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Archive for November, 2012

The rumors that State Superintendent John White will soon be leaving the Department of Education (DOE) for a similar post in California appear to be just that—rumors.

Several unsubstantiated reports have surfaced over the past few days that White will soon announce his departure in favor of the California superintendent of education post but there are several glitches that would seem to squelch those reports.

First, the California superintendent of education is an elective, not appointive post.

Second, California law says that the superintendent of education must be a registered voter in the state.

Third, and most important, the California superintendent’s position pays only $151,000 per year, only 55 percent of White’s current $275,000 salary.

That would make any such announcement on the part of White premature at best and more than a little problematic.

The next election is not until 2014, so White would have no trouble becoming a registered voter but a move there for the purpose of running for elective office would certainly be a crapshoot given that incumbent Superintendent Tom Toriakson, a Democrat, has given no indication on whether or not he plans on stepping down at the end of his current term.

While vacancies in the superintendent’s office are filled by the governor, it’s not likely that Jerry Brown, a Democrat, would appoint a Jindal sycophant to his inner circle.

Of course, that’s not to say that White wouldn’t accept a similar appointive position elsewhere provided some other state or school district has difficulty separating fantasy from reality but it looks as though the California move at least is off the rumor table.

White, served briefly as superintendent of the department’s Recovery School District (RSD) before being appointed state superintendent last January. His nomination had been blocked by members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education but after several new members backed by Gov. Piyush Jindal were elected in October of 2011 and took office in January, the new board quickly approved White’s appointment.

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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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At the risk of sounding like one of those freaky conspiracists who wear tinfoil hats and insist we never really landed on the moon, recent events in the state of Michigan have a familiar—and ominous—ring.

The creation of the Education Achievement Authority (EAA) in that state is eerily akin to Louisiana’s Recovery School District (RSD) and certainly lends support to the theory that the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is behind a national move to turn public schools into for-profit corporate entities with little or no public accountability.

We will return to the Michigan developments presently but first, some background.

The combination of vouchers, charters and computer courses are being promoted by the administration at the expense of public education funding—again, with no accountability built into the so-called “reforms.”

The RSD, which pre-dates the voucher and online courses, for a time was under the leadership void of Paul Vallas, then under equally inept State Superintendent John White and most recently under Patrick Dobard. No matter who heads it up, the RSD has proved a smashing failure and a gaping dark hole into which state revenues seem to vanish.

Vallas, during his tenure, took a state vehicle on personal business to Chicago on more than 30 occasions. On one of those trips, he appeared on a Chicago television station where he announced that he would run for mayor. He never became a candidate and the personal use of the state vehicle for the out-of-state trips was not discovered until he wrecked the vehicle in Chicago.

He also hired cronies from his previous tenures at education departments in Chicago and Philadelphia.

State audits of the RSD have turned up numerous irregularities and there were problems with a private transportation company receiving payment for busing students for the district. The RSD received still another black eye over reports of sexual activity between students at the school, prolonged teacher absences from classrooms (classes reported went unsupervised for weeks at a time) and chargers of attempted bribery. The LDOE official who reported the incidents and his supervisor were summarily fired.

And now comes a report by an outfit called Research on Reforms that reveals that each of the 12 RSD-New Orleans direct-run schools and 38 (79 percent) of the 48 RSD-New Orleans charter schools received 2012 school performance scores (SPS) of “D” or “F.”

The precise definition of a “failing school,” however, has remained in a state of flux since 2005, says the report, entitled Recovery School District in New Orleans: National Model for Reform or District in Academic Crisis.

“The Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) has continuously revised its definition and labels of ‘failing’ schools to the extent that it is difficult to follow the real progress of any school historically,” it said. “It is imperative that the reader visit the historical state legislative actions that resulted in the creation of the RSD-NO and the disenfranchisement of the citizens in New Orleans in order to determine whether or not the RSD has failed in its commitment to public school students in New Orleans.”

And now Jindal’s education reform packages are tied up in state and federal courts.

In Tangipahoa Parish, a federal judge has already ruled against the state in a lawsuit that could be a precursor to legal problems for the entire Jindal education package passed earlier this year by the legislature.

U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle ruled that Acts 1 and 2 of the 2012 legislative session were in violation of a desegregation consent decree currently in effect in Tangipahoa and could have implications for other districts in the state under similar orders.

Lemelle said the acts would “impair or impede” the parish’s ability to comply with federal desegregation laws and that more than 40 other school districts across the state that are under similar agreements could also be affected.

Education Department officials indicated the ruling will be appealed.

On Wednesday of this week, trial kicked off in 19th District Court in Baton Rouge in a lawsuit brought against LDOE by the state’s two largest teacher unions and dozens of local school boards.

The plaintiffs are claiming that Act 2, which created the school voucher system and Senate Concurrent Resolution 99, which is the state’s Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) for funding public education, were unconstitutional.

The argue that the voucher system diverts local funds for purposes for which they were never approved by taxpayers and that the MFP resolution, approved on June 4, the last day of the session, failed to obtained the constitutionally-mandated two-thirds vote because the resolution resulted in a “fiscal impact,” which requires a two-thirds vote.

House Speaker Chuck “the Eunuch” Kleckley (R-Lake Charles) and state attorney Jimmy Faircloth maintain there was no fiscal impact, thus allowing for passage by a simple majority of members present and voting. For the full 105-member House, 53 votes are required for a simple majority. A two-thirds majority would require 70 of 105 votes.

The Legislative Fiscal Office, which is charged with reviewing legislative bills for fiscal impact, disagreed, saying there was a fiscal impact, which reinforced plaintiffs’ arguments.

The resolution passed 51-49, a simple majority of the 100 members present and voting. Sixty-seven votes would have been needed for a two-thirds vote.

There are a couple of interesting twists in the voucher lawsuit in state district court. Faircloth, who is representing the state, contributed $1,000 on Oct. 24 to Judge Kelley’s unsuccessful campaign for the State Supreme Court.

Kelley, meanwhile, is married to Angele Davis, who served as Jindal’s commissioner of administration for the first two and one-half years of his administration.

All of which brings us back to our conspiracy involving the state of Michigan specifically and any number of states in general that either have implemented or are attempting to implement similar programs.

Rob Glass, Superintendent of Bloomfield Hills Schools, it not waiting for the axe to fall; he has issued a call to action to fight pending legislation that would put into place programs strikingly similar to those currently the subject of litigation here in Louisiana.

The legislative proposals in Michigan have prompted critics to ask if that state’s EAA is establishing “a statewide school reform district on the fast track?” That same question is now being raised in Louisiana but unlike Michigan, it is being asked here in hindsight.

The observation Glass made to LouisianaVoice on Thursday is even more to the point: “There is no question in my mind that this is all part of the ALEC game plan. What we’re seeing in Michigan either has been played out or is being played out in other states and the proposals in all the states are identical,” he said.

The demographic profile of Bloomfield Hills is in stark contrast to that of New Orleans and most of Louisiana.

Bloomfield Hills is a city located in the heart of metro Detroit’s affluent northern suburbs in Oakland County. Located 20 miles northwest of downtown Detroit, the city, with a population of less than 4,000, has consistently ranked as one of the five wealthiest cities in the U.S. with comparable populations. Its median family income in excess of $200,000 per year is the highest of any city outside California, Florida or Virginia.

“If we do not take immediate action, I believe great damage will be done to public education, including our school system,” Glass said in his Nov. 28 call to action. “We have just three weeks to take action before it’s too late,” he said of four bills pending in the current legislative session in Michigan.

The bills are:

House Bill 6004 and Senate Bill 1358 would expand the EAA, presently consisting of 15 Detroit schools, to a statewide system overseen by a chancellor appointed by the governor and which would function outside the authority of the State Board of Education of state school superintendent. “These schools are exempt from the same laws and quality measures of community-governed public schools,” Glass said. “The EAA can seize unused school buildings (built and financed by local taxpayers) and force sale or lease to charter, non-public or EAA schools.”

House Bill 5923 would create several new forms of charter and online schools with no limit on the number, many of which would be created by EAA. “Public schools are not allowed to create these new schools unless they charter them,” Glass said. “Selective enrollment/dis-enrollment policies will likely lead to greater segregation in our public schools. This bill creates new schools without changing the overall funding available, further diluting resources for community-governed public schools.”

Senate Bill 620 known as the “Parent Trigger” bill, this would allow the lowest-achieving 5 percent of schools to be converted to a charter school while allowing parents or teachers to petition for the desired reform model. “This bill…disenfranchises voters, ends their local control and unconstitutionally hands taxpayer-owned property over to for-profit companies,” he said. “Characterized as parent-empowerment, this bill does little to develop deep, community-wide parent engagement and organization.”

Glass said he has never considered himself a conspiracy theorist—until now. “This package of bills is the latest in a year-long barrage of ideologically-driven bills designed to weaken and defund locally-controlled public education, handing scarce taxpayer dollars over to for-profit entities operating under a different set of rules,” he said. “I believe this is fundamentally wrong.”

He said that he, State School Superintendent Mike Flanagan and State Board of Education President John Austin, along with the Detroit Free Press, have expressed various concerns about the bills.

“This is not a laissez faire plea to defend the status quo (a favorite accusation leveled at educators by Jindal). 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 said.

A familiar and ominous ring indeed…

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A knotty legal question may have arisen from the actions by the LSU Health Sciences Foundation in Shreveport to hire a national consulting firm and law firm with expertise in arranging partnerships with private hospitals on behalf of three hospitals under the umbrella of the LSU Medical Center in Shreveport.

It also appears that the foundation’s involvement may have been a deliberate attempt to circumvent the state’s public records laws.

An in-house memorandum to medical center employees by Chancellor Dr. Robert Barish this week indicated that the non-profit foundation is working closely with the medical center to negotiate “partnerships” between LSU Medical Center in Shreveport, E.A. Conway Hospital in Monroe, and Huey P. Long Hospital in Alexandria and local hospitals in those cities.

At the same time, it was learned by LouisianaVoice that University Medical Center in Lafayette is currently in negotiations with Lafayette General Medical Center to lease the state hospital.

“We have asked the LSU Health Sciences Foundation in Shreveport to be our advocate and intermediary with interested hospitals and health systems,” Barish wrote in his memo. “The foundation has engaged a national consulting firm and law firm with expertise in arranging hospital partnerships to continue the process on our behalf. With the information they collect they will be better able to help us negotiate an arrangement that aligns with our mission, assuring financial stability, patient access and the continued strength of our education programs.”

Several weeks ago, the foundation began drafting a request for proposals (RFP) for partnership arrangements on behalf of LSU Health System but the RFP was abruptly abandoned in favor of the foundation’s participation in an apparent transparent effort to avoid transparency. Because the foundation, as a non-profit entity is exempt from public scrutiny, any negotiations conducted by the foundation would be shielded from disclosure.

“I can assure you that the process has just begun,” Barish wrote. “Our representatives will talk with local healthcare entities who are (sic) shown interest, as well as other potential partners. This approach will expedite the process and provide the necessary legal, financial and regulatory guidance. Rest assured that we will make use of all the resources necessary to ensure a strong future for our campus.”

Barish then invoked the necessity of secrecy that has become a trademark of the Jindal administration. “As I hope that you will understand, these types of arrangements cannot be effectively negotiated in the public eye. Therefore the foundation will not be releasing specific information at this time.”

By the same token, because it is a private 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, it would seem that the foundation would be prohibited from negotiating a lease of public property and equipment to a private hospital. There are established legal procedures that must be followed—by a public body, not a private foundation—before agreements may be negotiated on behalf of any public agency.

The foundation’s own web page stresses the fact that its revenues “are clearly separate from state funds. The foundation does not release your information to the state,” the web page continued in reiterating its autonomy to potential donors. “This means that the details of your personal finances will not become a matter of public record as they would if you gave directly to a state office like LSU Health Shreveport.”

The LSU Medical Center in Shreveport has 459 beds while E.A. Conway has 247 and Huey P. Long, 137 and the three hospitals combine to employ some 7200 doctors, nurses and support staff.

Additionally, there are another 800 employees at University Medical Center in Lafayette, meaning some 8000 employees will be impacted by the administration’s proposed privatization, or partnership proposals for all four hospitals. Many will lost their retirement and many more will even lose their jobs, along with their benefits.

Employees have expressed concerns about job security, benefits losses and pay cuts as a result of the proposed “partnerships.” Elected officials and members of the medical community are also concerned about the impact the move might have on accreditation, federal funding and physician training programs.

Gov. Piyush Jindal has been working to downsize government and the state workforce has been depleted, particularly in the areas of health care and corrections.

Accordingly, as an additional 8000 state employees are scheduled to be terminated as a result of the partnership move, additional runs on the bank can be expected by the Louisiana Employees Retirement System (LASERS), already seeing employee retirement money being pulled out in record amounts.

From July through October of this year, $16.39 million was withdrawn from LASERS by employees, many of whom have left state government with no plans to return. That amount for the same period in 2011 was $13.47 million, according to LASERS.

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When State Rep. Joe Harrison (R-Gray) was removed from his seat on the House Appropriations Committee earlier this month by Piyush Jindal through his surrogate, House Speaker Chuck “The Eunuch” Kleckley (R-Lake Charles), he offered an interesting revelation about the way the administration micromanages the legislative process.

“Everything they (legislative committees) do is scripted,” Harrison said in an interview with LouisianaVoice hours after his demotion. “I’ve seen the scripts. They hand out a list of questions we are allowed to ask and they tell us not to deviate from the list and not to ask questions that are not in the best interest of the administration.”

Harrison’s comments were made in the heat of the aftermath of his smack down by Piyush for having the temerity to vote against The-Man-Who-Would-Be-Vice-President (or at least a Romney cabinet member) on the proposed contract that called for Blue Cross/Blue Shield to become the third party administrator for the Office of Group Benefit’s (OGB) Preferred Provider Organization (PPO).

Strong words to be sure, but now they have been corroborated by yet another legislator who shall remain nameless for the time being though we will go so far as to acknowledge that the lawmaker is not a member of Jindal’s political party.

Not that that seems to matter, given the events that occurred in the wake of the surprising defeat of Republican president candidate Mitt Romney on Nov. 6.

Jindal turned on Romney like the self-serving hypocrite he is. (Well, after all, he never got his 30 pieces of silver—read: a cabinet appointment in the anticipated Romney administration—so why not?)

When we asked our legislator friend (we’ll just call him Kyle) if Harrison was accurate in claiming that committee members are given questions by administrative officials in advance of committee hearings, he responded with a quick, “Absolutely.”

But then he continued. “Not only that but they text committee members during committee meetings and even send text messages to legislators during floor debates on bills in the House and Senate telling them how to vote on certain bills.

“They’ll also send text messages to legislators instructing them to speak for or against a bill and even tell him or her on what to say and they’ll pop up out of their chair and immediately rush to the floor microphone,” Kyle said.

He said he occasionally speaks to school groups about how the legislative process is designed to work. “I always leave laughing at myself for trying to tell the kids that we have three branches of government—the executive, the legislative and the judiciary.

“We no longer have a legislative branch of government in Louisiana; we’re (the legislature) just an extension of the executive branch.

“The sad part is we have only ourselves to blame. When I say we, I mean the legislature as a body, not as individuals because there are some members who will stand up to Jindal when they feel he is wrong. But the legislature—the House and the Senate—have capitulated to the fourth floor and I lay the fault at the feet of our leadership, the Speaker Kleckley and Senate President John Alario (R-Westwego).

“They are both likeable men, very personable, but Alario’s looking out for Alario. If you don’t believe that, take a look at the Capital Outlay Bill and see how many projects are in it for Jefferson Parish. It’s loaded down with Jefferson projects and Alario wants to keep it that way,” he said.

He said he also did not understand the motivations of Sen. Jack Donahue (R-Mandeville). “Here is a state senator who had a state mental hospital in his district (Southeast Louisiana Hospital in Mandeville) closed by the governor who gave him no advance warning of his intentions and yet, as chairman of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget, he did exactly what Jindal told him to do and steamrolled the Blue Cross/Blue Shield contract with OGB down everyone’s throat.”

Harrison and our friend Kyle weren’t the only ones to reveal the ongoing instructions to legislators. Yet another source (not a member of the legislature) said he witnessed a legislator receiving text messages from the governor’s office even as he testified not before a legislative committee, but before the New Orleans City Council. “They were letting him know they didn’t like what he was saying in his testimony,” the second unnamed source said.

LouisianaVoice sent separate emails to Piyush Press Pontificator Kyle (no relation) Plotkin and to Chief of Staff Paul Rainwater asking just two simple questions:

• Does the administration think it is appropriate to micromanage the legislative process in this manner?

• Would this (practice) not blur the lines between the executive and legislative branches of government?

We never receive an acknowledgement of either email.

Ah, transparency and accountability. Where would we be without ‘em?

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