Could it possibly get any worse for Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White?
For that matter, could the State of Louisiana possibly do any worse than John White as education superintendent?
Good questions both. The answers are, in order:
That remains to be seen, and
There are so many things going on with the Department of Education (DOE), not the least of which is the breaking story of what appears to be the fraudulent enrollment of more than 1,100 students in two north Louisiana parishes in Course Choice classes without their knowledge and the close association of the chairman of the course choice provider company to former President George W. Bush and recent Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Folks, this is a huge story.
More about that later, but first a few others:
• Voucher funding knocked down by the courts;
• Confidential files on teachers evaluations leaked to the media;
• Personal information on Louisiana students provided and then, presumably revoked, to a data base “parking garage” operated by Rupert Murdock and Bill Gates;
• Mass layoffs by DOE even as it advertises for yet another six-figure unclassified appointment;
• Rejection of the Minimum Foundation Program formula by the State Senate;
• A legislative bill to reorganize DOE even as White moves forward with doing just that without benefit of the bill’s passage;
• Attempts to tweak the Value Added Model for teacher evaluations, lending ample evidence that the entire methodology was flawed from the outset;
DOE is the single agency that is responsible for the expenditure of more funds—federal and state—than any other state agency and for the education of hundreds of thousands of Louisiana children.
And it’s being run like a snow cone stand.
And that snow cone stand is being run by a gaggle of highly overpaid, grossly under-qualified preppies who have somehow convinced themselves that six-weeks of Teach for America courses and/or a six-weekend course spread over 10 months translates to solid credentials that qualify them to run roughshod over people who have obtained full-blown college degrees, many of those advanced degrees, and who have dedicated their entire professional lives to educating children.
And on top of everything else, White just can’t seem to be able to resist embellishing facts or simply plucking them out of thin air. He seems to forget that while he is certainly entitled to his own opinion, he is not entitled to his own facts.
Case in point:
Last week, immediately after the Louisiana Supreme Court ruling upholding the lower court’s decision that the funding formula for school vouchers was unconstitutional, White was quoted thusly:
“On the most important aspect of the law, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of families (that, folks, is what is known as spin). The scholarship program will continue and thousands of Louisiana families will continue to have the final say in where to send their children to school. Nearly 93 percent of scholarship families report that they love their school, and we will work with the legislature to find another funding source to keep parents and kids in these schools.
The “93 percent” caught our eye and as we have begun doing with any such utterance by White, we went after documentation. After all, someone once said 87.5 percent of all statistics are made up on the spot. Accordingly, we fired off the following public records request:
• Where do the data supporting the 93 percent approval come from? Please be specific and provide all written documentation supporting this claim;
• Are your data from a survey of parents actually conducted in the spring of a particular school year? If so, which year?
• Are students and/or parents who are unhappy and/or who transfer out of a voucher school included in your survey?
• In calculating the 93 percent favorable rate, do you/DOE count all surveys sent out or only those that are returned?
Because of this week’s public records lawsuit settlement that was favorable to LouisianaVoice, DOE actually responded in a timely fashion and with precisely the answer we expected:
“…The Department is not in possession of any public record(s) responsive to the above-written request.”
So, if there are no public records to support his claim, just how did White arrive at that “nearly 93 percent” figure?
Who knows, but hey, it’s not the first time that White has been unable to back up his claims. Remember, he claims that he cancelled the agreement with inBloom to provide personal data on hundreds of thousands of Louisiana students to its data base but when asked for the written communication of cancellation, guess what? “…The Department is not in possession of any public record(s) responsive to the above-written request.”
Anyone detect a trend here?
HB 650 by Jindal old reliable ally Rep. Stephen Carter (R-Baton Rouge) calls for the reorganization of DOE and would give White broad powers in creating new offices—undoubtedly at exorbitant salaries to more under-qualified appointees—for the department.
But White isn’t waiting. The reorganization has already begun.
White has submitted a layoff plan which, if approved, will put 34 civil service (classified) employees out of work. These are the ones, just as in other agencies, who get things done, who show up day in and day out to process paperwork, answer inquiries and generally keep the department afloat. They are also, unlike their appointive supervisors, qualified.
The layoff plan was submitted ostensibly to save $3.4 million for fiscal year 2013-2014.
Yet, DOE is currently advertising online to fill an unclassified (appointive) position, almost certainly at a six-figure salary, for the position of Chief of Staff, Office of Portfolio.
If the Office of Portfolio rings a bell, that would be our old friend Dave “Lefty” Lefkowith, the $146,000 per year commuter (between Los Angeles and Baton Rouge), the director (or deputy superintendent, depending on which day of the week it is) of the Office of Portfolio. The new hire (or in-house appointee, more likely) would be Lefty’s right hand (yes, we meant to do that).
Turns out the Office of Portfolio is in charge of filling up all those course choice online courses—even, it seems, if students don’t know they’re enrolled.
Course choice providers get about whatever they wish to charge in “tuition,” some of them setting the bar at $1200. They get half of that upon the successful enrollment of the student, no matter if he or she completes the course. The student can sign up, participate for say, a week, drop out and the provider still gets $600. And it is the provider who decides whether or not the student has successfully completed the course, which would qualify the provider with the other half of the tuition.
Fox, welcome to the henhouse.
Now it turns out that more than 1100 students in the parishes of Caddo and Webster have signed up for course choice programs—but they didn’t know it.
An outfit named FastPath Learning of Austin, Texas, has somehow managed to obtain student information to sign up the students without the knowledge of the student or of their parents.
If true, that’s fraud, pure and simple—and a blatant violation of the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).
And the chairman of the board for FastPath is Rod Paige, former U.S. Secretary of Education during President George W. Bush’s first term and a member of Mitt Romney’s Education Policy Advisory Group during last year’s presidential campaign.
Paige, it should be noted, also once served as superintendent of Houston’s schools and during his tenure there, he became mired in an ugly scandal when it was learned that the Houston system, seventh largest in the nation, had falsified its dropout statistics.
The question here, then, is: just where did FastPath get the student information needed to arbitrarily enroll 1,100 students? It would seem highly unlikely that it came from the local school boards.
White, asked about the apparent lack of oversight, said Course Choice providers underwent a “rigorous” four-part approval process before being allowed to offer classes and that checks and balances are in place to insure that students do not end up in an academically unsound course.
What flavor snow cone would you like?
It should come as no surprise that recent stories like this has prompted a witch hunt at DOE. To even the most casual LouisianaVoice reader, it should be obvious that we have sources within DOE.
The ongoing efforts to find leaks would rival the White House Plumbers of those nostalgic Nixon years. Personal printers have been removed so that documents must be printed at a central location more easily monitored. IT personnel have been called in to review emails.
Seems to us, security would be better served with efforts to attempt to learn who provided FastPath with personal data on 1,100 students.
But our sources are not stupid. Most of them are actually former employees who either retired or quit in disgust but who had the foresight to download incriminating documents on computer flash drives which were then passed on to us.
And then there’s that Joan Hunt email SNAFU:
We recently made a public records request and Hunt, the DOE general counsel, responded by sending an email to DOE attorney Willa LeBlanc and Troy Hebert, director of the Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control. It’s not certain if Hebert was mistakenly copied instead of another DOE attorney named Troy Humphrey, but the message simply said, “Troy, we need to reply and say that.”
But Hunt inadvertently copied us into that reply.
Naturally, we wanted to know what that reply was supposed to say. So we sent a public records request asking for copies of all emails between Hunt, LeBlanc, Hebert and White to which Hunt responded on Wednesday:
“No documents. Attorney-client privilege.”
Well, Troy Hebert is not a client of the DOE legal staff; he works under the Department of Revenue and he’s not an attorney, so attorney-client privilege is out the window and we feel entitled to any communication that has us as a subject that has been discussed with someone other than an attorney.
We fired off a response to Hunt that we may well be back in court seeking a contempt ruling and monetary damages.
Finally, there’s this, suggested by a friend and regular reader:
Inasmuch as White is so frantic to track down the source of the leaks and since those leaks were provided on a few flash drives provided by former DOE employees, perhaps it would be appropriate to show up at the next Board of Elementary and Secondary (BESE) meeting with a few hundred lapel pins to hand out.
The pens would be in the shape of a computer flash drive and would have inscribed on them (again, at the suggestion of a reader), “Louisiana Believes LouisianaVoice,” thus commemorating in our own humble way the DOE web page that now calls itself Louisiana Believes.