Archive for the ‘House, Senate’ Category

We received an interesting post from our friend C.B. Forgotston relative to HB 703 by State Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite).

The bill was fairly straightforward in that it simply requires unclassified employees with annual salaries of $100,000 or more to register their vehicles in Louisiana and to obtain Louisiana driver’s licenses within 30 days of employment, subject to termination.

The bill was handled in the Senate by Rick Gallot (D-Ruston).

Who could oppose such a bill—unless it might be certain employees of the Louisiana Department of Education who somehow appeared to feel they were above the law, not exactly a precedent in this administration. After all, there already was a law requiring registration of vehicles and the obtaining of a state driver’s license on the part of any citizen moving to Louisiana.

Even Gov. Bobby Jindal said he would sign the bill if it passed—and it did by votes of 70-20 (with 15 not voting) in the House and 20-17 (with two not voting) in the Senate.

But wait. A somewhat indignant Forgotston noted in his blog that the Baton Rouge Sunday Advocate quoted Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge) as calling the bill “a political poke in the eye and a waste of our (legislators’) time.”

Like Forgotston, we’re not entirely sure whose eye was being poked other than certain recalcitrant appointees of State Education Superintendent John White.

But a waste of time?

Let’s review some of the legislation introduced in the form of House and Senate resolutions by several of those serious-minded legislators who, having no time for frivolity, would never think of wasting time in Baton Rouge and who had the integrity and dignity to vote against such a colossal waste of precious legislators’ time.

Appropriately enough, we shall begin with Sen. Claitor:

• SCR 11: Requests the International Olympic Committee to reconsider its position on Olympic Wrestling;

• SCR 15: Urges and requests the citizens of Louisiana to recognize the life-saving benefits of routine colorectal screening examinations and to schedule such examinations as deemed appropriate by their physicians;

• SR 31: Commends the Brusly High School Panthers wrestling team on winning its second consecutive Division III state championship title;

• SR 35: Commends Paxton Turner on being named as an Honorable Mention by the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in education Program;

• SR 47: Commends the Episcopal High School Knights boys’ soccer team upon their Division III state championship;

• SCR 104: Commends the Louisiana Varsity Sports Women’s Team and Men’s Team for their individual and team achievements in the 2013 Boston Marathon;

• SR 111: Requests the Louisiana State Law Institute to perform a comprehensive study of Louisiana bail laws and procedures and to make recommendations as necessary for modernization of bail procedures (probably to benefit carpetbagger political appointees who refused to comply with HB 703).

We listed all of Claitor’s extremely important resolutions which, of course, did not constitute any waste of time. For the others voting against the bill, we had to narrow our selection lest we would still be writing after the June 6 adjournment of the legislature.

Here are a few choice bits of legislation by other opponents of HB 703:

Sen. A.G. Crowe (R-Slidell):

• SR 23: Designates the week of April 7-13 as Junior Auxiliary Week at the Senate;

• SR 24: Commends Israel on the occasion of its 65th anniversary of the birth of the modern State of Israel;

• SCR 86: Commends Joshua R. Ashley and Ian Frichter for their competition in the Automotive Technology Program at Northshore Technical Community College;

• SCR 88: Memorializes Congress to adopt the Constitution Restoration Act;

Senate President John Alario (R-Westwego):

• SCR 93: Commends Rachel Elizabeth Schultz upon being named the 76th Greater New Orleans Floral Trail Queen;

Sen. Bret Allain (R-Franklin):

• SR 94: Designates the week of June 17-21 as Louisiana Entrepreneurship Week;

Sen. Page Cortez (R-Lafayette):

• SCR 18: Commends the St. Thomas More High School boys’ basketball team on winning the Class 4A state championship;

Sen. Jack Donahue (R-Mandeville):

• SR 37: Recognizes and commends the Boy Scouts of America for the public service the organization performs through its contributions to the lives of the nation’s boys and young men;

Sen. Elbert Guillory (D-Opelousas):

• SR 110: Recognizes Thursday, May 16, 2013, as Pro-Life Day at the Louisiana State Capitol;

• SCR 92: Commends the Westminster Christian Academy Crusaders for Life on being the first student-led pro-life group on campus;

Sen. Ronnie Johns (R-Lake Charles):

• SCR 44: Commends Alcoa upon the celebration of its 125th anniversary and designates May 14, 2013, as Alcoa Day at the Legislature;

• SCR 98: Expresses support of and provides authority for actions by the LSU Board of Supervisors for the strategic collaboration with the Division of Administration and the Department of Health and Hospitals in planning for a new model of health care delivery throughout the Lake Charles region;

• SR 33: Commends the 1963 McNeese State College Football Team for its historic season;

• SR 87: Designates May 7, 2013, as Louisiana Chemical Industry Day;

• SR 103: Designates May 15, 2013, as Louisiana Housing Council Day;

• SCR 26: Commends LSU student Bruno Beltran of Sulphur on being a recipient of a Goldwater Scholarship;

Sen. Gerald Long (R-Natchitoches):

• SR 98: Commends the Adai Caddo Indian Tribe for its cultural contributions to the State of Louisiana;

• SR 133: Commends Robert Harper for 42 years of service in state government;

• SCR 22: Urges and requests the Louisiana High School Athletic Association to establish and sanction the competitive sport of tournament bass fishing;

Sen. Daniel Martiny (R-Metairie):

• SCR 57: Requests various state and local departments to take certain actions regarding the commercial construction and operation by Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast of a facility to provide abortions in Louisiana;
• SR 115: Commends the Louisiana Physical Therapy Association for its outstanding achievements and designates the week of May 13, 2013, as Louisiana Physical Therapy Week;

Sen. Jean-Paul J. Morrell (D-New Orleans):

• SR 117: Commends Tulane University and designates May 21, 2013, as Tulane University Day at the Senate;

Sen. Barrow Peacock (R-Bossier City):

• SR 36: Commends the State-Line Fishing and Hunting Club in celebrating its centennial for 100 years of common ownership (what, no designated week? Not even a day?);

Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia):

• SR 77: Designates May 2013 as Breast Cancer Awareness Month (a whole month and not even a day for the fishing and hunting club?);

Sen. Mike Walsworth (who last year asked in committee if humans could be grown from high school science lab petri dish cultures):

• SR 19: Commends Lauren Vizza on her successful reign as Miss Louisiana 2012 (We’re curious as to what would have constituted an unsuccessful reign.);

• SR 56: Commends KNOE TV for proving northeast Louisiana with 60 years of local, state, national and international news (We understand KNOE beat out the Rocky Branch World Guardian Tribune-Shopper House of Prayer, Snake Farm and Bait Stand.);

Sen. Bodi White (R-Central):

• SR 112 and SR 113: Commends the Central Private School boys’ basketball team and boys’ baseball team upon winning the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools basketball and baseball championships (Mississippi? Perhaps some legislator should introduce a resolution requiring Central Private to play in Louisiana.);

We picked on the State Senate because of Claitor’s incredibly naïve comment about the bill’s being a waste of precious time and while we would love to similarly recognize House members who voted against HB 703, there simply is not enough space to do so.

We would like to make a couple of exceptions by pointing out a couple of House resolutions and one House bill that jumped off the page during our review.

Rep. Steve Pylant (R-Winnsboro) was actually absent and did not vote on HB 703, but we still want to give him his 15 minutes. HB 648 by Pylant would require the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) to require that high school students complete at least one course offered by a BESE-authorized online or virtual course (Course Choice) provider as a prerequisite to graduation.

We can’t help but wonder of Pylant has been paying attention to the growing scandal of fraudulent registration of more than 1100 students to Course Choice courses without the knowledge of consent of either the students or their parents.

His HCR 156 also requests that BESE “and others” study potential funding sources for online courses offered through the Course Choice Program.

Again, we wonder at Pylant’s motives here. We already know from his campaign finance reports that he is beholden to the Jindalistas but his steadfast commitment to Course Choice seems to run much deeper than mere political affiliations.

And then there is Rep. Stephen Carter, chairman of the House Education Committee.

His HCR 30 requests that BESE study the feasibility and advisability of pursuing a residential charter school model in Louisiana. Wouldn’t one think that given the abysmal record of many charter schools and the accompanying legal problems of financing vouchers with state funds, he might wish to hold up on rushing into yet another educational fiasco?

Probably not because his HB 650 is a classic study of putting the cart ahead of the horse.

HB 650 calls for the reorganization of the State Department of Education (DOE).

The problem with the bill is it comes almost a year after Superintendent of Education John White already initiated a reorganization of the department that is arguably blatantly illegal.

More on that in a subsequent post.

For now, on behalf of Rep. John Bel Edwards and Rep. Rick Gallot, we humbly apologize to Sen. Claitor for taking up so much of the good Baton Rouge senator’s precious time. After all, he could have missed a free meal from a lobbyist while contemplating this trivial piece of legislation.

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The reports of fraudulent registration of students for courses in the Louisiana Department of Education’s (DOE) Course Choice program continue to filter in with more reported signups and solicitations in East Baton Rouge, Calcasieu and Claiborne parishes.

And while State Superintendent of Education John White is certainly culpable in the whole sordid mess, it is significant that only one of 28 legislators who are members of either the Senate or House Education Committees took the opportunity to address two emerging education issues when asked to do so by LouisianaVoice.

We sent emails to each member of the two committees (along with a select few other legislators). We identified ourselves at the outset and said that we had been writing about the leaking of teacher evaluation data by White, which would seem to be in clear violation of Act 54 of the 2010 Legislature.

We also said we were continuing work on the developing story about 1100 students in Caddo and Webster (a story that has since grown to include the parishes of East Baton Rouge, Calcasieu, Claiborne and Bossier) who were signed up for courses by Course Choice providers without either the knowledge or consent of the students signed up or their parents.

Course Choice providers like Fast Start and FastPath are paid one-half of their tuition, which ranges from $700 to $1250 per course, up front with the remaining one-half being paid upon the student’s completion of the course. Course Choice providers are given wide latitude in deciding whether or not a student completes his or her course.

We posed the question of whether or not an investigation should be conducted into how FastPath and Smart Start received students’ names and other personal information in order to sign them up for the courses.

One member, Rep. Rob Shadoin (R-Ruston), responded to our inquiry, saying, “I do not know enough details on these matters to give you a comment. I have general knowledge of what you speak but no specifics. I’m sorry I ain’t much help to you on the subject.”

Might we suggest, Mr. Shadoin, that as a member of the House Education Committee you might wish to bring yourself up to speed on education issues such as these—or resign from the committee?

But at least Shadoin did respond, such as it was.

That was a little better than the deafening silence from the all but one of the other members of the two committees.

State Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite) said of the leaking of evaluation data on three Caddo Parish teachers to State Rep. Alan Seabaugh by White, “It would seem that whoever disclosed the information in the DOE in blatant disregard for the statutory protections affording teachers the right to keep certain specific evaluation information from public view is just the latest indication, among many, that those folks (in DOE) have no respect for the rule of law.”

Edwards also was critical of the Course Choice registrations. “The roll-out of Course Choice is proving to be every bit as scandalous and controversial as the roll-out of vouchers: unfit providers offering inferior educational opportunities while aggressively seeking to profit at taxpayer expense and while mal-educating our children and deceiving their parents.”

Here are the responses of the members of the House Education Committee:

• Stephen Carter (R-Baton Rouge), Chairman: Silence;

• Patrick Jefferson (D-Homer), Vice Chairman: Silence;

• Wesley Bishop (D-New Orleans): Silence;

• Christopher Broadwater (R-Hammond): Silence;

• Henry Burns (R-Haughton): Silence—in fact, deleted our email without reading it;

• Thomas Carmody (R-Shreveport): Silence;

• Simone Champagne (R-Erath): Silence;

• Cameron Henry (R-Metairie): Silence;

• Paul Hollis (R-Covington): Silence;

• Barry Ivey (R-Baton Rouge): Silence;

• Nancy Landry (R-Lafayette): Silence (Readers may remember Landry as the member who attempted to ram through a rule that teachers testifying before the committee in 2012 should be compelled to say whether or not they were on annual or sick leave);

• Edward Price (D-Gonzales): Silence;

• Jerome “Dee” Richard (I-Thibodaux): responded he would have a statement, but never sent it;

• Pat Smith (D-Baton Rouge): Silence;

• Jeff Thompson (R-Bossier City): Silence);

• Alfred Williams (D-Baton Rouge): Silence;

• Ex Officio member House Speaker Chuck Kleckley (R-Lake Charles): Silence;

• Ex Officio member Walt Leger (D-New Orleans): Silence.

Senate Education Committee members and their responses:

• Conrad Appel (R-Metairie), Chairman: Silence;

• Eric LaFleur (D-Ville Platte), Vice Chairman: Silence;

• Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge): Silence;

• Jack Donahue (R-Mandeville): Silence;

• Elbert Guillory (D-Opelousas): Silence;

• Mike Walsworth (R-West Monroe—still trying to learn if humans can be grown from high school lab cultures): Silence;

• Mack “Bodi” White (R-Baton Rouge—obviously too busy trying to get his breakaway school zone in South Baton Rouge approved): Silence;

• Interim member Page Cortez (R-Lafayette): Silence.

Nine House Education Committee members—Carter, Ivey, Smith, Alfred Williams, Jefferson, Henry Burns, Carmody, Jeff Thompson and Kleckley— and two Senators—Claitor and White—represent parishes into which these Course Choice providers have already moved to begin registering students and yet they still choose to remain silent on the issue.

Yes, it’s easy to point the finger at the snow cone stand mentality of DOE management by White and Course Choice ramrod Lefty Lefkowith but by their overwhelming silence in this matter, these committee members are every bit as complicit as anyone in the Claiborne Building.

It’s as if these people live in a vacuum. Take the computer-generated response we received from Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia):

“Thank you for contacting Senator Riser regarding your thoughts and concerns. He appreciates hearing from you. He will keep this in mind as they go thru the legislative process.”

Now that’s taking an issue head-on.

Meanwhile, Course Choice peddlers have moved into East Baton Rouge and Calcasieu to sign up students. Two in Calcasieu have been rejected thus far; one was a student signed up for two courses deemed inappropriate for the student’s grade level and another student registered for five courses (at $700 to $1250 each—half up front, remember) was not enrolled at the school the student said he/she was.

Course Choice representatives have begun canvassing neighborhoods in Homer in Claiborne Parish to sign up students and offering them free iPads.

Caddo, Bossier, Webster and Claiborne are all contiguous parishes in northwest Louisiana.

Claiborne Parish school officials have issued public announcements that the local school board has no connection to the Course Choice representatives.

Meanwhile, from the House and Senate Education Committees, to borrow a line from Simon and Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence:

Silence Like a Cancer Grows.

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State Rep. Jerome “Dee” Richard believes he may have found a way in which to cut into the state budget deficit to the tune of about half-a-billion dollars.

HB-73 by Richard would require a 10 percent reduction in the total dollar amount for professional, personal and consulting service contracts under the jurisdiction of the Office of Contractual Review (OCR) for Fiscal Year 2013-14.

The proposed law also would require the OCR to submit reports on the status of the implementation of the law to the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget on Oct. 1, 2013, Jan., April 1 and July 1 of 2014.
It also would require that the OCR director to submit a monthly report to the House Appropriations Committee summarizing all contracts and dollar values awarded the previous month.

The Legislative Fiscal Office (LFO) said the annual report of the OCR released in January of this year showed there were 2,284 professional, personal and consulting contracts with the state with a combined contract value of approximately $5.28 billion.

The LFO said the bill would result in an “indeterminable decrease” in overall state expenditures in FY-14. “To the extent this bill would have been enacted during the 2012 regular legislative session, the projected 10 percent reduction in the value of OCR approved professional, personal and consulting services contracts for FY-13 would have equated to approximately $528 million less,” the LFO’s fiscal notes said.

Richard’s bill would allow exceptions but only if certain conditions were met, namely:

• There were no state employees available or capable of performing the needed work;

• Required services are not available as a product of a prior or existing contract;

• There be a written plan to monitor and evaluate performance of the contract;

• The proposed contract would be determined to be a priority expenditure by the Commissioner of Administration.

Such a reduction, should it be approved and implemented, would help close a gaping budget hole of hundreds of millions of dollars for the state.

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There have been ridiculous bills filed in the Louisiana Legislature. In fact, you can just about count on at least two or three each year.

But HB 648 by freshman Rep. Steve Pylant (R-Winnsboro) is the most asinine monument to waste and corruption in decades of wasteful and corrupt legislatures.

Even as LouisianaVoice reveals case after case of more than 1100 bogus registrations for Course Choice courses in three north Louisiana parishes, HB 648 would actually require the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) to “adopt rules and regulations that require all public high school students, beginning with those entering ninth grade in the fall of 2014, to successfully complete at least one course offered by a BESE-authorized online or virtual course provider as a prerequisite to graduation.”

In the wake of what has been taking place in Caddo, Bossier and Webster parishes (and more recently in Calcasieu where it has been learned that one student not enrolled in the school listed by the student attempted to sign up for five courses and another signed up for two courses considered inappropriate for the grade level), Pylant ought to do the decent thing and withdraw his bill in the interest of saving himself further embarrassment.

His bill would accomplish precisely one thing: it would encourage even more fraud than has already taken place with course choice providers signing students to courses in those parishes without the knowledge or consent of the students or their parents.

In one case a severe and profound child was signed up for a class and in Bossier Parish, about 40 students did not attend a school in that parish as their applications indicated.

First grade students were signed up for high school Latin and high school English classes and many of the students ostensibly signed up in Bossier were registered for highly technical advanced mathematics classes.

Pylant, the retired sheriff of Franklin Parish, was elected in 2011 to the seat formerly held by Noble Ellington, who retired and was hired at a six-figure salary by the Louisiana Department of Insurance.

Ellington, the former national president of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in fact, contributed $500 of his campaign funds to Pylant in 2011.

Pylant also received more than $13,000 from the Republican Party of Louisiana, the Louisiana Committee for a Republican Majority, and the Republican Legislative Delegation Campaign.

He also received $2500 each from Gov. Bobby Jindal’s campaign fund and House Speaker Chuck Kleckley’s political action committee, so it’s fairly easy to see where his allegiance lies.

But that is little reason to pass legislation that will only encourage an already serious problem of fly-by-night companies signing up students only for the purpose of qualifying the course provider to receive one-half of its tuition up front—whether or not the student ever turns on his or her computer.

The State of Idaho has already been there, done that, and decided it was a bad idea. Voters in that state easily repealed Idaho’s version of Course Choice—they called it Online Learning—by a whopping 2-1 margin in a statewide referendum last November.

Course Choice easily falls under the heading of “What’s going on here?”

And what’s going on, simply put, is the continued raping of the state treasury—sanctioned by the Jindal administration.

But Pylant’s bill qualifies for “What the heck is he thinking?”

The answer to that question is anyone’s guess.

We only know one thing for certain: it’s a win-win for shady operators and a lose-lose for Louisiana taxpayers.

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More information about the 14-minute telephone conversation between Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White and State Rep. Alan Seabaugh (R-Shreveport) is emerging that reveals a concerted but complicated effort by White to placate Seabaugh’s demand that evaluation scores be adjusted upward for three teachers at South Highlands Elementary School.

Even as he was attempting to surreptitiously help three teachers in his House district, Seabaugh was trying unsuccessfully to push a bill through this year’s legislature that would have prohibited the payroll deduction of union dues for public employees.

HB-552 was aimed at teachers unions like the Louisiana Federation of Teachers for successfully challenging Gov. Bobby Jindal’s education reform bills of 2012. It was defeated by a single vote with Rep. Jerome “Dee” Richard (I-Thibodaux) casting the deciding vote.

The information, provided by a source with intimate knowledge of the details of the events, shows that Seabaugh took an active part in trying to implement changes on behalf of the three teachers through repeated contacts with White.

White, in order to appease the lawmaker, soon began talking and messaging within DOE about a “Seabaugh Solution” so openly that Seabaugh apparently felt compelled to tell White that he did not want his named associated with the solution.

The chronology of events was detailed in a two-page document provided LouisianaVoice by the confidential source.

Last Wednesday, LouisianaVoice reported on the 14-minute conversation between Seabaugh and White that was recorded by an employee who White had apparently asked to participate on a speaker phone to answer any questions that Seabaugh might have that White could not address.

Seabaugh is said to have initiated the conversation with White after he was contacted by three of his constituents—teachers at South Highlands Elementary in his Shreveport district. The teachers were unhappy with poor evaluations and Seabaugh attempted to persuade White to try to help those specific individuals. White apparently attempted to accommodate the lawmaker even as he complained to him in that telephone conversation that he felt like a “ping pong ball” being bounced between the governor’s office, Seabaugh and Chas Roemer, President of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Because LouisianaVoice obtained several emails about the Value Added Model (VAM, also known within DOE as Compass) that were written around October of 2012, it was estimated that the telephone conversation between Seabaugh and White occurred around that time. The sequence of events outlined in the latest document reinforces the accuracy of that estimation.

In October of 2012, the source said, a teacher at South Highlands made a data request of DOE in which she wanted to know why she had received an ineffective rating. “A report was produced that showed that her 2011-2012 students’ average scaled score for the content that she teaches declined when compared to those same students’ average scaled score for the previous year.” The document added that “Her students performed worse than other students in the same grade and content in Caddo Parish or the state (as a whole).”

The document said White “began talking (and) messaging about a ‘Seabaugh Solution’ when he was asked about the fix for these teachers.” When people found out about the fix that would accommodate those three teachers, they became angry at Seabaugh and contacted his office (to) make sure he was aware of their ire. “Seabaugh told John White that he did not want his name associated with the solution,” the source said. “White made it clear to his staff that they should not use the term ‘Seabaugh Solution’ anymore.”

The document said many fixes were tried, “but none of them captured all the three South Highlands teachers. “For one teacher, one of her students who was in Mastery in third grade was now in Approaching Basic in her fourth grade class.”

Baton Rouge Advocate reporter Will Sentell apparently heard rumors of the attempt and requested an interview with White, according to the letter to LouisianaVoice. This created the problem for White of how to provide the report to Sentell without it being seen as coming directly from DOE.

“A meeting was held in which (DOE general counsel) Joan Hunt was present,” the document said. “Others at the meeting had copies of the report…and it was obvious to those who read (it) that these three teachers are ineffective teachers.” Those in the meeting “agreed unanimously that these teachers were ineffective but (they) could not come out and say it openly (because of Seabaugh’s involvement in the attempts to adjust their evaluations). Hunt said that her child is gifted and she would not want her child to be in that school with those teachers,” the source said.

As a solution, it was decided to use an intermediary to provide Sentell with the requested report. The intermediary was instructed to say she had obtained the information through a data request from DOE—apparently so that it could not be traced directly back to White. During the interview, White even asked Sentell where he got the report, the document said.

During the course of his interview with Sentell, White confided “in an off-the-record remark” that the three teachers were ineffective and that Seabaugh was “pushing hard” to fix it.

“At the start of the new year (supposedly January 2013), the focus was on finding a fix for these teachers because White had gone around saying that there would be a fix for teachers instructing high achieving students,” the source said. “Several of the fixes (attempted) could not be used because (they) would not cover all three teachers. This indicates how bad those teachers really are.”

“Other fixes were discarded because Hannah Dietsch (Assistant Superintendent overseeing teacher evaluations at $130,000 per year) was afraid they would have ‘messaging’ problems,” the document said, adding that the criteria for the fixes were:

• It had to capture all three teachers;

• It had to be done at the ‘back end’ of the model (in the calculations);

• It had to be simple to message.

The original model has a ceiling built into it that prevents students from being predicted to achieve a score that is higher than the test itself. The highest a student can score in the LEAP/iLEAP is 500. The ceiling is different for each content area. It may be around 485 for English Language Arts (ELA). That would give a teacher a plus-15 for every student who scores a perfect score of 500 on the test.

When coming up with the numerous fixes, the letter said it was suggested to White that if a student scored 485, that teacher would automatically get a plus-15 instead of a zero. If a student scored 490, that teacher would automatically get a plus-15 for that student instead of a plus-10.

“White did not like that suggestion and ‘chewed off the ass’ of the person who suggested it,” the source said. That was the part in the (recording) where one employee whispered to another about a suggested fix that White did not like—but later agreed to in his telephone conversation with Seabaugh.

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