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Archive for the ‘Recovery School District’ Category

When it comes to submitting and verifying employee travel expense claims, it appears that the Recovery School District (RSD), in keeping with past performances as reflected in several state audits, is somewhat sloppy in approving what appear to be questionable travel expense reports by RSD employees.

Three unclassified RSD employees submitted itemized expense reports for travel in their personal vehicles covering a single month for one of the employees and multiple months for the remaining two. Though the reports covered at least five days of travel, each report summary sheet appeared to have been completed on a single day.

Even more curious was the uniformity in the case of each traveler’s giving the departure and return times for each trip.

James Delano Ford, Deputy Superintendent for the RSD and who is paid $145,000 per year, listed nine separate trips during April and May of this year. Seven of those trips were from New Orleans to Baton Rouge and one was from New Orleans to Claiborne Parish and the other from New Orleans to Caddo Parish. The latter two trips would involve round trip distances in excess of 600 miles but for all nine trips, Ford listed his departure time on his trip summary sheet as 6 a.m. and his arrival time back in New Orleans as 3 p.m. the same day.

On the individual travel expense statement form, however, he listed his departure time as 6 a.m. and his return time as 6:01 a.m. for each trip.

His trips to Baton Rouge were listed as having been taken on April 11, 16, 18, and 25 and on May 6, 9, and 13. The trip to Caddo Parish was given as April 26 and to Claiborne on April 29.

Tracy Guillory, RSD Executive Director of Achievement at $115,000 per year, claimed only five trips, all for the month of June. Three were to St. Helena Parish on June 11, 18 and 26, and two were to Shreveport on June 7 and 21. The two to Shreveport were to Lanier Academy, the same school visited by Ford in April.

His five individual travel expense statement forms each listed his time of departure as 6 a.m. and his return to New Orleans as 12 noon and his trip summary sheet listed the same departure and return times for the Shreveport trips, two of the St. Helena trips gave departure times as 6:30 a.m. and return times as 8:15 a.m. while the third gave a 6:45 a.m. departure time and a return time of 8:30 a.m.

Dana Peterson, Deputy Superintendent of External Affairs at $125,000 per year, was the busiest traveler, racking up 23 trips from Feb. 19 through June 8.

He is the husband of State Sen. Karen Carter Peterson (D-N.O.) who also is the State Democratic Party Chairperson.

His report included trips to St. Landry on Feb. 19 and March 18 and 21; Pointe Coupee on May 8 and 16, St. Helena on May 9 and Baton Rouge on March 22 and 25, April 1, 5, 9, 12, 16, 17, 18, 24, 25, and 29, May 1, 2, 20, and 21 and June 8.

June 8 was a Saturday.

And while he never bothered to list a departure and arrival time on his trip summary sheet, he, like the other two, was consistent in listing his departure times on each trip as 6 a.m. and his return time as 12 noon.

Eight of Ford’s nine individual trip reports were each computer dated May 21, 2013 with the lone exception being the May 2 date on his Claiborne Parish trip report. One of Tracy Guillory’s individual trip reports was dated July 22 and the other four July 24 while 22 of Peterson’s individual trip reports were stamped July 11. There was no individual trip report for the June 8 trip.

In each individual’s case, RSD Superintendent Patrick Dobard, whose $225,000 salary is second only to Superintendent of Education John White’s $275,000, by his signature, certified that the expense accounts were “just and true,” and each of the travel expense reports was audited by Administrative Business Official Shaundra D. Moore—on May 30 for Ford, July 11 for Peterson and July 29 for Guillory.

State regulations require that whenever a state vehicle is not available, “a rental vehicle should be used…for all travel over 99 miles.” The state’s contract for rental cars is with Enterprise Car Rentals and in an apparent effort to discourage the use of private vehicles, regulations stipulate that for trips of 100 miles or more in a private vehicle, “the traveler will reimbursed for mileage on the basis of 51 cents per mile only, not to exceed a maximum of 99 miles per round trip and/or day.”

Each of the 37 trips made by the three exceeded 100 miles and each charged for the maximum of 99 miles.

Guillory also made nine other trips in September but used a state vehicle for those trips.

With such lax procedures as allowing reports for several months to be compiled and submitted on a single day and with no real oversight in place (each of the travelers was in a senior management position with little or no real supervision), it would seem a simple matter to pad travel expense reports to make up for the 99-mile restriction—especially given the fact that some of these trips exceeded 600 miles round trip.

Why else, considering the cost of fuel these days, would an employee agree to use his or her own vehicle at a reimbursement rate of less than 20 percent of the mileage traveled on those trips to Caddo and Claiborne parishes? It simply does not make sense to do that unless…

And the uniformity of the departure and return times on each of the reports certainly raises additional questions as to their validity. There’s no way to possibly make a trip from New Orleans to Shreveport and back to New Orleans in six hours.

It’s a system that invites abuse.

We’re just sayin’…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do we require them to file quarterly reports?”

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

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

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

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

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

“It depends on who gets the request.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joint Budget Committee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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In the late ‘60s psychologist Dr. Laurence J. Peter advanced what became known as the Peter Principle which said, in effect, that “In a hierarchically-structured administration, people tend to be promoted up to their level of incompetence.”

Put another way: “The cream rises until it sours.”

A good case in point, of course, would be Michael Brown, the notoriously inept head of FEMA, as evidence by his botched effort at coordinating recovery efforts after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Brown had previously served admirably as commissioner of judges for the International Arabian Horse Association but that job hardly prepared him for handling a job of the magnitude of major hurricane recovery efforts.

The same may be said of John White, who despite his abysmal record as Louisiana Superintendent of Education, may soon be promoted to yet a new level of incompetence.

Rumors have persisted for several days now that White would be leaving his post at the end of the current legislative session, which must adjourn by June 6.

Those rumors reached a new pitch on Wednesday with word that White would be headed “for Duncanland” in June.

For those unfamiliar with the Obama cabinet, “Duncanland” would be Washington where Arne Duncan serves as Secretary of Education.

Before joining the Obama administration, Duncan served as chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools whence controversial former Recovery School District Superintendent Paul Vallas came.

White succeeded Vallas as RSD superintendent before being elevated to his current post by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) at the behest of Gov. Bobby Jindal in January of 2012.

BESE President Chas Roemer, contacted about the report that White was headed for Washington, said he had not heard any such report.

In White’s case, the Peter Principle could be traced from White’s minimal classroom experience as a Teach for America alumnus as well as his having attended an academy to train school superintendents whose credentials are questionable at best. That academy, the Eli Broad Academy consists of all of six weekends of classes spread over 10 months.

In recent weeks, White’s tenure has been marred by repeated courtroom setbacks over the funding formula for school vouchers, public records litigation, rejection by the legislature of BESE’s Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) formula for funding public education, and most recently, word of apparent efforts by course providers to fraudulently enroll more than 1100 students in Course Choice online classes that were to be paid for by the state from MFP funds.

It was the use of the MFP funds for that purpose that was ruled unconstitutional by the Louisiana Supreme Court.

BESE member Lottie Beebe of Breaux Bridge, a vocal opponent of both White and Roemer, said she had not heard the latest report though she acknowledged previous rumors of White’s departure.

“He is building a home in Baton Rouge,” she said by email. “If this proves true, he is acknowledging defeat. He will bail before he is fired!”

An email to White went unanswered.

Increasingly, it would appear that the cream may have risen and has now soured.

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The vote was a foregone conclusion; the minds were made up long before the Senate Education Committee members cast their votes to kill SB 41 by Sen. Bob Kostelka (R-Monroe).

The vote that killed the bill was anti-climactic at best. The testimony of a band director and self-proclaimed “highly qualified” math teacher, however, provided the bombshell that Superintendent John White and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) would rather you not know.

His testimony evoked memories of Michelle Rhee’s tumultuous reign in Washington, D.C. and of more recent events in Atlanta.

It was purely academic that only two of the eight committee members would vote in favor of sending the bill to make the Louisiana Superintendent of Education position elective again after nearly two decades of having an appointive superintendent.

And one of those two votes in favor—that of Sen. Mike Walsworth (R-West Monroe) was purely for show because (a) he knew the result well in advance, so his vote would not affect the outcome and (b) about 75 percent of those attending the committee meeting were from Ouachita Parish—and they all supported the bill. Walsworth, if nothing else, is at least capable of reading a room.

Walsworth, you may remember, was the senator who last year made a complete ass of himself during a committee hearing on science vs. creationism. A teacher was testifying about how her science students were growing cultures in her classroom when Walsworth asked the stupefyingly inane question of whether the cultures could produce humans.

This is your senator, Ouachita Parish. Be proud.

But enough of Walworth’s political pandering and asinine questions; Herb Bassett of nearby Grayson was the real story because his testimony placed charges on the table that heretofore have only been whispered about in the halls of the Claiborne Building.

Where others within the Department of Education (DOE) have alluded privately to data suppression and manipulation of school performance scores that artificially inflated graduation rates, Bassett, a band director who said he was “highly qualified” to teach math, publicly charged White, BESE and DOE of misrepresenting test scores and then covering up the lie by removing the data from the Louisiana Believes website. “This is data suppression,” Bassett said.

He said he was asked by his principal last October to look into his school’s score so that it could be improved in the future. “My subsequent research revealed deceit, distortion, manipulation of scores and data suppression,” he said.

“In mid-December, I sent you a report documenting the gross inflation of the high school performance scores. The Department covered up the inflation by intentionally mislabeling an important column of data in the initial public release of the scores.”

Bassett clarified that statement later, saying he sent his findings to all 144 state legislators and every school district superintendent and that he received an acknowledgement from the legislative assistant to Sen. Conrad Appel (R-Metairie), chairman of the committee, that Appel had received his report.

“The data, the Transition Baselines, showed that the GEE (Graduation Exit Exam)—which was being phased out—and the new EOC (End of Course) tests were mis-calibrated by 7.5 points. That’s half a letter grade,” Bassett said. “Had it been correctly labeled, the inflation would have been obvious—at least to me.”

Meanwhile, he said, BESE was given a different version of the scores with the Transition Baselines correctly labeled. “This shows intent to deceive,” he said.

LouisianaVoice has received information from several sources inside DOE that corroborate Bassett’s claim but because of DOE’s refusal to provide requested records, little has been written about the claimed deception.

He later provided LouisianaVoice with a copy of the report that he sent to legislators and local school superintendents. We will be expanding on that report in subsequent posts.

Bassett further cited what he claimed was manipulation of scores.

“At Mr. White’s first BESE meeting as State Superintendent, the department recommended a graduation index formula change. The change ensured that scores would only go up or stay the same. This raised the average score another four points.

“Thanks to the Transition Baselines, the switching to the EOC did not affect the growth scores but this (the graduation index formula change) did. There are at least 20 schools that would not have earned top gains status without it. That’s over $160,000 in those big checks passed out in PR campaigns,” he said in reference to recent teacher bonuses passed out by DOE as performance awards.

“And the graduation rate data set that I used to compute this has been removed from the Louisiana Believes website (the DOE website). That is data suppression.”

Bassett said he made a five-minute video explaining the problems with the 2011 and 2012 DOE reports on the Value Added Model (VAM), also known as COMPASS, the department’s teacher evaluation program. He said the problems he found “clearly contradict DOE’s current claim that VAM is stable. “This inconvenient data have been suppressed,” he said.

He said LEAP and iLEAP data files that contain the actual numbers of students at each achievement level have been removed. “Only percentage data are given,” he said. “Meanwhile, the new School Assessment System will award bonus points based on the number or percent—whichever is greater—of non-proficient students who surpass their VAM targets. This biased system more generously awards points to schools with over 100 non-proficient students. Without the (actual) numbers, we will not know which schools disproportionately benefit from it.

“Most of the data I used are gone from the new website,” he said.

He said that White is asking “that we believe that VAM has miraculously become stable since the reports by its creators have disappeared.”

Though Bassett did not elaborate on the latter point, LouisianaVoice also has received information that the creators of VAM later became concerned at the direction the program was taking and sent several emails expressing that apprehension to superiors who ignored the messages.

BESE president Chas Roemer (R-Baton Rouge) was called to the witness table and asked about Bassett’s charges. Roemer said he had heard nothing about Bassett’s claims, but that he would “look into it.”

It would difficult to imagine that the president of BESE would know nothing of claims of manipulation of data by White and DOE in light of cheating scandals in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. In Atlanta, former superintendent Beverly Hall and several public school staff members were recently indicted in an alleged scheme to cheat on Georgia state tests, including the erasure of students’ incorrect answers and replacing them with correct answers.

A similar scandal brought down the administration of former Washington, D.C. superintendent Michelle Rhee, once the national poster child of school reform.

With the negative publicity those two cheating scandals have received, one would think that the president of a state education board would be aware of any hint of a similar event on his watch.

Roemer was asked to look into Bassett’s allegations and to report back to the committee.

If anyone reading this cares to wager that Roemer will ever report back to the committee members, that the committee will ever follow up on Bassett’s embarrassing charges, or that White or BESE will ever take corrective measures, we know several skeptics who will cover the bet—and give you odds.

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The announcement has already gone out in the Department of Education (DOE) and on Monday, an official layoff plan will be presented to the Louisiana Civil Service Commission.

We hope the commissioners will consider the fate of affected employees who have families to support and mortgages, tuition, and car notes to pay before approving the plan in the same routine manner as with recent layoff plans.

That, after all, is the most damning aspect of this entire administration: the fact that human lives are affected adversely in the name of greed, power and ego. They are people who have names and faces. They have human emotions just like the rest of us. They go to work, come home and mow the lawn. They fish on weekends and perhaps coach their kids in softball, baseball and soccer. They sit beside us at church and in the movie theater.

They grew up believing that if they studied hard in school, made good grades, acted as responsible citizens and worked hard at their jobs, they would realize the American dream of a home, a family, and the opportunity for their children to do better than they.

That may be the way it’s turning out for some, but for the most part, state workers today are living with the same fears of insecurity as the rest of us. The administration of Bobby Jindal is doing everything in its power, through a compliant and pitifully weak legislature, to thin the herd, as it were, of the most vulnerable state employees—those with no one to speak on their behalf—by firing thousands of decent, hard-working employees and gutting the retirement of those who remain.

And what about the private citizen, those who do not work for the state? Yes, you have a dog in this hunt, too, whether you know it or not, whether or not you are willing to pull yourself away from Duck Dynasty or American Idol long enough to get involved.

It is your children whose public education is being destroyed before your very eyes. It is their tuition costs that are soaring because Gov. Bobby Jindal, perhaps the weakest—and at the same time, most power hungry and ambitious—governor this state has seen for at least 100 years insists on keeping taxes low for his constituents and corporate entities who contribute heavily to his campaigns. Altogether, tax breaks, exemptions and incentives have been handed to these supporters on a silver platter to the tune of some $5 billion a year in breaks.

It is the state that suffers at Jindal’s bumbling, self-righteous refusals to accept federal Medicaid funds, broadband internet funds, federal funds for a passenger rail line between Baton Rouge and New Orleans and federal funds for early childhood development.

His reason? He doesn’t like to accept federal funds with the strings that are attached. Well, he certainly accepts massive federal funding to pay for hundreds of contracts awarded by DOE when it fits his agenda. He has no problem accepting billions in federal highway funding dollars. And despite his protestations to the contrary, he had no problem accepting federal stimulus money to dole out to local governments at Protestant churches during his first term of office.

By the way, does anyone happen to know the number of churches he has visited since his re-election?

None.

Zero.

Nil.

Nada.

Zilch.

Yea, not one.

He also has had no problem with accepting hurricane relief funds. Of course, he probably would have been ridden out of the state on a rail had he declined those funds at a time they were so desperately needed. But the Road Home Program, run by his appointees, has a less than stellar record in administering hundreds of millions of federal funds as evidenced by a recent audit that found that more than $100 million may have been misspent.

So now we’re looking at a significant layoff at DOE. The notice went out to DOE employees on Friday (that’s when news releases that cast the administration in a bad light are most likely to be issued).

Early word is some three dozen employees will get the axe, to become effective on May 30.

“This layoff is being proposed due to a reduction of state funds of $3.4 million in the Operating Budget for fiscal year 2013-2014.

But wait. They’re trying to save $3.4 million?

A printout of DOE employees reveals a list of fairly hefty salaries of unclassified (appointed) employees in both DOE and the Recovery School District (RSD).

There are 54 employees of DOE and RSD who earn $100,000 or more per year for a total payroll of $6.7 million.

The breakdown shows there are 32 RSD unclassified employees earning a total of $3.66 million and 22 DOE unclassified employees earning $100,000 or more with a total payroll of another $3 million.

And that is just those making more than $100,000. There are 86 who make $90,000 or more in both DOE and RSD and only six of those are classified employees—all in DOE.

Let’s take a look at some of the individuals, their job titles and salaries.

Recovery School District:

• Neeta Boddapati—Administrator, Other Pupil: $95,000;

• Clara Bradford—Clerical Other Special Programs: $95,000;

• Ronald Bordelon—Administrator, Chief Officers: $150,000;

• Edwin Compass—Director: $125,000;

• Nicole Diamantes—Administrator, Other Special Programs: $105,000;

• Patrick Dobard—RSD Superintendent: $225,000;

• Gabriela Fighetti—Administrator, Regular Programs: $117,000;

• James Ford—Administrative Superintendent: $145,000;

• Lona Hankins—Director: $131,000;

• Helen Molpus—Administrative Chief, Officers: $115,000;

• Dana Peterson—Administrative Superintendent: $125,000;

Bear in mind that even with all the high salaries and impressive sounding titles that go with them, the RSD has an abysmal record:

• All 15 direct-run RSD schools were assigned a letter grade of “D” or “F.” compared to only one of the five (20 percent) Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) direct-run schools.

• Of the 42 charter RSD schools, 33 (79 percent) received a “D” or “F” compared to none of the 11 charter schools run by the OPSB.

• Of the 5422 students attending direct-run RSD schools, 100 percent received a “D” or “F.”

• Of the RSD students attending charter schools, 15,040 (76 percent) attend schools with grades of “D” or “F.”

DOE—State Activities:

• Erin Bendily—Deputy Superintendent: $140,000;

• Nicholas Bolt—Fellow: $105,000;

• James Bowman—Director: $148,000;

• Kenneth Bradford—Director: $110,000;

• Hannah Dietsch—Assistant Superintendent: $130,000;

• Howard Drake—Liaison Officer: $160,000;

• Joan Hunt—Executive Counsel: $125,000;

• Gary Jones—Executive Officer: $145,000;

• Kerry Laster—Executive Officer: $155,000;

• David “Lefty” Lefkowith—Director: $146,000;

• Kunjan Narechania—Chief of Staff: $145,000;

• Stephen Osborn—Assistant Superintendent: $125,000;

• Elizabeth Scioneaux—Deputy Superintendent: $132,800;

• Jill Slack—Director: $124,000;

• Gayle Sloan—Liaison Officer: $160,000;

• Melissa Stilley—Liaison Officer: $135,000;

• Francis Touchet—Liaison Officer: $130,000;

• John White—Superintendent: $275,000;

• Heather Cope—Director: $125,000.

If John White sincerely wished to save $3.4 million, he could probably do with fewer liaison officers, directors and “fellows,” whatever that is.

White has deliberately brought in a bevy of highly-paid, appointees whose credentials, like those of Lefkowith, might have little to do with education and more to do with political loyalty.

But then, White was himself brought in by Jindal to do the governor’s bidding—even before his official appointment.

Jindal’s first attempt at installing White was rejected by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and he was not officially appointed superintendent until after a new board took office in January of 2012. But that did not stop White—and Jindal—from moving forward with their agenda.

In December of 2011, with Ollie Tyler ostensibly serving as acting superintendent, personnel changes were in the offing in the department when White announced to the staff members involved in the proposed changes, “Nothing gets done until I say so.”

That’s confidence.

That’s arrogance.

That’s the way things are done in this administration. Disregard of the law has become the order of the day.

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“The findings relating to RSD’s compliance with applicable laws and regulations should be addressed immediately by management.”

—Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera, in his management letter to Recovery School District (RSD) Superintendent Patrick Dobard in which Purpera noted that a state audit had found that RSD could not account for more than $2.7 million in movable property. It was the sixth consecutive year in which RSD was cited for lax property control and missing or stolen property.

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Like the muddy waters of the Mississippi River that flow right past the Claiborne Building, operations in the Louisiana Department of Education (DOE) just seem to get murkier and murkier and its bureaucracy more and more difficult to navigate.

There is Teach for America (TFA), the cluster of TFA alumni awarded administrative positions in the department and the financial manipulations that go with that program; the controversy over charters and course choice; the ongoing courtroom battles over the funding of vouchers, the questionable appointments of out-of-state commuters, the agreement to feed student personal information into a data bank controlled by Rupert Murdoch, and the ever-daunting challenge of obtaining public records from the department, to name only a few.

Easily the most secretive of any state agency, DOE is supported by a governor who, ironically enough, likes to boast of his administration’s openness and transparency. DOE and Superintendent of Education John White operate with virtual autonomy—mostly because there is no system of checks and balances to ensure that the agency is answerable.

Requests for public records are ignored, The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), with the exception of two members, rubber-stamps anything Jindal and White suggest, be it ripping funding away from local school boards to pay for vouchers to approving applications for course choice (online) programs to burdening the department with costly six-figure positions filled by itinerates with little to no classroom experience.

White recently received his annual performance evaluation from BESE and predictably received high marks from nine of the board’s 11 members. The truth of the matter, however, is that White is woefully ill-qualified to lead even a local school system, much less a statewide system of 700,000 public school students.

Unfortunately, his six-weekend course (spread out over 10 months) at the Eli Broad Superintendents Academy does not qualify him to lead a Cub Scout troop. Yet, Gov. Bobby Jindal considered him more qualified than any other candidate to preside over the demolition of public education in Louisiana.

The Eli Broad Academy, by the way, has come under criticism for turning out superintendents who use corporate-management techniques to consolidate power, weaken teachers’ job protections, cut parents out of the decision-making process and introduce unproven reform measures.

The latest audit of the Recovery School District is evidence enough of White’s inability to run a statewide system.

The audit, released on March 27, revealed that for the sixth consecutive year, RSD continued to experience problems keeping track of millions of dollars in movable property.

Why does that reflect on White when Patrick Dobard is the RSD superintendent?

Well, for openers, the latest audit is for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2012 and White did not become state superintendent until January of 2012.

Prior to that, he was superintendent of the Recovery School District.

The audit says, “For the sixth consecutive year, RSD did not ensure that movable property was safeguarded against loss, including loss arising from unauthorized use and misappropriation. Our review of RSD’s movable property activity disclosed the following:”

• RSD’s annual certification of property inventory, which the Louisiana Property Assistance Agency did not approve, disclosed $26,664,976 in total movable property, which included 1,633 items with a total acquisition cost of $2,738,016 that have been identified as unlocated during the past four-year period. Of the 1,633 unlocated items, 1,380 items were computers or computer-related equipment. The 2012 annual certification also identified 908 items with a total acquisition cost of $1,482,060 (54 percent) as unlocated for the current period.

• RSD reported 10 incidents at six separate schools involving 97 movable property items with an acquisition cost of $73,667 as missing/stolen to the legislative auditor and the local district attorney. Of the 97 movable property items, 70 were computers. Management has represented that seven items with an acquisition cost of $6,118 have been recovered.

• The 10 reported incidents involved computers being stolen from four RSD direct-run schools and one charter school. There was no sign of forced entry in three instances that resulted in a loss of 48 items with an acquisition cost of $20,064. In one instance, 26 Dell laptop computers and 20 Apple I-Pod Nano media devices with an acquisition cost of $17,031 were stolen from an RSD direct-run school’s storage room.

• RSD’s movable property function is hampered by the decentralization of movable property at the various custodians (schools) and a lack of accountability and training of the custodians for RSD property. Failure to safeguard movable property increases the risk that assets may be misreported, lost or stolen. In addition, the year-to-year cost of replacing lost or stolen movable items could reduce the availability of funds (federal or state) for other educational objectives.

• During FY 2012, RSD did not ensure that employee separation dates were accurate or timely. Not recording separation dates accurately and timely could result in overpayments for terminated employees. This is the sixth consecutive year that we have cited RSD for inadequate controls over its payroll process.

White apparently is far more focused on insulating himself with fellow Teach for America (TFA) and Eli Broad Academy alumni by appointing them to top administrative positions.

Take Chief of Staff Kunjan Narechania and Deputy Superintendent Michael Rounds, for instance.

Rounds, like White, is a 2010 alumnus of Eli Broad and was brought in by White as Deputy Superintendent at $170,000 per year.

Rounds resigned his position as Chief Operating Officer for Kansas City Public Schools a year ago following an investigation into bid irregularities involving a $32 million renovation project for Kansas City schools and a month later the contract was cancelled by Kansas City Public Schools Superintendent Stephen Green (can you say Bruce Greenstein and CNSI?).

And then there is Narechania, a TFA alumnus who, while officially serving as White’s chief of staff, in reality performed functions normally handled only by a deputy or assistant superintendent.

Narechania oversaw all expenditures in the department; no one purchased anything—not a computer, not even a ball point pen without first obtaining authority from Narechania. All assistant superintendents and directors were required to report to her. No one was hired by the department without her stamp of approval—even when no one was quite sure what the new hire would actually be doing. That was evidenced only days before David Lefkowith was hired last June when she emailed White that there needed to be a decision about what to do about Lefkowith. As late as September and December of 2012, she was still signing off on contract amendments, a duty that did not fall within the job description of a chief of staff.

On Sept. 21, she signed off on an amendment to the department’s 15-year, $65.6 million contract with Data Recognition Corp. for administration of the statewide iLEAP testing program. The amendment added three additional years (to June 30, 2015) and $20.96 million to the existing contract.

Beneath her signature was the crossed through printed title “Assistant Superintendent.”

The other contract amendment had the proper title of Chief of Staff beneath her signature that approved a $3.5 million amendment to a $17.5 million contract with Pacific Metrics Corp. for the replenishing of materials for science, social studies and math.

So why didn’t White simply have Narechania confirmed as deputy or assistant superintendent?

One source within the department said it was because when White appeared before the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee for approval of the appointments of several other administrators last June, he knew he could not obtain Narechania’s confirmation because she was already acting as his number two, sighing all personnel paperwork, contracts, etc., on his behalf.

It would have been awkward to explain that to the committee.

That could be the reason he asked BESE to petition the legislature to approve a reorganization of DOE and has proceeded with that reorganization—without either BESE or legislative approval.

The problem, however, is that he has been operating outside the law for more than a year now by allowing her to sign off on personnel matters and on DOE contracts.

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Budgetary constraints coupled with Gov. Bobby Jindal’s general reluctance to approve non-government organization (NGO) funding requests have resulted in a declining number of requests in each of the past four years—from almost 450 in 2010 to just 90 last year and 80 this year (not counting the obvious $12 trillion joke request from the prankster in Georgia).

But Teach for America (TFA) apparently is not discouraged by the realities of fiscal austerity.

Among those 80 requests for funding by NGOs this year was one from TFA for a $5 million appropriation.

So, why would TFA need a $5 million appropriation from the state?

According to the project summary submitted with its application, the money would apparently be used to provide 550 to 700 teachers and 1,000 alumni who would serve as teachers, leaders and “positive change agents (whatever that is) in the lowest income schools throughout the greater New Orleans and greater Baton Rouge areas, central Louisiana, Acadiana and the Louisiana Delta.”

But wait. LouisianaVoice has come across three state contracts with TFA totaling almost $1.6 million to recruit, train and place 570 TFA teachers in the Delta region of Louisiana and the Recovery School District.

First, such an appropriation would seem to raise the obvious question of potential violations of federal Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) laws by awarding contracts for the hiring of specific applicants to the exclusion of other equally or better qualified applicants.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), http://www.eeoc.gov/ for example, recently:

• Settled a disability discrimination lawsuit against Dillard’s, Inc., which had forced employees to disclose personal and confidential medical information in order to be approved for health;

• Sued a discount tire store, claiming that the store does not hire women in management positions and other positions because of their gender;

• Sued Texas Roadhouse restaurants for age discrimination because the restaurant did not hire applicants age 40 and older;

• Sued Bass Pro for racial discrimination because the store does not hire African-Americans or Hispanic applicants and for retaliation against employees who complained about discrimination.

Louisiana’s colleges and universities each year turn out about 600 graduates in elementary education alone. These are students who pay increasingly higher tuition to complete a minimum of four years of education and student teaching (longer, if advanced degrees are pursued) in order to become certified teachers to educate our children.

But the Louisiana Department of Education (DOE) apparently is willing to dole out $1.6 million to TFA in order to give preferential treatment to 570 individuals whose only qualification is a five-week crash course with no certification.

So who are these 570 TFA teachers (or if you go by the NGO funding application, 500 teachers and 1,000 alumni) “who serve as teachers, leaders and positive change agents” and where are they employed?

A public records request to DOE by LouisianaVoice produced a list of 529 TFA teachers scattered across Louisiana over a three-year period—and not all of those in the “lowest income schools.” Nor was there any way of know how many names on the list provided by DOE are still employed, given the relative short tenure that has become indicative of TFA.

The largest number of TFA teachers (208) was found in various charter schools, followed by East Baton Rouge Parish (83). Some, however, were found in more affluent areas such as Jefferson Parish (19) Zachary (1), West Feliciana Parish (2).

Other school systems and the number of TFA teachers employed included:

• Acadia (1);

• Ascension (22);

• Avoyelles (16);

• City of Baker (9);

• East Feliciana (29);

• Pointe Coupee (20);

• St. Helena (14);

• St. Landry (3);

• Vermilion (1);

• Madison (10);

• Plaquemines (7);

• St. Bernard (32);

• St. James (5);

• St. John the Baptist (13).

TFA’s NGO application summary said that its historical size of operation was 200 teachers and 100 alumni.

But just as described by Naomi Klein in her book The Shock Doctrine, http://www.naomiklein.org/shock-doctrine natural disasters or emergencies have opened the doors for takeovers of local governmental entities by for-profit investors.

“…After Hurricane Katrina and with the incredible opportunities for educational change in Louisiana, Teach for America was asked by the state and private philanthropists to grow larger to provide the necessary human pipeline for schools and districts,” TFA’s application summary says.

Incredible opportunities? Human pipeline? Interesting how education has come to be seen in such terms.

“Using millions in national philanthropic dollars, Teach for America grew from 200 teachers and 100 alumni to our current scale.

“This $5 million matches the giving levels of our neighboring state of Mississippi and is in line with the needed funds to continue operating in Louisiana,” it said.

“Teach for America is currently leveraging state funds more than 10 to 1 by raising more than $11 million in private funds for our operations in Louisiana. An increase in state funding allows us to continue this work and allows us to attract even more private donations in the years to come.”

And just how would this $5 million be used?

The proposed budget provided on the application gives the following breakdown of expenditures:

• Contracts: $0;

• Acquisitions: $0;

• Major Repairs: $0;

• Operating Services: $0;

• Other Charges: $0;

• Salaries: $0;

• Professional Services: $5 million.

In describing its public purpose, TFA said it “recruits, selects, trains and supports teachers and leaders for the lowest income schools and school districts in the state of Louisiana and around the country.

“Teach for America is tapping a previously untapped base of talent and attracting America’s top recent graduates to teach in schools that need their support the most,” TFA said in its application. “We are ensuring that these teachers achieve excellent results immediately and are working to channel their energies towards long-term impact within education and within the state of Louisiana.

“Currently our 500 corps members work with nearly 45,000 students in the state of Louisiana. Our 1,000 alumni run schools, continue teaching in classrooms, are setting policy and otherwise influencing the debate for educational change in a positive direction.”

Running schools? Setting policy?

And all this time, we thought the Louisiana Department of Education was doing that

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It’s certainly refreshing and reassuring to know that the woes of running a state government laden with the ever-increasing burden of budgetary shortfalls has not distracted Gov. Piyush Jindal from his primary objective of tending to the more pressing needs of advising the national Republican Party on how not to be stupid.

Jindal, in his latest appearance on the national stage, has authored an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal in which he calls for over-the-counter sales of oral contraceptives.

This, by the way, is yet another in a series of instances in which Jindal makes himself available to the national media while ignoring requests for interviews from new media in Louisiana—a somewhat curious pattern of behavior for a man who insists he has the job he wants.

But back to that WSJ piece. Whether or not you agree with him—and on this issue, a case could certainly be made for such a policy—it is puzzling, to say the least, how a devout Catholic such as Jindal can endorse birth control in any form.

The Catholic Church, last time we checked, was unconditionally opposed to birth control and Piyush is such a good Catholic that he once claimed to have performed an exorcism during his student days at Brown University.

“As a conservative Republican,” he says in the piece, “I believe that we have been stupid to let the Democrats demagogue the contraceptive issue and pretend, during debates about health-care insurance, that Republicans are somehow against birth control.”

Well, that’s certainly seizing the high ground. Jindal arbitrarily hijacks the Rodney Dangerfield claim of “no respect” for the national Republican Party. Good move, there Swifty. My grandfather always told me that when I find myself in a hole, quit digging.

Piyush is looking more and more like a politician who was created by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) but who now wants to put distance between himself and the right wing Tea Partiers who owe their very existence to ALEC. And he’s still digging.

Yep. Piyush is claiming the middle ground, apparently so as not to appear stupid.

The Boy Blunder has, in the wake of the Mitt Romney loss to President Obama, morphed into the Forrest Gump of political science. Maybe we should henceforth simply refer to him as Piyush Gump: stupid is as stupid does.

He implied that Romney ran a “stupid” campaign—but only after the election. Prior to Nov. 6, Piyush campaigned tirelessly for the Republican nominee with nary a hint of discomfort or embarrassment over any supposed GOP stupidity.

Neither Piyush nor any of his appointees, of course, could ever be accused of doing anything stupid.

After all, it would be stupid to repeatedly hide behind something called the “deliberative process” in an effort to avoid revealing information to the public.

It would be stupid to suggest to subordinates that they use private email accounts for communicating about Medicaid budget cuts.

It would be stupid for Jindal’s education superintendent to approve 315 vouchers for the New Living Word School in Ruston without first learning that the school had no instructors, no desks and no classrooms.

It would be stupid for the education superintendent to send an email to the governor’s office outlining his plans to lie to a legislative committee about New Living Word to “take some air out of the room.”

It would be stupid to attempt implementation of a funding method for school vouchers that is clearly unconstitutional.

It would be stupid to describe the judge who ruled that funding method as unconstitutional as “wrong-headed.”

It would be stupid to ignore a growing hole in Assumption that has swallowed up some eight acres of land while belching toxic gases because campaigning against a judge in Iowa is considered more important.

It would be stupid to close a state prison without at least extending the courtesy of a heads-up to legislators in the area.

It would be stupid to close a state hospital without at least extending the courtesy of a heads-up to legislators in that area.

It would be stupid not to fire—or at least punish—a Recovery School District Superintendent who wrecked a state vehicle on one of his three dozen trips to Chicago on private business, including appearing on a Chicago television station to announce his intention to run for mayor.

It would be stupid to attempt a total takeover of the state’s flagship university by loading up its governing board with campaign contributors—and to coerce that board into firing the president, the university’s legal counsel, and the head of the university’s health care system.

It would be stupid to fire or demote scores of other state employees and elected members of the state legislature whose only sin was to disagree with Pontiff Piyush.

It would be stupid for his commissioner of administration to refuse to release a copy of a consultant’s report on the privatization of the Office of Group Benefits.

It would be stupid for his secretary of the Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) to refuse to divulge to the senate committee considering his confirmation the identity of the winner of a 10-year, $300 million contract—when it was later learned that the winner was a company for whom the secretary had once worked.

It would be stupid for that same DHH secretary to swear under oath to that same committee that he had established a fire wall between him and his former company and that he had had no communication with the company during the selection process—when in fact, as was subsequently learned, he had been in constant communication with the company during the entire selection process.

It would be stupid for a governor to refuse to return $55,000 in campaign contributions after learning it had been laundered through a bank into his campaign.

And it would be oh, so very stupid to insist on no new taxes or tax increases in the wake of a budget deficit hole rivaling the one in Assumption Parish.

Piyush is not stupid. That’s why he is offering advice to his fellow Republicans.

That’s why he is writing op-ed pieces for the WSJ about the need to sell contraceptives over the counter.

And if that doesn’t work, he can always reprise his Brown experience and perform an exorcism on Republican stupidity in much the same manner he performed his exorcism on the collective courage of certain legislators.

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“There is no question in my mind that this is all part of the ALEC game plan.”

—Bloomfield Hills (Michigan) School Superintendent Ron Glass, discussing four bills now pending before the Michigan Legislature that, if passed, would implement public education “reforms” virtually identical to those now tied up in litigation in Louisiana. Glass said the bills were part of the game plan of the American Legislative Exchange Council which writes “model legislation” for its state lawmaker members to take back home for passage.

“This is not a laissez faire plea to defend the status quo. This is about making sure this tidal wave of untested legislation does not sweep away the valued programs our local community has proudly built into its cherished school system.”

—Glass, in a “call to action” that he sent out to opponents of the four bills.

“The coalition of the status quo have fought reform every step of the way…”

—π-yush Jindal, attempting to be clever in referring to the Coalition for Louisiana Public Education which opposes his education “reform” programs. (Psst! Hey, π-yush: it should be, “The coalition….has fought reform….” Gotta make your subject and verb agree. Didn’t they teach you that at Baton Rouge Magnet and at Brown?)

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