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Archive for March, 2013

“If the contract is 8(g) funded, all provisions of this ownership clause apply except that upon termination or at the completion of 8(g) funding for a project/program, (BESE) may approve a contractor’s (TFA) request to retain equipment purchased with 8(g) funds based on the contractor’s assurance that the equipment will be used for educational enhancement.”

—Clause in a Louisiana Department of Education (DOE) contract with Teach for America (TFA) that would appear to allow TFA to maintain possession of equipment purchased with state funds should its contract with DOE be cancelled for any reason—even though, with a contract cancellation, TFA would no longer be teaching in Louisiana.

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When it comes to finding ways to waste taxpayer money, the Louisiana Department of Education (DOE) appears to own franchise rights.

It’s not enough that Superintendent of Education John White has loaded down the department with top-heavy, six-figure administrative positions filled largely by out-of-state modern-day carpetbaggers—some of whom had to be compelled by state law enforcement authorities to purchase Louisiana license plates for their vehicles.

But a peek at the three contracts totaling nearly $1.6 million awarded to Teach for America (TFA) reveals built-in hidden costs about which White most probably would just as soon the paying public did not know.

A few weeks ago we did a story about TFA’s request for a state allocation of $5 million this year. In that story we revealed that local school districts are required to pay TFA a negotiated fee that ranges from $2,000 to $5,000—and then pay the TFA teachers’ salaries over and above those fees. Louisiana school districts, in addition to the salaries, pay a fee of $3,000 per teacher recruited—unless they are recruited by the Recovery School District (RSD).

Because the RSD is overseen by White and a compliant Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), it is able to be more generous with its fees to TFA—a lot more generous.

Contract No. 718050, a $382,500 TFA contract that began on June 1, 2012 and continues through June 30, 2014, calls for TFA to recruit 40 new first-year teachers for RSD at a fee of $4,500 per teacher, or 50 percent higher than the rate paid by other Louisiana school districts.

But wait. The contract requires the $4,500 per teacher payment not only for the first year, but for the second year as well, or $9,000 per teacher—three times that paid by other school districts.

Moreover, the contract calls for a $4,500 per teacher fee for five second-year teachers, bringing the total fee payment to $382,500

That represents a healthy bump from the fees paid under contract no. 718049, which runs from July 1, 2012, to June 30, 2014 for a contract amount of $234,500. That contract calls for the recruitment fee payment of $3,000 each for 25 first-year teachers and $3,000 each for 26 second-year teachers. Additionally, it calls for a fee of $3,250 each for the second year of those 25 teachers.

And then there is contract no. 717968 in the amount of $968,468 that calls for the recruitment of 520 TFA teachers to work in the parishes of East Baton Rouge, Jefferson, St. James. St. John the Baptist, St. Bernard, Orleans, Plaquemines, East Feliciana, Pointe Coupee, Ascension, Avoyelles, East Carroll, Madison, Tensas, Concordia, St. Helena and RSD.

Besides the potential violation of federal equal employment opportunity laws by giving stated preference to TFA teachers over more qualified applicants holding bachelor’s and master’s degrees, Plus-30s and Ph.Ds., the contract, which runs from Sept. 1, 2012 through June 30, 2013, contains a rather unusual clause which says:

• “If the contract is 8(g) funded, all provisions of this ownership clause apply except that upon termination or at the completion of 8(g) funding for a project/program, (BESE) may approve a contractor’s (TFA) request to retain equipment purchased with 8(g) funds based on the contractor’s assurance that the equipment will be used for educational enhancement.”

In 1953, the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act was passed to regulate offshore leasing and to determine state/federal participation. The act was amended in the late 1970s to give states greater control over offshore activities.

The amendment, numbered 8(g), is what gives coastal states a “fair and equitable” share of the money from offshore development. The 1986 settlement gives Louisiana 27 percent of the money made from the 8(g) area of the continental shelf.

Louisiana voters approved a constitutional amendment to establish a trust fund for education from the 8(g) funds. The Louisiana Education Quality Trust Fund requires that the money be spent for educational purposes.

BESE is constitutionally mandated to allocate funds for any of the following purposes:

• To provide compensation to city or parish school board professional instructional employees;

• To ensure an adequate supply of superior textbooks, library books, equipment and other instructional materials;

• To fund exemplary programs in elementary or secondary schools designed to improve elementary or secondary student academic achievement or vocational-technical skills;

• To fund carefully defined research efforts, including pilot programs, designed to improve elementary or secondary student academic achievement;

• To fund school remediation programs and preschool programs;

• To fund the teaching of foreign languages in elementary and secondary schools;

• To fund an adequate supply of teachers by providing scholarships or stipends to prospective teachers in academic or vocational-technical areas where there is a critical teacher shortage.

Nowhere in those stipulations does it say that BESE or DOE may arbitrarily give contractors educational equipment purchased with 8(g) (read: public) funds. But then, the wording is sufficiently ambiguous. Maybe they can.

Of course, there is that wording that the contractor (TFA) may retain equipment purchased with 8(g) funds in the event its contract with the state is terminated only so long as TFA provides assurances “that the equipment will be used for educational enhancement.” (Emphasis ours.)

But if the TFA contract is cancelled, TFA would no longer be teaching in Louisiana.

So where would equipment purchased with Louisiana funds be used “for educational purposes?”

Mississippi?

Texas?

With this administration and this Superintendent of Education, who knows?

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“(He is) not worthy of serving the people of this state.”

—Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-Baton Rouge, in voting not to confirm Bruce Greenstein as Secretary of the Department of Health and Hospitals on June 22, 2011.

“He will do a great job.”

—Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, in voting to confirm Greenstein.

“I don’t believe the secretary participated in actions that influenced the outcome (of the awarding of a $185 million contract to Greenstein’s former employer, CNSI).”

—Former Sen. Lydia Jackson, D-Shreveport, in voting in favor of confirming Greenstein.

“Mr. Greenstein was very involved in the process (of selecting CNSI).”

—Former Sen. Rob Marionneaux, D-Livonia, in voting not to confirm.

“This is not a ceremonial committee. We will be watching very closely. If things go awry, we will be the first to speak up.”

—Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, in voting to confirm Greenstein.

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If one thinks we’re feeling a little smug right now or that we take any measure of self-satisfaction over the federal investigation at the Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH), or the no-show status of DHH Secretary Bruce Greenstein before the House Appropriations Committee only days after the federal probe became public knowledge, or of Greenstein’s subsequent announcement that he will resign, effective May 1, then one would be wrong.

We take no pleasure in our native state’s once again having the harsh spotlight of official corruption shone upon it for the entire nation to see. We fail to share the self-righteous satisfaction of those who would smile condescendingly and nod and agree that despite the mantle of morality and ethics with which our governor has cloaked himself, nothing has really changed in Louisiana.

As soon as word of the U.S. Attorney’s investigation became public, we knew someone would be thrown under the bus by Jindal. That’s the way he operates. Jindal’s Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols sniffed indignantly that wrongdoing would not be tolerated by this administration as she quickly cancelled the $185 million contract with CNSI, Greenstein’s former employer.

In making that statement, did Nichols intend to admit that the administration may well be aware of legal wrongdoing? If so, why did it take so long? The federal subpoena for all records pertaining to the CNSI contract was served on the administration way back on Jan. 7 but the contract was not cancelled until March 21 and then only after the Baton Rouge Advocate broke the story of the investigation through public records requests for the subpoena.

That’s two and one-half months that the governor knew of the investigation and chose to do nothing until he was outed by the media. So much for the sanctimonious non-toleration of wrongdoing.

And now the governor’s office tries rather unconvincingly to tell us Greenstein was not asked to resign. Sorry, but we’re not buying it. Someone had to fall on his/her sword and the first domino to topple was Greenstein. There may well be others before this little matter is concluded.

Surely Jindal must realize that cancelling a suspect contract and forcing out the man who first made it possible for his old employer to even qualify to bid on it and then remained in constant contact with CNSI management during the selection process isn’t going to convince the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office to fold up their tents and go home.

The Louisiana Attorney General, whose office is conducting its own investigation, maybe, but not the feds. They just don’t quit that easily.

There are, of course, several questions that will have to be addressed by the U.S. Attorney and, depending on whether or not they are satisfied with what they find, indictments may or may not be forthcoming. If there are no indictments, the matter will die a quiet death. If there are criminal indictments, however, the cheese will get binding.

Probably the most important question will be whether or not Greenstein profited monetarily from his participation in the process of first clearing the way for CNSI to submit a bid and then his potential influence in the actual selection of his old company.

On that question, we offer no opinion because matters now are in the legal system and no longer subject to public records requests. We, like everyone else, can only wait and see as the case is slowly unraveled by investigators.

A second question—only if it is determined that Greenstein did indeed profit in some way from the selection of CNSI—would be what did then-Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater and Gov. Jindal know and when did they know it? Again, this is not to imply that either man was complicit in any effort to steer the contract to CNSI; it’s simply one of several questions that should be explored.

If felonious wrongdoing is found and if it is expanded to include the governor’s office, then the investigation should—and most probably would—widen to include scrutiny of other state contracts issued since January of 2008.

But there is one question that will not be asked by federal investigators or the attorney general’s office but which should be asked by every voter in Louisiana.

Why was Greenstein confirmed in the first place, given his recalcitrant attitude in refusing a directive to tell a Senate committee the name of the winner of a $185 million state contract?

On June 22, 2011, the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee voted 5-2 to confirm the appointment of Greenstein as DHH secretary despite the confrontation between Greenstein and committee members over committee demands for Greenstein to name the winner of the $185 million contract to replace the state’s 23-year-old computer system that adjudicated health care claims and case providers. https://louisianavoice.com/2013/03/21/fbi-investigation-prompts-jindal-to-cancel-controversial-cnsi-contract-but-now-who-will-be-thrown-under-the-bus/

Only Sens. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, and Rob Marionneaux, D-Livonia, were sufficiently offended and/or concerned about Greenstein’s staunch refusal to divulge to the committee that CNSI had won the contract during his confirmation hearing.

Five other senators, Ed Murray, D-New Orleans; Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe; Lydia Jackson, D-Shreveport; Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge; and Greenstein apologist Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, all voted to confirm Greenstein. Some, like Donahue, heaped lavish praise on Greenstein.

Sen. Robert “Bob” Kostelka chairs the committee and does not vote unless there is a tie. He offered no comments during the proceedings other than to recognize fellow senators who wished to speak and to preside over the vote.

Jackson, who no longer serves in the Senate, having been defeated for re-election in 2011 by former Sen. Gregory Tarver in 2011, said she supported Greenstein even though “this incident (the standoff between Greenstein and the committee over identifying CNSI) calls into question the issue of transparency. I don’t believe the secretary participated in actions that influenced the outcome (of the awarding of the contract).”

Murray, who voted in favor of confirmation, had peppered Greenstein with questions during his initial appearance before the committee. “The secretary was not completely accurate in his responses,” he said. “But I received numerous calls from all over the country attesting to his ability and professionalism. I hope he can live up to those recommendations.”

Donahue, in supporting Greenstein, simply said, “He will do a great job.”

Peterson, who also serves as Chairperson of the Louisiana Democratic Party, said the number one priority for any appointee should be integrity. She said Greenstein was “not worthy of serving the people of this state.”

Marionneaux, who was term limited and could not run for re-election in 2011, said the confirmation procedure of the committee had been “anything but pristine. Mr. Greenstein was very involved in the process (of selecting CNSI).”

Claitor, who supported Greenstein, said, “This is not a ceremonial committee. We will be watching very closely. If things go awry, we will be the first to speak up.”

Well, Sen. Claitor, things have certainly gone awry. But so far, not a single member of the committee has uttered a peep.

Why is that?

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Sen. Bob Kostelka, R-Monroe, wants people to know he’s serious.

He has already pre-filed SB 41, which calls for a constitutional amendment to be placed on the ballot which, if approved, would make the state superintendent of education and elective position as opposed to the current appointive one.

Kostelka also wants it understood that he wants current Superintendent John White to go.

He says he has seen enough of bloated contracts granted to politically-connected firms. He has seen his fill of contracts like the one that teaches kids how to play at recess. He has heard quite enough about contracts awarded to PR hacks to work out of their homes in other states for outlandish figures like $12,000 per month.

Most of all though he has grown weary of trying to obtain information and records from the secretive Louisiana Department of Education—and repeatedly encountering a brick wall of resistance.

And he is more than a little concerned about the approval of vouchers for schools which have no classrooms, no teachers and no desks—like New Living Word in Ruston.

And while he didn’t say so, he seemed to take some bit of pleasure in knowing that his bill has come under fire from Gov. Bobby Jindal’s chief apologist, Jeff Sadow.

Kostelka claim that the bill would make the superintendent answerable to the people instead of a rubber-stamp Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) was described by Sadow as a “curious mix of ignorance and illogic.”

Sadow chose to fall back on the argument that most of the BESE members are already elected and “answerable to the people,” apparently choosing to ignore the fact that most of the elected members’ seats were bought by out of state contributions from such people as Michael Bloomberg, Bill Gates, the Walton family and K-12.

Sadow also says Kostelka seems to have forgotten the “policy-making mess” that existed under the elected superintendent structure that existed prior to 1988. In saying that, Sadow appears to be overlooking the ever-evolving “policy-making mess” that is indicative of today’s DOE under a superintendent who doesn’t seem to have a clue where he intends to go or what he intends to do when he gets there.

“People like Mr. Sadow say I want to return to old-time politics,” Kostelka said. “To that, I would have them look at the political contributions to the BESE members and then explain to me what has changed under the present system.”

“They say my bill would cost the state the expense of another election, but it wouldn’t. I’m calling for the election to be held in the fall of 2014 at the same time as the Congressional elections, so there would be no additional costs. If approved, the elected superintendent would take effect with the 2015 gubernatorial election and White could leave with Jindal,” he said.

Kostelka is well aware that he has run afoul of the petulant Jindal and is certain to incur the governor’s wrath. His punishment could range from a loss of committee assignments to vetoes of key projects in Kostelka’s senate district. All one has to do is harken back to last year’s session when Jindal vetoed a major construction project in Livingston Parish after Rep. Rogers Pope and Sen. Dale Erdy had the temerity to buck Jindal on legislative matters important to the governor.

If that isn’t old-time politics, we don’t know what is.

But Jindal has proved beyond any doubt that he is not above such tactics.

But, at long last, those tactics appear to be coming back to bit him in the backside.

He has demoted legislators, fired a BESE member, an LSU president, doctors, various department and agency heads, appointed legislator buddies (Noble Ellington, Troy Hebert, et al) to six-figure deadhead jobs and in at least one case—that of Hebert—that appointment appears to be a major embarrassment to the administration.

But even after all of that, nothing compares to the damage done to his political stock as the recent dust-up with the Board of Regents.

Send in the clowns

As is his M.O., Jindal attempted to distance himself from the action—perhaps as a means of attempting to maintain deniability, a ploy that has consistently served him badly—by dispatching an emissary to do his dirty work. In this case, it was Taylor Teepell, brother of Timmy Teepell who seems to be running his OnMessage political consulting operation from the governor’s fourth-floor offices in the State Capitol.

What was Taylor’s mission? Nothing less than to demand the firing of Commissioner of Higher Education Dr. James Purcell. Purcell, you see, committed the unpardonable sin of criticizing Jindal’s repeated cuts to higher education. There is no run for dissention on Team Jindal.

But Taylor Teepell got a major surprise. Regents Chairman W. Clinton “Bubba” Rasberry, Jr. sent Teepell back to Jindal with a message: “Dr. Purcell works for the Regents.”

Whoa. Herr Jindal is not accustomed to such spunk from his subordinates. The governor does, after all, appoint the Regents members and he expects all appointees to toe the line, not draw a line in the sand.

Of course, Jindal could fire the entire board and replace the recalcitrant members with more compliant sycophants. But his brazen attempt to oust Purcell for the sin of independent thinking probably did more harm to Jindal than anything else he has done in his five-plus years in office. This attempt, coming as it did on the heels of three major court reversals of his education and retirement reforms and the word last week of a federal investigation into a contract with the Department of Health and Human Resources, has left him politically crippled.

And his blatant, quixotic pursuit of the presidency would be laughable were it not such a pathetic sight to behold. It somehow makes him look even smaller, more the little boy, in his ill-fitting suits.

Seeing his presidential aspirations slip away raises yet another spectacle that he would probably rather no one would know about. When he encountered occasional crises during his tenure as head of the University of Louisiana System, rather than facing the problems head-on, his solution of choice was to retreat to his office where he is said to have played video games virtually non-stop.

One must be wondering what video games he prefers these days. League of Legends, perhaps?

As one observer recently said, the Jindal waters appear to be circling the drain.

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