run our lives and now you’re trying to get it to monitor America’s bedrooms.

Jindal: But don’t you see, now I am the federal government. And you’re fired. This is great! I really do have the job I want.

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One of the most frustrating things in writing about this administration is obvious wrongdoing is reported and nothing is done.

In Bobby Jindal we have a governor who is constantly bitching about Washington in general and the Obama administration in particular while turning a blind eye to corruption, profiteering and ethical violations within his own administration.

You would think that the man who, upon taking office in 2008, said, “We have zero tolerance for corruption” would make at least a token effort to keep his house in order.

Instead, he gutted the enforcement authority of the State Ethics Board, ran off members of the board, and commenced to allow his political pals to run unchecked.

The sordid episode of State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson and the manner in which he was allowed to increase his state pension by nearly 70 percent is just the latest in a sorry laundry list of loose enforcement of ethics rules in this administration.

We have already written about some of these:

  • Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) member Kira Orange Jones simultaneously serves as executive director of Teach for America (TFA), which in turn, has been issued contracts worth more than $3 million with the Department of Education (DOE) since she became a member of BESE in 2012. BESE is the governing board for DOE and as such, must approve all contracts with the department.
  • The resignation of the vice chairman of the Louisiana Board of Ethics only weeks after the Tribune, a newspaper serving the African-American community of New Orleans published a story in its May/June 2013 issue headlined “Kira, Kira on the Wall” which explained Schneider’s own conflict of interests in ruling on an Aug. 21, 2012, conflict of interest decision about Orange Jones.
  • BESE President Chas Roemer consistently votes on issues concerning charter schools even though his sister, Caroline Roemer Shirley, is executive director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools which much apply to BESE for approval of charters and other matters concerning charter schools, including funding.

And while we have not written about it, BESE member Walter Lee of Mansfield, who recent retired as Superintendent of DeSoto Parish Schools, is currently under investigation for allegations that he billed both the school board and BESE for travel expenses to and from BESE meetings in Baton Rouge and for lodging while in Baton Rouge.

Now, thanks to public records we belatedly obtained from the Division of Administration, we learn that another BESE member’s company has reaped more than $1.5 million from contract work his company performed on behalf of a dozen South Louisiana school boards and the Recovery School District in 2013 and 2014.

Hunt Guillot and Associates (HGA) of Ruston previously held two state contracts since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita that together totaled more than $38 million. The latest, for $20 million, expired on June 30 but is expected to be renewed.

Jay Guillot, of the 5th BESE District, is an HGA partner.

The HGA contract is with the Louisiana Office of Community Development for “grant management activities for infrastructure and other projects undertaken as a result of damages incurred as a result of Hurricanes Katrina/Rita and to a lesser extent, as a result of Hurricanes Gustav/Ike,” the contract details contained on the state’s LaTrac web page which lists active and expired state contracts and contractors.

Though the funds to pay HGA are federal funds allocated through the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, the company’s contract is with the state and the state cuts the checks to HGA from the state’s CDBG funds.

Much of HGA’s work involved other branches of parish governments but in our search of records we found no fewer than 138 billings to school boards and the RSD totaling $1.58 million since January 2013. Of that amount, 17 separate invoices totaling $488,000 (30.9 percent of the total billed) was for the RSD.

The Department of Education has responsibility for the oversight of RSD and cannot be considered separate entities for purposes of say, a lawsuit against the RSD. At the same time, BESE is the governing authority over DOE, thereby creating a straight line of authority between BESE and the RSD as well as the dozen school boards for whom HGA also performed work.

School boards for whom HGA performed services and the amounts billed from January of 2013 through May of 2014 are as follows:

  • Plaquemines: 17 billings for $342,726;
  • Cameron: 16 invoices, $227,126;
  • St. Tammany: 16 invoices, $142,598;
  • Orleans: 17 invoices, $116,507;
  • Jefferson: 17 invoices, $97,598;
  • Calcasieu: 16 invoices, $64,813;
  • St. Charles: 14 invoices, $56,390;
  • St. Bernard: 12 invoices, $29,539;
  • Terrebonne: three invoices, $9,202;
  • Lafourche: four invoices, $2,968;
  • Washington: five invoices, $2,222;
  • Lafayette: one invoice, $50.

Incredibly, with only a month left in its contract, HGA managed to allocate just enough work to almost exhaust the contract amounts for eight of the parish school boards and the RSD.

The last billing made available to us was for work done through May 25, 2014. Following are the total amounts billed through May 25 (with a month remaining on the contract) with the total allocated under HGA’s contract for the corresponding parish in parenthesis:

  • RSD: $786,988 ($817,567);
  • Orleans: $237,766 ($255,519);
  • Jefferson: $205,748 ($205,750);
  • Plaquemines: $831,968 ($826,970);
  • St. Bernard: $195,996 ($196,877)
  • St. Tammany: $377,372 ($382,863);
  • St. Charles: $147,763 ($148,353;
  • Calcasieu: $112,295 ($116,171);
  • Cameron: $629,750 ($639,031).

Section 1113 of The Louisiana Code of Governmental Ethics prohibits public servants and their family members from entering into certain transaction. That section says:

  • “No elected official or public employee or member of such public servant’s immediate family, or legal entity in which he has a controlling interest shall bid on or enter into any contract, subcontract, or other transaction that is under the supervision or jurisdiction of the public servant’s agency.

That’s plain enough but for those wanting further clarification: “controlling interest means any ownership in any legal entity or beneficial interest in a trust, held by or on behalf of an individual or a member of his immediate family, either individually or collectively, which exceeds 25 percent of that legal entity.”

We do not know for certain what Guillot’s percentage of ownership is but inasmuch as his name is listed as a partner on the company letterhead we would assume he would meet that criterion.

And while the HGA contract is not specifically with DOE or BESE, the $1.5 million in work done for the local school boards and the RSD seems at best to skirt the edge of a conflict of interests for Guillot.

 

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The news just keeps getting worse for Superintendent of Education John White.

Gov. Bobby Jindal has put White on a short leash with Executive Order BJ 2014-7 on June 18 and last Wednesday (June 25) Internal Audit Administrator Marsha Guidry issued an extensive laundry list of documents information relating to the Department of Education’s (DOE) contract with Data Recognition Corp.

At the same time, LouisianaVoice has learned the Legislative Auditor’s office is conducting an investigation of DOE that could involve payroll fraud, according to sources inside the department.

White, as we have reported several times in the past, has loaded up the department with unclassified appointments at bloated six-figure salaries.

There are apparently three major problems with that:

  • Many of these appointees seldom, if ever, show up for work and apparently are required to perform few, if any, duties to earn their keep;
  • The department did not have enough money in its budget to pay their salaries so they are reportedly being paid from federal funds earmarked for specific purposes;
  • The appointees are not assigned to areas for which the federal funds are allocated.

If true, these are serious allegations and even more serious violations that could prompt a federal probe in addition to the investigation already underway by the Legislative Auditor.

Of course, no one really knows who works where at DOE because no one has ever managed to obtain an organization chart for the department.

Oh, the Legislative Auditor, among others, has tried but with each request over the past couple of years now, the response has always been that the department is “undergoing reorganization.”

So, no organization chart and no determination of who works where in DOE.

And now, on top of that sticky wicket, up crops the controversy over Common Core and the testing by Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for Colleges and Careers (PARCC).

Short version: Jindal, White and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) back Common Core and legislation is introduced for state implementation of Common Core.

But then, somewhere along Jindal’s way to the White House, someone whispered in his ear that path of least resistance to the Oval Office would be for him to oppose Common Core on grounds that he didn’t want the big bad old federal government dictating how we teach our kids in Louisiana. He may even have waved a little American flag when he said it.

But White and BESE continue to back Common Core and the legislature passes it.

Jindal vetoed it but White and BESE said they were going ahead with it, and Jindal jumped onto his Nautilus Nitro Plus workout station to prepare for battle. He announced he was canceling the contract for the testing because, he said, DOE had issued the contract without taking competitive bids.

And now, the Office of Contractual Review (OCR) is reviewing the contracts.

Meanwhile, Guidry sent this letter to White:

Executive Order BJ 2014-7, issued June 18, 2014, directed the Division of Administration (DOA) “to conduct a comprehensive accounting of all Louisiana expenditures and resources related to PARCC.”  Pursuant to the Executive Order (EO) and the auditing authority of DOA over consulting contracts, I have been asked by the Commissioner to collect and review certain information.  Please provide the following information to carry out the EO to ensure DOE is complying with Louisiana law.

 Please identify and provide documentation for the following:

 1.      All documentation related to contracts with DRC or other testing or academic assessment tools, including both paid and outstanding invoices.

2.      Please provide an accounting of the cost of the PARCC Technology Readiness Tool survey, the method and documentation related to the procurement of this survey, and documentation of the funds used to pay for it, including all receipts and accounting paperwork.

a.       Please provide information related to the price of PARCC assessments as a total cost to the State of Louisiana and as an individual cost of each assessment to be provided in the State of Louisiana. This should include:  any cost information related to an increase or decrease in cost as a function of the number of states withdrawing from PARCC or other reasons.

3.      Please provide documentation related to negotiations on the price of any new assessment tool(s) including any negotiations or communications related to the cost of individual assessments, the total cost to the State of Louisiana of new assessments, or any breakdown of the cost negotiated or discussed by or with DOE. This should include communications conducted in writing (emails, letters, and memos) as well as any meeting minutes and calendar entries.

a.       Please also provide documentation of how DOE’s negotiations met the statutory requirement for the lowest-cost bidder, for a competitive procurement process, and the statutory authority of DOE to conduct such negotiations.

4.         Please provide evidence of DOE’s process to ensure during any Request for Proposal (RFP) conducted by PARCC or by a member state on behalf of PARCC that such RFP was a fair, competitive, price-sensitive proposal and was conducted using a fair, transparent process in accordance with Louisiana revised statutes. Please provide all files relative to these procurements.

5.         Please provide evidence that John White affirmed in writing to the Governing Board Chair of PARCC the State’s continued commitment to participation in the Consortium and to the binding commitments made by John White’s predecessor as Chief State School Officer as required by the Memorandum of Understanding establishing the PARCC Consortium.

 In addition to providing the above documentation, please provide a written response to each of the following questions:

a.       What contracts or other agreements are in place or in negotiation for the purchase of an assessment?  Please provide a list of these along with copies of all related documentation.

b.      What steps have been taken by DOE to procure any Common Core aligned assessment product?

c.       What steps have been taken by PARCC to procure any Common Core aligned assessment product?

Please provide these items by June 30, 2014. I may identify other documents or information necessary to complete this review and request your cooperation pursuant to the Executive Order.  Please identify any additional individuals within DOE who will be available to respond to any questions I may have during the course of the review.

 The documentation requested should be delivered to the Office of the Commissioner to my attention at 1201 N. Third Street, Baton Rouge, LA, 70802, Suite 7-210, on the 7th floor of the Claiborne Building.

http://www.myarklamiss.com/story/d/story/division-outlines-next-steps-in-doe-contract-revie/34643/LOilN9i14EaHl0wQ9zrGuA

You will note that White was given until today (Monday, June 30) to provide the information.

The problem with the governor’s request, as LouisianaVoice, Crazy Crawfish and others have learned, is that Jindal may not have followed proper procedure in seeking the information.

You see, when we ask for information, we are required to ask for specific documents, not simply information.

In fact, both DOE and the Division of Administration (DOA) have in the past simply refused to comply with our requests with the stock response that we requested information as opposed to specific records and therefore, both DOE and DOA felt comfortable informing us (somewhat condescendingly, we might add) that they were not required under the state public records act to respond.

Now if White only had the stones to tell DOA and Jindal that, we might yet have that epic Niles-Sheldon grudge match on Pay per View.

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There’s a new fight brewing between Gov. Bobby Jindal and Chas Roemer over the simmering Common Core standoff between the governor’s office and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE).

And if it were done right, it would be a memorable encounter. Sadly, it shapes up to be just another faceoff between lawyers.

BESE will consider retaining a special legal counsel in its efforts move forward with the Common Core test plans, according to BESE’s revised agenda released on Friday.

http://theadvocate.com/home/9577083-125/possible-legal-action-on-revised

Such a legal battle would pit BESE against the governor’s office after Jindal issued an executive order to discontinue Common Core tests being prepared by the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).

Jindal, in his best imitation of John Kerry, was for Common Core before he was against it and now sniffs he will never let that big bully, aka Washington, D.C., dictate to Louisiana which, by golly, will devise and administer its own tests. That prompted former State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek (before he was shoved out the door by Jindal who wanted current Superintendent John White who he now opposes on the Common Core issue) to rebuke his former boss when he proclaimed that the feds have nothing to do with setting Common Core standards. That point remains debatable.

Got that? Didn’t think so. Neither do we.

Jindal ordered BESE (an independently elected, autonomous board, by the way) to initiate a competitive bid process for a new assessment process so the state can come up with its own academic standards. He also suspended a contract between the Louisiana Department of Education (DOE) and PARCC.

In a real test of wills, Jindal’s office also has demanded that DOE produce volumes of test-related documents by Monday.

We at LouisianaVoice can offer our own experience with that seemingly innocuous request for public records.

On Monday, June 23, I submitted a request for “all itemized invoices and records of payments” to a DOE vendor. What I got in return was simply a list of payments. No invoices at all, let alone itemized invoices.

My patience already stretched to the breaking point with recurring delays by DOE on other public records requests, I snapped. I sent White a second demand which said, in part:

“The information you provided me is insufficient. I specifically requested itemized invoices from (vendor name). The vendor history you provided me does not list what the charges were for nor the dates incurred.

“I want every specific invoice submitted with itemized listing of what each and every expenditure was for, i.e. supplies, utilities, rent, salaries, travel, etc.

“John White, I don’t know what kind of game you are playing but I know you possess (or at least should possess) sufficient intelligence to know what I asked for and that what your office provided does not come close to a sufficient response. What do you think the term “itemized invoice” below (highlighted) implies? What part of “itemized invoice” don’t you understand?

“If you want to play games, we will let a judge be the referee. I am weary of your stalling, delaying, and playing ignorant. You have until noon Friday or you will be served with a lawsuit Monday. Itemized invoices, John,….ITEMIZED.

I received a call around noon Friday informing me the requested documents were ready for our inspection.

The revised agenda released by BESE includes an executive session but Roemer says that may not be necessary. “I anticipate there may be given potential legal questions and that is why the executive session must be on the agenda,” he said.

It could be Jimmy Faircloth vs. ATBA (attorney to be announced) if it comes down to a fight between proxies—as it probably would.

But wouldn’t it be better if we just put Jindal and Roemer in a ring together and let them duke it out?

That would be an epic battle worthy of Sheldon of The Big Bang Theory vs. Niles of Frasier.

Forget about the Rumble in the Jungle (Muhammad Ali vs. George Foreman) or the Thrilla in Manila (Ali vs. Joe Frazier). Those were just preliminary bouts for what would truly be a battle of the ages.

Jindal vs. Roemer. Sheldon vs. Niles. Collision in the Classroom. Clown Clash. Common Core Conflagration. Capital City Smack Down. Brouhaha in Baton Rouge. Call it what you will, that’s something Louisianians would pay top dollar to watch.

No matter what you would call it, if it could be arranged, I would take whatever steps necessary to obtain the legal rights to telecast the bout over statewide closed circuit television or Pay Per View.

We’ll hype it as Brawl on the Bayou.

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Holy New Living Word, Bat Man!

John White’s Department of Education just can’t seem to keep tabs on all these pop-up private for-profit education facilities that have proliferated under his and Gov. Bobby Jindal’s sweeping educational reform programs.

Questionable expenditures by an organization under contract to the Louisiana Department of Education (DOE) have been flying under the radar, overshadowed as it were, by corruption charges against internal auditors with the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services.

Remember New Living Word up in Ruston? That’s the school that was approved for some 300 vouchers even though there were no instructors, no computers, and no facilities—and obviously, no vetting. Just an application from the school was all that was needed, and BAM! Instant approval.

Not that New Living Word was the only one; there were others, including one in which the director had a long of history of legal problems and another in which the director referred to himself as a “prophet.” And there was the charter school that decided it could conduct random pregnancy tests on female students after one girl was expelled when it was learned she was pregnant, though no punishment was meted out for the dad, a member of the school’s football team. Only threatened legal action by the ACLU reversed the ill-considered policy.

Still, New Living Word became the instant poster child for DOE’s bureaucratic ineptitude.

Until now.

Now we have Open World Family Services, Inc. a New Orleans education “nonprofit” established ostensibly to “strengthen the family through education and training,” and paid through grants under the 21st Century Community Learning Center, a federally-financed program funded through a $1.4 million contract with DOE that ran from May 1, 2009 through April 30, 2012.

Or perhaps we should have said had Open World Family Services, Inc. It closed its doors on May 31, 2012, a month after its contract with DOE ran out.

But not before its administrator managed to misappropriate, misspend, mishandle, mismanage, fold, staple and mutilate more than $300,000, according to Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera’s office.

To read entire audit report, click here: 000011D0

Included in that amount were $116,323 in expenses which Open World did not incur, $148,596 in unapproved purchases and expenses that included debit card withdrawals ($16,758) airfare to Monrovia, Liberia ($7,204) and payments to the immediate family of Executive Director Kim Cassell ($18,414).

Cassell’s attorney assures us it was all just your basic “lack of knowledge of grant management” that led to a number of “errors in funds management.”

That would be the usual errors, like requests for reimbursements listing 129 specific checks (all payable to vendors) totaling $221,624 when only 74 of those checks totaling $105,301 actually cleared Open World’s bank accounts. But what of the remaining 55 checks? Well, Cassell’s former administrative assistant told state auditors that Cassell instructed her to pull blank checks and use or record the blank check numbers on reimbursement requests for “projected” vendor expenses.

“By submitting reimbursement requests that included false information, Open World improperly received $129,402 in reimbursements from DOE and may have violated state and federal laws,” the audit report said.

Just an error in funds management.

Kinda makes you wonder about those seven contracts worth a combined $430,000 that the Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) has awarded to Open World Family Services since 2008 to combat asthma and tobacco use. Did that money go up in smoke as well?

Open World, the audit says, submitted requests and received reimbursements for employee benefits totaling $13,079 for which no expense was incurred.

Another simple error in funds management.

From May 2009 to October 2011, Cassell improperly used public funds totaling $11,108 for veterinary bills and pet supplies, a homeowner’s insurance payment, personal travel and college tuition payments, according to the audit report.

Ditto on the error in funds management.

Cassell’s time sheets from Sept. 18, 2010, to Oct. 19, 2010, indicate that she was on vacation and traveling. But during that same time period, the audit says, she made debit card withdrawals in Monrovia, Liberia, totaling $4,576 and that she incurred airfare charges totaling $200 on Oct. 17, 2010.

She explained to auditors that she traveled to Liberia for the purpose of registering Open World as a Non-Government Organization (NGO) in West Africa.

She also incurred charges on the organization’s debit card totaling $1,099 in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, while on travel to that state in November of 2010.

In all, the audit says that from May 2009 to February 2012, only a couple of months before her grant contract with DOE ran out, she used $148,596 in grant funds for puchases and expenses not included in approved grant budgets. That amount included $97,961 for rent, utilities and building improvements; $16,758 in undocumented debit card withdrawals; $7,204 in undocumented airfare charges; $15,340 for insurance policies, and $11,333 for vehicle expenses. “By using grant funds for unauthorized purposes, Open World appears to have violated its grant agreements and may be required to reimburse funds improperly spent,” the report says.

New Orleans attorney Jauna Crear wrote a five-page letter of response to the audit’s findings but basically defended her client’s actions in a single sentence:

“An overall review of the allegations, along with Ms. Cassell’s explanations, clearly shows a lack of understanding of the non-profit governance rules as opposed to a willful disobedience thereof.”

All of which raises several questions:

  • Does DOE customarily hand out multi-million dollar contracts to non-profits with inadequate experience in handling public funding?
  • What safeguards does John White have in place to prevent abuse, theft, and misapplication of public funds by other organizations under contract to DOE?
  • Does John White believe it might be worthwhile to conduct a review of other such contracts/grants?
  • Is it possible that DOE, like DHH, may have eliminated the position(s) of internal auditor as a cost-cutting measure?
  • Will DHH review the seven current and past contracts it has awarded to Open World Family Services totaling $430,000?

Sometimes you just gotta scratch your head and wonder…

Other times you look at who is running this state and then you know…

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“…My purpose is to dismantle the dismantlers. As such, my words are not kind. My words expose, and that exposure is harsh. The individuals and organizations profiled in this book have declared war on my profession, and I take that personally.”

 

—Mercedes Schneider, writing in the introduction to her book A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education.

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