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Tomorrow (Aug. 15) is the last day for 24 employees of the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) but the bad news doesn’t end there, LouisianaVoice has learned.

Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols’ glowing guest column about the condition of OGB in Jeremy Alford’s Louisiana Politics notwithstanding, some 230,000 state employees, retirees and their dependents are in for some serious sticker shock.

http://lapolitics.com/2014/08/nichols-ogb-prepared-for-changing-world-of-health-care/

Even as Nichols babbled on about providing “better service and care to its members” while at the same time employing the by now tired and time-worn Jindal tactic of blaming everyone but Jindal for rising health care costs, the Legislative Fiscal Office was dropping a bombshell in announcing dramatic increases in health care insurance premiums for state employees coupled with benefits that will be undergoing deep cuts.

OGB Report_July 2014 FOR JLCB

Blaming the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and an aging population for rising health care costs, Nichols said “financially responsible practices” are necessary to continue providing benefits. She conveniently neglected to mention that it was the Jindal administration’s decision a year ago to lower premiums as a means of lowering the state’s 75 percent match, thereby freeing up money to plug gaping holes in Jindal’s makeshift budget.

That move, of course, help decimate OGB’s reserve fund. What started out as a $540 million surplus a year ago now stands at less than half that.

“At first glance it may seem like having a fund that large is a great thing,” she wrote. “But in reality, keeping hundreds of millions unnecessarily locked up in a reserve fund was not the best use of taxpayer money.

“Considering that the state funds 75 percent of member premiums through taxpayer dollars, letting that large of a balance sit unused meant that those funds weren’t being used for other important projects,” she said.

Nichols, of course, overlooks the fact that successful insurance companies keep health reserve funds in cases of a natural disaster or major epidemic. Companies who only manage to pay claims out of premiums on the other hand, traditionally don’t survive.

Her entire 800-word piece never once mentioned that state employees and retirees would soon be asked to pay significantly higher premiums for equally significantly reduced benefits. Instead, she parsed words, saying, “Plan changes for fiscal year 2015 are estimated to lower expected claims costs by $131.8 million…”

That sounds pretty good until you read the first page of the nine-page report released Monday by Legislative Fiscal Officer John Carpenter and Legislative Fiscal Office Section Director J. Travis McIlwain.

State employee health plan changes, according to the report, include, among other things:

  • An increase in premiums state employees and retirees pay for health coverage;
  • Significantly increase the out-of-pocket maximum for all health plan options;
  • Increasing deductibles for all health plan options;
  • Increasing co-pays 100 percent for those proposed health plans with co-pays;
  • Increasing the out-of-pocket maximum for the prescription drug benefit by $300 from $1,200 to $1,500 per year, a 20 percent increase;
  • Requiring prior authorizations for certain medical procedures;
  • Eliminating the out-of-network benefit for some health plan options;
  • Removing all vision coverage from the health plan options.

The latest premium increase of 6 percent will go into effect on Jan. 1 is on top of a 5 percent increase implemented on July 1 of this year.

Of course, the revamp of OGB premiums and benefits was the result of the infamous Alvarez & Marsal (A&M) study.

The really amazing thing about that is Jindal rushed into the OGB privatization convinced he could do no wrong and that his was the only way and that the state was going to save millions. Yet, when things started going south, he calls in the big A&M guns.

Not only that, he forked over $199,752 to A&M to learn the best way to screw state employees.

Speaking of A&M, the contract with the firm was originally for a little more than $4.2 million but was promptly amended by $794,678, bumping the amount up to a cool $5 million. The problem with that is state law allows only a one-time contract amendment of no more than 10 percent without legislative concurrence. The amendment was for 18.9 percent.

As if that were not egregious enough, the Division of Administration subsequently amended the contract by yet another $2.4 million in May—again without bothering to obtain the legally mandated concurrence from the legislature.

Nothing, it seems, is beneath this administration.

Well, don’t say you weren’t warned. LouisianaVoice said before the OGB privatization ever took place that it would be necessary to raise premiums or lower benefits.

But Jindal, wunderkind that he is, insisted his privatization plan, ripped straight from the pages of the handbook of his only private sector employer, McKinsey & Co., would be more cost efficient than having those lazy state workers process claims and that the state would save money.

And lest you forget, McKinsey advised AT&T in 1980 there was no future in cell phones.

And of course, McKinsey developed the flawless business plan for Enron.

To a degree Jindal is correct; the state will now save money—on the backs of state employees.

State Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite), who is an announced candidate for governor in the 2015 election agrees.

“The OGB fiasco is proof positive that privatization for the sake of privatization is foolish,” he said. “A reserve balance that recently exceeded $500 million is half that now and  bleeding $16M per month due to mismanagement and budget chicanery, and the ultimate price will be paid by state retirees and employees through higher premiums, higher co-pays, higher deductibles, and higher co-insurance in exchange for fewer benefits, more forced generic drugs, and more preclearance of needed treatments and other changes that make crystal clear that the OGB beneficiaries will pay more for less.”

Bingo! And right on cue, Carpenter’s report echoed Edwards:

“The health plan and prescription drug plan policy changes…will shift more of the costs from the state to the OGB plan member,” it said.

That shift will save the state a minimum of $44.7 million for health plan changes and at least $69 million for prescription drug plan changes in fiscal year 2015, the report said.

“Along with premiums, the major costs incurred for medical services by an OGB plan member will be deductibles, co-payments and coinsurance,” it said. “The new health plan offerings will significantly reduce the cost to OGB, while the OGB members pay more for their medical services.”

Of the total OGB population, 75 percent are currently enrolled in the HMO plan which presently has no deductible for the employee but those members will, effective January 1, be subject to both a deductible and coinsurance whereas most are currently subject only to fixed co-pays.

 

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By Dayne Sherman, guest columnist

Students are graduating from universities across Louisiana this May, and high school students are heading to college campuses this summer and fall. It’s an exciting time of year for students, parents, extended families, professors, and teachers. Nothing could be better.

But we need to be frank. Louisiana colleges and universities have been cut $700 million, 80 % of state funding since 2008. The tuition is increasing at an unsustainable and crippling rate, and many students will be strapped with student loan debt for decades to come.

This was done because Gov. Bobby Jindal doesn’t care about higher education for Louisiana residents and because his minions in the Legislature allowed him to steal from higher education in order to fund patronage from Shreveport to Port Sulphur. In fact, much of this patronage was devised as a way to pay off his cronies—often out of state—and garner future political favors. It doesn’t take an Albert Einstein to figure this out. Just read the newspapers.

The primary avenue to pay off the campaign favors and buy votes is through bloated consulting contracts. They keep Jindal’s as well as legislators’ supporters and campaign contributors happy, happy, happy.

But it’s time to stop the stupidity and fund higher education. We have students to educate and no funding to do so. Higher education has been starved while consulting contracts have been fed like meat hogs headed to market.

The only hope I see on the horizon is HB 142, a bill filed by Jerome “Dee” Richard (No Party-Thibodaux) and championed by Treasurer John Neely Kennedy (R-Madisonville). It calls for state agencies to cut 10 % from their contracting budgets and the $500 million saved to go to fund higher education. It’s a fair and fiscally conservative plan. The bill has sailed through the House, and now faces the big challenge: Gov. Jindal’s handpicked salons on the Senate Finance Committee. The committee meets on Monday, May 19 at 9:30 AM.

I believe passage of this bill is utterly essential to save public higher education in Louisiana.

There have been ongoing foes fighting Louisiana higher education. Sen. Jack Donahue (R-Mandeville), Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, is one example of someone who has done nothing for higher education. How he can pretend that he’s a supporter of the educational institutions in and around his district is a real mystery. It’s time for him to put up or shut up, and HB 142 is the test.

We have a chance to save higher education. Will Donahue and White stand with the people of his district or with Jindal and his cronies? We will know soon enough.

Dayne Sherman resides in Ponchatoula. He is the author of Welcome to the Fallen Paradise and expects the publication of Zion: A Novel in October. His website is daynesherman.com.

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©May 12, 2014

Stephen Winham

 

When The Advocate first started running Quin Hillyer’s columns, I assumed they were syndicated. I figured it was okay to run his pieces occasionally so we could be exposed to the far right agenda without having to actually access far right sources. I was dismayed when I realized he is billed as a member of the Advocate editorial staff and writes these columns specifically for its readers in Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

I thought the Advocate’s editorial staff and syndicated columnists already presented a fairly good philosophical balance including conservatives, liberals and moderates. I viewed it as slightly skewed toward conservatism, but that was okay. With the addition of Hillyer, the paper’s editorial posture took a hard right turn.

Among other things, I wondered if his inclusion was intended as a direct counterpoint to James Gill. In that regard, it is interesting that The Advocate has recently published 2 readers’ letters criticizing the presence of James Gill on the editorial staff.   NONE critical of Quin Hillyer have seen the letters page. Surely, at least two people have submitted printable letters critical of Hillyer. Heck, I sent in two. And I know more than a few other people who find Mr. Hillyer’s columns offensive.

Hillyer’s May 11, 2014, column is emblematic of why I object to his presence as a regular columnist. It fans the flames of hostility toward our President while unabashedly cheerleading for the policies of our Governor. Expressions of opinion are one thing. Hate-mongering, coupled with views so distorted as to bridge on prevarication, are something else. Columns like his are better suited to blogs like The Hayride and other venues that make no effort to be balanced in any way.

James Gill was born in the United Kingdom, is a graduate of Liverpool University and wrote for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans before joining The Advocate editorial staff in May 2013. He is currently one of 10 finalists for the Molly National Journalism Prize, established by The Texas Observer to recognize works that focus on civil liberties and social justice. The winner will be announced June 3. The prize is named after the late Molly Ivins whose columns once graced The Advocate’s editorial pages. Gill’s columns are noted for lampooning politicians and often take a humorous turn, as was the case with Molly Ivins’ syndicated columns.   Few would consider Gill’s columns mean-spirited or his views extremist, no matter how liberal they are.

Quin Hillyer is a graduate of Georgetown University (A.B. in government and theology, 1987) and a recipient of the Carmage Walls Commentary Award from the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association and the Green Eyeshade Award for commentary from the Society of Professional Journalists (formerly Sigma Delta Chi). He was born and raised in New Orleans, but now lives in Mobile, Alabama.

He worked for the Times-Picayune before joining Bob Livingston’s gubernatorial campaign staff in 1987. As Chair of the Louisiana Young Republicans in the late 80s and early 90s, he was a member of the bipartisan Louisiana Coalition Against Racism and Nazism, a ten member group actively involved in bringing forth facts to repudiate the legitimacy of David Duke’s claims to have abandoned his white supremacy agenda. He was briefly managing editor of New Orleans Gambit magazine before joining Congressman Livingston’s staff in 1991 and becoming his press secretary in 1995.

Hillyer returned to private sector journalism in 1997, working for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, theMobile Register, The American Spectator(with whom he is still affiliated), The Washington Examiner, The Washington Times and the National Review (with whom is still affiliated) and writing for others. He ran for and finished 4th in the November 2013 Republican primary election for the United States House of Representatives from Alabama’s 1st congressional district.

While his background has significant depth and is consistent with conservative views, extremism would not seem its logical product. One would expect commentary more along the lines of William F. Buckley, Jr. than Rush Limbaugh, but reading his columns is often like listening to Limbaugh. Fiery political evangelism is as good a description as any.

As far as the columns he has written for publication in the Advocate newspapers so far, most share a singular theme. Ten of his columns are archived at The Advocate website. Review them and you will find that seven seem to have little purpose other than promotion of Governor Jindal’s policies and future aspirations, including one completely unambiguous in its intent titled, “Jindal shows clear national appeal” (March 29, 2014).

In his very first Advocate column (March 21, 2014), he managed to attack the rest of the Advocate editorial staff and the President while promoting Governor Jindal. That one is titled, “Gov. Jindal was justified in jamming President Obama”. His most recent column, mentioned above, and his April 26 columns are refrains of this theme. His April 8 column supports the governor’s use of coastal wetlands funding to “bridge the gap” in the budget. His April 19 and May 3 columns support the governor’s position that the lawsuit by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority is illegitimate.

A cynic might believe Mr. Hillyer was brought on board to promote Governor Jindal’s campaign for President rather than to just provide a strong conservative voice for The Advocate. If that is true, shouldn’t the publisher clearly state his support for the Governor and his political aspirations? Rolfe McCollister (Greater Baton Rouge Business Report publisher) is certainly not unbiased, but he is also not coy about his support for the governor’s political future. If the Advocate is to become the voice of Bobby Jindal, let’s at least be honest about it.

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By Robert Burns

LouisianaVoice writer

Following up our recent post regarding shill bidding and the Louisiana Auctioneer Licensing Board (LALB) turning a blind eye to the illegal practice, I’ll now shift to another alarming aspect:  racism.  To get the true tone and tenor of that racism, I would encourage readers to click on the audio links supplied in this post and merely listen to (or watch) what is said.

As mentioned in our first installment, Rev. Freddie Phillips was appointed to the LALB in early 2008.  He is the first and, to date, only African American auctioneer in Louisiana’s history.  Rev. Phillips attended the 2008 National Auctioneer’s Association (NAA) convention soon after he joined the LALB.  He wasn’t aware that, as an LALB Member, he was entitled to have his trip paid for by the LALB.  Upon his return and learning that fact, he applied for reimbursement.  His request, however, became engulfed in an ocean of technicalities (most notably reimbursement being sought after the closeout of a fiscal year), so Rev. Phillips ultimately ceased pursuit of the reimbursement.  Instead, he informed me that he would seek approval to attend the 2010 NAA Convention as an LALB representative instead.

Accordingly, at the May, 2010 LALB meeting, Rev. Phillips made what he thought would be a simple request to attend the Convention.  He quickly got a surprise, however, when I was the only other LALB member voting to approve his request.  He thus became the first LALB member to be denied the privilege of attending as a Board representative.  Many board members, in explaining why they opted not to approve his attendance, were rude and mean-spirited in their assessment of Rev. Phillips.  Those assessments included former long-time LALB chairman Delmar “Buster” Gay’s saying that  Rev. Phillips may be an embarrassment at the convention.  Then-Vice Chairman (now Chairman) Tessa Steinkamp also said that she wouldn’t want Rev. Phillips to represent the LALB.

Frustrated in his efforts, Rev. Phillips began seeking historical LALB travel records, only to face demands by then-Chairman James Comer and former long-time Chairman Gay as to why he wanted the records. (Editor’s note: Louisiana’s public records laws expressly prohibit any inquiry into why a citizen would want to see any public record.) The badgering reached an apex when Comer told Rev. Phillips to get an attorney and sue the LALB.  As evidenced by the preceding audio clip, Comer also indicated that Rev. Phillips and I may end up “by theirselves (sic),” implying that Gov. Jindal may soon remove one or both of us from the LALB (a prophetic statement as I was subsequently terminated).  Rev. Phillips  finally spoke up, saying, “I don’t have to take this.”   Others also spoke up in his behalf.  First, I defended him.  Also, audience member (and then-auctioneer) Nell Stuart expressed her displeasure with comments made regarding Rev. Phillips.  Finally, Rev. Phillips’ then-Representative, Rep. Regina Barrow, whom Rev. Phillips and I invited so she could witness first-hand the relentless attacks, voiced her own observations of “underlying issues” that she’d witnessed.

All of the audios in the preceding paragraph transpired at one meeting (which would turn out to be my last):  August 2, 2010.  I sent all of these audios clips (and others) to Gov. Bobby Jindal’s office and relayed my sentiments that the kind of conduct being exhibited by Chairman Comer, former long-time Chairman Buster Gay, then-Vice Chairman (now Chairman) Steinkamp, and others was completely unacceptable and that I expected either changes or that other more professional board members would be recruited to serve.  I also made it clear to the Jindal administration that I intended to provide these audio clips to anyone who requested them or may have interest in them.  I was given my walking papers (I believe the term is teagued) by Gov. Jindal 39 days later.  What Gov. Jindal nor the Board counted on was that my ouster would leave me free me video subsequent meetings.

The August 2, 2010, LALB meeting prompted Rep. Barrow to address board and commission appointments in general at a special meeting of the Joint Committee on Governmental Affairs on November 17, 2010.  She requested that a representative from the LALB attend to answer any questions the panel may pose but only Rev. Phillips and Ms. Steinkamp attended.

Rev. Phillips never received a check for his attendance at that legislative hearing even though the LALB had no qualms about issuing Ms. Steinkamp a check for her $97 per diem for her attendance. When Rev. Phillips inquired why he didn’t receive a per diem payment,  Executive Director, Sandy Edmonds, said that since Rev. Phillips was “suing the board” (Rev. Phillips filed a Writ of Mandamus to obtain travel records which Chairman Comer was refusing to provide), he “should not be a representative of the board.”

Following is a list of a few of the events involving Rev. Phillips that have transpired since my ouster from the LALB:

1.  1/10/11:  Rev. Phillips repeatedly threatened with lawsuits for questioning the fact the LALB didn’t vote to approve its attorney charging for time attending an NAA Convention (the same one he was denied being able to attend).  The threats begin at the 3:09 mark of this video.  The lawsuit treat was followed up in writing soon thereafter.  (Note:  By the time of that meeting, former long-time Chairman Buster Gay’s LALB membership had been severed.  Also the 1/10/11 meeting turned out to be Chairman Comer’s last meeting as his membership was severed days after the meeting).

2.  7/17/11:  Rev. Phillips’ license is threatened for attempting to bring up issues at New Orleans Auction Galleries (NOAG), which filed bankruptcy on 4/1/11 and employed LALB Chairman Steinkamp as its “Vice President, Director, and Treasurer.”  Chairman Steinkamp begins her threat at the 1:33 mark of this video.  At the time of bankruptcy, NOAG had over $600,000 in unpaid consignors and had been paying company operating expenses with consignor escrowed funds, yet Chairman Steinkamp, her position with NOAG notwithstanding, never alerted the LALB to any problems at NOAG and the LALB instead learned of them via the bankruptcy filing.

3.  9/17/11:  Rev. Phillips is asked four times within a two-minute span if he is “carrying a weapon.”   There’s no way to know if there’s a correlation, but Board Attorney Anna Dow sent then-Chairman Comer this letter dated July 25, 2010 relaying that the females feel a need for security in light of “events over the last few years.”  From the August 2, 2010 meeting on, the LALB has employed an EBRP Deputy (Ronald Landry) at all its meeting at a cost of $160/meeting.  Rev. Phillips told me that the “are you carrying a weapon” inquiry was the proverbial “last straw” and that he informed Gov. Jindal’s administration hat he would not agree to serve another concurrent term and that Jindal needed to begin searching for a replacement for his second term.  Gov. Jindal did appoint a replacement days after he began serving his second term.

4.  11/05/12: At the first LALB meeting that Phillips missed in more than four years, LALB Vice Chairman James Sims and Consumer Member Greg Bordelon respond to the roll call with “I’s here.”  Rev. Phillips requested that I submit that audio clip to Gov. Jindal’s Office, so I did.  Accordingly, knowing that an article in The Advocate was pending about the incident, Gov. Jindal’s office requested that the Inspector General’s Office investigate the matter.  The IG’s Office issued this report in which Sims attributed his response to his “diabetes and dentures.”  Bordelon, meanwhile, denied answering the roll call in that manner in the Advocate article but ultimately admitted he did make the roll call response but said he was “merely mocking Sims, a North Louisiana redneck.”  Shortly after release of the IG report, The Advocate published this article of the report’s findings.  Bordelon’s LALB membership was severed about three months later.  Mr. Sims continues to serve as LALB Vice Chairman.

Rev. Phillips decided that it would be a good idea for the LAPA website to have an “embarrassment index” which was alphabetized by board member or affiliate.  It was an excellent suggestion, and here’s that alphabetized link of embarrassments for anyone who’d like to see it.  Perhaps future LALB meetings will provide additional material.

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The following is a press release by State Treasurer John Kenney. LouisianaVoice presents it here as a guest column that we feel underscores the concerns expressed in our Sept. 29 post entitled False prophets, false profits—and false reasons to privatize LSU Hospital System (or trolling for more Medicaid dollars)

The reason advanced by the Jindal Administration for privatizing Louisiana’s charity hospitals is that a private hospital like Lafayette General or Ochsner, for example, can manage a hospital more efficiently, and therefore cheaper, than the state.

That’s why I was taken aback when the chairman of the private entity taking over the Shreveport state hospital testified before the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget that the private contractor’s costs to run the Shreveport facility will be the same as the state’s. Where, then, will the Jindal Administration’s promised annual savings of $150 million come from if not from achieving operational efficiencies?

Dig deeper into the details and it becomes apparent that the planned “savings” won’t result from lower costs but from getting more money from the federal government through an accounting change. This won’t make the charity hospitals or Louisiana’s Medicaid program, which pays for the hospitals, more efficient. It will just make them more expensive, fueled by additional federal (American taxpayer) money.

Here’s how the new financial strategy will work: Medicaid, which is government health insurance for the poor, is a federal-state program. The states run it but the feds put up most of the money. In Louisiana, for every $1 in state taxpayer money we contribute, the feds contribute $2. The more money we put up, the more money the federal government contributes.

Under the Charity Hospital privatization, the state will “lease” the charity hospitals to private hospitals, which then will be responsible for treating our low-income and uninsured citizens. The state will pay the private hospitals to do this with large amounts of federal money from our Medicaid program. The private hospitals will then return some of those federal dollars to the state as “lease payments.” The federal dollars paid to the state as “lease payments” now become new state dollars, which the state can use to draw down even more federal money.

This accounting maneuver is undeniably clever. The question is whether it is legal. It must be approved by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

Louisiana’s track record with CMS is not good. CMS has previously rejected similar financing strategies designed to leverage federal money. In the early 1990s, for example, Louisiana and other states adopted financing strategies such as “provider taxes,” “provider donations,” and “intergovernmental transfers,” designed to launder federal Medicaid funds into state funds in order to draw down more federal funds. CMS and Congress spurned them all. (The Medicaid Disproportionate Share Hospital Payment Program: Background and Issues, The Urban Institute, No. A-14, October 1997). http://www.urban.org/publications/307025.html

In fact, Louisiana was more aggressive than most states in trying to leverage federal dollars. Our health care budget grew from $1.6 billion in 1988 to $4.48 billion in 1993, of which 90% was federal funds. The amount of money actually contributed by the state during this period declined from $595 million to $462 million. (Washington Post, Jan. 31, 1994, page A9).

When CMS and Congress stepped in to stop what then-Congressman Bob Livingston called Louisiana’s “abuse” of Medicaid financing, and, in Livingston’s words, the “unjustified and unwarranted benefits” came to an end (The Advocate, Feb. 6, 1997, page 1A). Newly-elected Gov. Mike Foster was faced with a $1 billion deficit in the health care budget. To clean up the mess, Foster appointed Bobby Jindal as DHH Secretary, who sought special relief from Congress. As The Advocate newspaper editorialized, “Louisiana pleaded guilty as charged, threw itself on the mercy of the court and got off easy,” because “the state for years ran a scam using ‘loopholes and accounting gimmicks’ to justify fantastic increases in federal payments.” (The Advocate, April 29, 1996).

Perhaps this time is different. Perhaps CMS will view the new “lease payments” being used to obtain additional federal money more favorably han the strategies CMS has rejected in the past.

One thing’s for certain, though. We need to find out. The state should seek CMS review of its new strategy immediately—not “soon” as DHH has promised—but now. Until then, our entire state health care delivery system for more than two million of our people is at financial risk.

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By Dayne Sherman
Guest columnist

I am deeply disturbed by many of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s recent actions—his callousness toward the Bayou Corne sinkhole evacuees, his funding of state services by a “garage sale” of assets, his unwillingness to accept constitutional restraints on his pension and K-12 education policies, his ongoing assault on colleges and universities, and his rejection of the Medicaid expansion for 400,000 of Louisiana’s citizens.

As if that were not enough, he currently is pushing a sales tax plan that will wreck retail businesses within a 50 mile radius of the state line and will tax groups such as the Council on Aging and Habitat for Humanity. The actual bill has not been filed yet out of deceit far more than building good policy and consensus.

I believe this is a reckless tax plan. It will lead to massive state deficits, harm small businesses, hurt 80 % of Louisiana citizens, further destroy colleges, and only serve to help our governor’s national image.

But I am heartened by a recent development, the 250 ministers who signed “An Open Letter from Louisiana Clergy to Governor Bobby Jindal” on March 18th. Their letter goes to the heart of what’s wrong with Jindal’s immoral tax plan.

The signees are a diverse group, the president of the conservative Southern Baptist Convention Rev. Fred Luter of New Orleans and nearly every variety of Louisiana clergy, including the bishops of the Methodist and Episcopal churches.

It is sad that Gov. Jindal, a man who has preached in evangelical congregations statewide (before his reelection, none afterward), cares nothing about the Christianity he professes.

As Charles Pierce wrote for “Esquire” online, “By his works shall you know him and, by his works, ‘Bobby’ Jindal is no more a Christian than the average wolverine is. He’s a Pharisaical monster who’d have sold Mardi Gras beads on Golgotha.”

Though he claims to be a Catholic convert, Jindal obviously did not get the memo that the new pope has emphasized advocating for the weak and the poor, and the pontiff has taken the name Francis after the great Saint Francis of Assisi. Jindal’s “faith,” however, appears more like the selfishness of Ayn Rand and the corruption of Al Capone than the religion of Saint Francis.

Thank God citizens are waking up, and his popularity is falling like a lead sinker dropped in a bayou.

To cite only one recent example, the governor was the joke of the Conservative Political Action Conference, where he gave a bungled speech and was tied for 9th place in the presidential straw poll. His trampling of Louisiana people and institutions has neither helped Louisiana nor his national profile. The sales tax scheme is simply a way to further his amazingly delusional quest to be President of the United States at our expense. Even many Jindal supporters are scratching their heads, wondering what happened to their Rhodes Scholar.

The only message that Jindal respects is strong public pushback that costs him politically. Remember the huge raises for legislators in 2008 and his planned cuts to hospice in early 2013? He backed off. After environmental activist Erin Brockovich showed up at the Bayou Corne sinkhole, Jindal followed suit and headed there for the first time a week and a half later. When the heat is poured on Jindal, he folds up like a cheap accordion.

We all have a responsibility to fight Jindal’s tax swindle. On March 17, I wrote my local representatives about the tax debacle, but I did not receive word back from any of them. Perhaps other citizens will have better luck.

It’s time for all of us to stop Jindal’s wrongheaded sales tax scheme. But it’s going to take every one of us speaking up before it is too late.

Dayne Sherman lives in Ponchatoula and is the author of “Welcome to the Fallen Paradise: A Novel.” His website is daynesherman.com.

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Guest column by Christa Allan, a retired teacher of 25 years’ classroom experience (unlike our State Superintendent and most of his inner circle), author of five novels (four published, one due out in 2014) and mother of five. She and her husband reside in New Orleans.

PLEASE WATCH THE VIDEO AT THE VERY END.

Let’s pretend…

• Your annual employee evaluation is based on two, one-hour visits from your manager/supervisor/CEO. One of which you have advance notice of; the other is at the discretion of the manager/supervisor/CEO. Also, it has been decided in advance that 10% of you will fail the evaluation, and 10% of you will be considered exceptional.

• You have been effective at your job/position, doing what you know is best for your clients/patients/employees. The corporation, however, decided that it is implementing a “one-size-fits-all” approach, and you are obligated to adhere to this new policy.

• You have decided you want to pursue a career in law, dentistry, business, or medicine. To be accepted into the graduate program, you must pass a test. But the test that determines your entrance is dictated by the state in which you reside and perhaps even by the city in that state. So your friend in Wonderland, Texas will sit for a different test than you will in FantasyWorld, Texas, and both of your tests will differ from someone in GetReal, Florida.

Admission into the Graduate Program will be based on the same score requirements, regardless of where you have taken the test.

• Congratulations! You have earned the degree to be in the medical field. However, No Patient Left Behind has been instituted, and now there are learning targets. So, for every patient who fails or becomes seriously ill, and/or who does not follow your specific guidelines for living a healthy life, there will be consequences. These may range from your having to repeat courses you’ve taken in medical school to losing your license.

• It’s your first day on the job at Grape Technologies, and your supervisor assigns you an office, which has a desk, a chair and a file cabinet. “Where,” you ask, “do I find my supplies?” The supervisor directs you to the nearest big box or office supply store. There you will purchase: pens, pencils, paper clips, stapler, tape, paper. . .The supervisor reminds you that sometimes people you work with will not have their supplies, so you might want to be prepared for that by buying more than you need for yourself.

If you thought those scenarios were absurd, arbitrary, and atrocious, welcome to part of my world as a public school teacher. If you agree with those scenarios, you need remediation.

The public perception that teachers are opposing tests and evaluations because they fear being “outed” as ineffective is asinine, and it reflects an uninformed perception of the teaching profession altogether.

Are there “bad” teachers? Of course. Mary Kay Letourneau was education’s poster child of bad. Every profession has “bad.” I’m thinking, just off the top of my yuck list: Dr. Michael Kamrava (Nadya Suleman’s fertility doctor), Michael Vick, Bernard Madoff. . .
But, those of us in the classroom who are confident we’re teaching students, not the books, say, “Bring it on!”

My administrators know they can walk in my classroom any day, any time. They’ve not only walked in unannounced, they’ve brought other teachers and supervisors. They’ve sat next to my students to ask them what they were doing and why.

Do I coach my students ahead of time? No. I want my students to answer honestly, and I’m not afraid of what they’re going to say. If a student doesn’t think s/he is learning, I want to know. Unfortunately, some of my students don’t realize until years later that they’ve learned something. I have the emails to prove it.

I’m a “good teacher,” not because my students’ scores attest to that. My students attest to that. Not all, obviously. But enough of them that I continue to do what I do because I know I’m reaching students. Because, I teach students. I don’t teach the book.

I’m a good teacher because I don’t teach to the test. I teach to the student. My goal is to prepare students, not simply for college, but for the world beyond high school. To teach them what to do when they won’t know what to do. To teach them strategies for success, to think critically, to open themselves to becoming lifelong learners.

I’m a good teacher because I have learned the most significant learning can be purely accidental. The learning that catches students by surprise years later when an event triggers some memory, for example, and suddenly “you have to know what to do when you don’t know what to do” makes sense. I’d like to pat my own back for that particular “accidental” learning, but I can’t. Actually, my role is to provide the opportunity for the serendipity, not to provide the moment it happens.

And this push for teacher evaluation so as to purge the system? Even Charlotte Danielson, the economist who designed the rubric, said Louisiana is using it all wrong. The original rubric uses 22 indicators that should be observed in a teacher’s classroom. The Louisiana version uses 5.

“Taking my framework and using only a small subset of it can be problematic,” Danielson said. “Districts and the state should be concerned because it is inevitably going to lead to inaccuracies that could lead to challenges.” http://www.thetowntalk.com/article/20130307/NEWS01/130307008/Louisiana-s-modified-teacher-assessment-falls-short-some-say

But teaching is complex, and evaluators — who will mostly be principals and assistant principals — may make mistakes when they see teachers doing something well, or badly, and they don’t have enough information from the rating system to help them score what they see, she said.

“My recommendation is to use the full instrument, and then if what you want to do is focus on some aspect of it, that’s fine. But adopt the whole thing,” she said. http://www.nola.com/education/index.ssf/2012/11/expert_on_teacher_evaluation_h.html
The Louisiana DOE is clearly not pleased. Superintendent John White’s Chief of Staff Kunjan Narechania, in an email released by the DOE, says that Daniels is “…is being a pain again. Apparently some reporter interviewed her about us using a version of her rubric for our system. She said she thinks it’s a bad idea for us to use an abridged version of her rubric and that we should have piloted for a year. So lame.”

Charlotte Danielson http://www.danielsongroup.org/article.aspx?page=charlotte is internationally recognized, and, as taken from her bio: “…advises State Education Departments and National Ministries and Departments of Education, both in the United States and overseas. She is in demand as a keynote speaker at national and international conferences, and as a policy consultant to legislatures and administrative bodies.”

The eloquent assessment of Danielson at the Louisiana State Department of Education, however, is that she is “a pain,” and her idea is “so lame.” While this may be a fine example of rhyming (and I’m not sure where that might fall on the Compass rubric), it is vapid and an embarrassment.

Let’s make this simple: A teacher receives tenure after three years. That means that administrators have THREE YEARS to determine the effectiveness of this teacher. A teacher does not become a “bad/ineffective” teacher the first day of his/her fourth year in the classroom. No “dog and pony” show can survive three years.

So, the real question isn’t why there are ineffective teachers in the classroom. The real question is why administrators allowed them to be ineffective for three years. For years, I was a teacher mentor/assessor for whatever flavor of the year was being used to evaluate teachers. Trust me on this one. Some teachers should never have been allowed to be granted tenure, but for one reason or another, made it through the system.

It bothers me that some administrators, who had three years to decide if a teacher should be tenured, weren’t doing their jobs. It bothers me that some administrators wouldn’t know good teaching if it slapped them back into their offices, and those administrators will be evaluating teacher performance.

The conclusion based on past evaluation systems is that future evaluation systems can be equally ineffective. Anyone who’s ever used a rubric knows the degree of subjectivity inherent in using it.

For your entertainment, here are only two specious examples from the rubric:

Domain 3: Instruction

• A student asks whether they might remain in their small groups to complete another section of the activity, rather than work independently.

Ignoring the pronoun-antecedent error (a student-they-their), the above is provided as an example of a teacher who would score Highly Proficient on the rubric. Essentially, by discouraging students to work on their own when they have completed the original group task is rewarded. Why?

Domain 1: Planning and Preparation

• One of the learning outcomes is for students to “appreciate the aesthetics of 18th Century English poetry.”

This is provided as an example of the preparation and planning that would be exhibited by an Effective/Proficient teacher. How, exactly, would one observing a classroom know if students “appreciate the aesthetics” of anything? What, exactly, does the evaluator look for to determine when a student is grateful for poetry’s beauty?

And that’s just two.

I noticed the state DOE site is now keeping the term Human Capital Information System http://www.louisianabelieves.com/teaching/compass-information-system-(hcis) inside the parentheses and referring to it as the Compass Information System instead. Why is that? Perhaps John White decided that referring to teachers as “human capital” might err on the side of total arrogance and insensitivity? When I used HCIS, there was no euphemistic substitute. My instructional goals, planned learning outcomes, and my evaluations are stored in a system that labels me a human used to generate income or as a financial asset.

So, maybe you’ll understand why some days, I play “Let’s pretend…”

I pretend to hurl the textbooks and state-mandated curriculum through the windows and tell students, “Okay, let’s talk about what really matters. Let’s talk about what you’ll face in the world. How tragedy and joy are holding hands, and they’ll play Red Rover with you for the rest of your life.”
And then there’s Taylor Mali if you really want to know What Teachers Make.
http://www.ted.com/talks/taylor_mali_what_teachers_make.html

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