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Archive for the ‘BESE’ Category

By James C. Finney, Ph.D.

Guest Columnist

(Editor’s Note: James Finney is one of two Louisiana citizens (Mike Deshotels is the other) who was named as a defendant in a lawsuit by State Education Superintendent John White in an effort to thwart efforts by the pair to obtain public records from the Department of Education. White has defended his action by pointing out he is not seeking monetary damages from Finney or Deshotel. He failed to mention, however, that it will cost them money from their personal funds to defend the lawsuit while White has the financial resources of the State of Louisiana at his disposal.)

 

Much has been written about the Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program, otherwise known as the Louisiana Scholarship Program, or the voucher program. To summarize: The Department of Education allows vouchers for almost any private school that wants them (or so it seems) and then performs minimal oversight.

The students are tested, but the Department works hard to make sure taxpayers don’t get to see any useful data. The program is based on a premise that it helps poor kids access private schools. But “poor” is 2.5 times the poverty level which, for a family of four, means an annual income of $59,625 is low enough to put a kid in a private school at taxpayer expense. And, of course, the state refuses to release any data about how many children are at which ends of that range of income. And the point is, allegedly, to allow kids to escape failing public schools.

Never mind that the students may have never attended a public school. Ever.

But this post isn’t about that voucher program. It’s about the sneaky alternative that funds private schools by way of tax rebates. The Tuition Donation Rebate Program allows donors to fund private school tuition and recoup most of that donation as a tax rebate.

As might be expected, there are middlemen taking their cut of the money. At the beginning of the program, there was only one such organization—Arete Scholars Louisiana. The registered agent, Gene Mills, he of the Family Forum, has apparently neglected the paperwork required to keep charter 41200779N active with the Louisiana Secretary of State.

Mills, founder of Louisiana Family Forum, was the centerpiece of an extraordinary post by Jason France on his Crazy Crawfish blog in October 2012. https://thecrazycrawfish.com/tag/louisiana-family-fourm/

Founded in 1998, Louisiana Family Forum included as its “Independent Political Consultant” and “Grassroots Coordinator,” former State Sen. Dan Richey. http://www.lafamilyforum.org/about/

As an example of the family values for which Family Forum supposedly stands, Richey, while serving as a state senator from Ferriday in the 1980s, gave his allotted Tulane scholarship to a Caddo Parish legislator’s daughter in exchange for that legislator’s awarding of his scholarship to Richey’s brother as a means of circumventing the informal prohibition against giving the scholarships to immediate family members.

Superintendent John White’s Department of Education, with the approval of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), thought it was critical that there be multiple organizations available to help people support private education rather than pay taxes. So they gave grants of up to $499,750 to ACE Scholarships Louisiana (charter 41590796K) and up to$500,000 for New Schools for Baton Rouge Excellence Scholarship Fund (charter41726088K) so that these limited-liability corporations could each set up their business of accepting donations, funneling them to private schools, and providing the documentation required for the donors to get tax rebates from the Louisiana Department of Revenue.

According to the Louisiana Nonpublic School Choice 2015 Annual Report, which was submitted to BESE but not accepted, the tuition donation rebate program started in 2013-14 with Arete.

Arete’s 2013-14 Arete’s 2014 Annual Report indicates that the organization disbursed 14 scholarships, worth a total of $60,975.02, and all funded by the Atlanta Falcons.

No, that’s not a typo: Those Atlanta Falcons. That amount was confirmed by the Louisiana Department of Revenue: One unnamed taxpayer was issued a rebate in the amount of $60,975.02 in tax year 2014.

According to the state’s 2015 annual report cited above, there were two Student Tuition Organizations active in 2014-15: Arete and ACE. Arete’s 2015 Annual Report confirms the number of scholarships reported by the state, 50, at 24 schools, with a total value of $180,381, while ACE Scholarships Louisiana LLC’s 2015 Annual Report reports 13 scholarships, three schools, and a total of $40,780.67.

The donors of note on Arete’s annual report include the Atlanta Falcons, Chik-fil-A, James Garvey and several other individuals. ACE’s donors were David George and Edward Rispone. According to the Louisiana Department of Revenue, the total of rebates awarded in 2015 was $101,659.85, and they ranged in size from $950 to $47,105.

The numbers exploded in 2015-16, though, especially for ACE.  The state’s voucher report indicates that Arete awarded (as of March 2016) 205 scholarships at 50 schools, ACE awarded 558 scholarships at 77 schools, and New Schools awarded 13 scholarships at four schools. The names of the schools, donors and dollar amounts likely won’t be available for several months, however.

The targets for total scholarship awards (remember those half-million dollar contracts a few paragraphs above) were 1,000 for this year and 1,250 for 2016-17 (ACE) and 75 and 125, respectively for New Schools. So apparently New Schools aimed low and shot lower. Perhaps that’s a good thing, in that taxpayers will see less revenue diverted away from the state’s coffers. On the other hand, this spreadsheet indicates that, as of the end of 2015, New Schools had already collected $300,000 on its contract, and ACE had already collected $249,874.98.

It’s interesting what a person can learn from availing themselves of their rights under Louisiana’s public records law (Title 44).

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Some things are difficult to understand.

Like, for instance, how voters returned State Rep. Nancy Landry (R-Lafayette) to the legislature for another term. Not only was she re-elected, but it was by a landslide. The only plausible explanation was that Bobby Jindal was running against her.

She received 85 percent of the vote in her district, which includes parts of Lafayette and Vermilion Parishes.

Public school teachers and their families alone, voting as a bloc in those two parishes, should have prevented that kind of mandate.

You see, Landry is on a one-person crusade to become Public Enemy Number One among school teachers. She has repeatedly pilloried teachers from her position in the legislature and now she has been named as chairperson of the House Education Committee. (Coincidentally, Denham Springs GOP Rep. Rogers Pope, a retired school superintendent and former Superintendent of the Year for Louisiana, stepped down from the committee about the same time Landry was elevated to the chairmanship.)

Why am I so critical of Landry?

Well, first, let’s go back to March 2012 when she opened proceedings by the committee by introducing a new rule that had never existed in House committee hearings. https://louisianavoice.com/2012/03/14/how-do-you-teague-a-legislator-ask-jindal-to-teague-a-teacher-just-change-the-committee-rules-for-witnesses/

The committee was hearing testimony on HB 976 by committee Chairman Stephen Carter (R-Baton Rouge) that would impose sweeping changes, including providing student scholarships for Jindal’s Educational Excellence Program, allow for parent petitions for certain schools to be transferred to the Recovery School District (RSD) and charter school authorization criteria.

Before debate began on the bill, Landry said she had received calls from “concerned constituents” to the effect that some teachers from districts that did not close schools for the day had taken a sick day in order to attend a rally of teachers opposed to Jindal’s education reform.

She neglected to mention, of course, that teachers are given 10 sick days per year, so if they want to use a sick day to attend a committee hearing in Baton Rouge, that’s their business and no one else’s. Moreover, if a teacher exceeds her 10 days during a school year, she is docked a full day’s pay at the teachers’s salary rate while the substitute teacher is paid a substitute’s salary, which is less.

Undaunted and undeterred by those facts, Landry made a motion that in addition to the customary practice of witnesses providing their names, where they are from and whom they represent, they be required to state if they were appearing before the committee in a “professional capacity or if they were on annual or sick leave.”

Democrats on the committee were livid. Then-Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite) said he had never in his tenure in the House seen such a rule imposed on witnesses.

“This house (the Capitol) belongs to the people,” said Rep. Pat Smith (D-Baton Rouge) “and now we’re going to put them in a compromising position? This is an atrocity!”

Committee member Wesley Bishop (D-New Orleans) said, “I have one question: if we approve this motion and if a witness declines to provide that information, will that witness be prohibited from testifying?”

Carter, momentarily taken aback, held a hastily whispered conference before turning back to the microphone to say, “We cannot refuse anyone the opportunity to testify.”

That appeared to make Landry’s motion a moot point but she persisted and the committee ended up approving her motion by a 10-8 vote that was reflective of the 11-6 Republican-Democrat (with one Independent) makeup of the committee.

Edwards lost no time in getting in a parting shot on the passage of the new rule.

Then-Gov. Bobby Jindal was the first to testify and upon completion of his testimony, Edwards observed that no one on the committee appeared overly concerned of whether or not the governor was on annual or sick leave.

Jindal, who had entered the committee room late and knew nothing of the debate and subsequent vote on Landry’s motion, bristled at Edwards, saying, “I’m here as governor.”

Now fast-forward to yesterday (Tuesday, May 3) and once again we have Landry going for teachers’ jugulars. http://www.legis.la.gov/legis/ViewDocument.aspx?d=980632

A substitute bill for House Bill 392 by Landry cleared the committee without objection and will now move to the full House for consideration but there are a couple of points that need to be made about the provisions of the bill that committee members may have failed to consider—or simply ignored.

Landry wants to pile on the 2012 law, Act 1, under which pay for teachers and other employees may be cut. She wants to impose salary cuts when teachers’ and other employees’ working hours are reduced. She said that Lafayette Parish had cases in which educators successfully sued the school board over pay cuts when they were moved from 12-month jobs to nine-month jobs. http://theadvocate.com/news/15675829-64/new-provision-for-teacher-pay-cuts-clears-house-panel

Historically, teachers have had the option of being paid a lower monthly salary extended over 12 months or higher a monthly salary on nine months. The annual salary was the same either way.

In the Lafayette case, two teachers who were displaced by the closure of their charter school for high-risk students sued and won back pay when their schedules were reduced from 244 days to 182 days. One of the teachers saw her salary cut from $80,104 to $60,214 while the second was cut from $74,423 to $56,207. Both cuts of about 25 percent coincided with the fewer number of days. http://theadvocate.com/news/11060641-123/appeals-court-sides-with-teachers

On the surface, the bill makes perfect sense. As is the case most of the time, however, one needs to look beyond the obvious for answers.

And when you do, you will find that no teacher ever simply works 182 days. That is a myth and one that needs to be debunked once and for all.

Landry is an attorney specializing in family law. As such, she likely earns considerably more than the average teacher. But that’s okay; the teacher made a career choice, so that isn’t my sticking point. But like a teacher, she sees all manner of humanity parade through her office and while her hourly fee is the same for all, there are times I’m pretty sure that some clients should be charged significantly more per hour because of the difficulty in addressing their multitude of problems. An amicable divorce, for example, is a much easier case for Landry than one in which the parents fight over every child and every piece of property right down to the pet gerbil.

It’s the same for teachers. The child whose parents are attentive to his or her school work and who see to it that all homework assignments are completed correctly is a pleasure to teach.

The child who comes to school in clean cloths, on a full stomach, and well-rested after a good night’s sleep is not the problem.

The child whose lives in a two-parent household where the parents are not constantly fighting and screaming is generally a well-adjusted student who poses no problems in the classroom.

The child who is respectful to the teacher and who applies himself or herself in class work isn’t the one who causes disciplinary problems.

But that child whose parents are on crack or meth and who comes to school unprepared, unkempt, in filthy clothing, hungry, sleepy and angry at the world is a challenge to the teacher whose job it is to try and help that child keep up with the rest of the class—which, of course, only serves to slow the progress of the entire class.

If Rep. Landry would take the time to volunteer in an elementary or middle school classroom for one week, she would come away from the experience with an attitude adjustment. I guarantee it.

  • When she has to break up a schoolyard fight between middle school students who are just as likely to attack her physically, she will experience a world she has never known;
  • When she has to clean the behind of a first-grader in the restroom who is already wearing filthy underwear, she will get a taste of what elementary school teachers do—for 182 days a year;
  • When she has to attempt to explain the multiplication tables to a child who curses her, she will gain a new respect for teachers;
  • When she sees the hunger in the eyes of a malnourished child whose crack- and meth-addicted parents show up at parent-teacher conferences blaming the teacher for their own shortcomings, she will think about the difference—that abyss—between her fee and the salary paid a teacher;
  • When she has to stay up until midnight grading papers, she will wonder why the hell teachers aren’t paid more;
  • When she has to return to the classroom at the end of the school year to clean up her classroom, throw out old papers, prepare new lesson plans, prepare for the new school year and adjust to the constantly changing dictates of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, tasks that generally extend through most of the summer “vacation,” she will wonder why anyone would ever opt for teaching—without ever once considering that it is a calling, not a job, for those who have an unselfish desire to help children as they grow into adulthood;
  • When she must make that fateful decision, as did that teacher at Sandy Hook, to stand between an armed mentally deranged lunatic and a child so she can take the bullet that will end her life but spare the child in doing so, she will know what it’s like to enter the most honorable profession known to humanity.

When she does all that, maybe, just maybe, Rep. Nancy Landry will gain a new respect and appreciation for the sacrifice, dedication, hard work, and thankless job of educating our children.

Until then, she is just another politician with a kneejerk solution to perceived problems.

But as for me, I can honestly say that I struggled mightily in school and had it not been for at least a half-dozen of my high school teachers who took a direct interest in my well-being, nurtured my potential (what there was of it), and encouraged me to work a little harder, I truthfully do not know where I’d be today. I will carry my gratitude to those teachers to my grave.

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Editor’s note: The following is a guest column written by James Finney, Ph.D., of Baton Rouge. This was first posted on his blog, Methodical, Musical Mathematician’s Musings, and we felt it was an important essay that addressed issues with the state’s flawed school voucher program. Rather than simply publishing a link to his post, Dr. Finney was gracious enough to allow us to re-post it in its entirety on LouisianaVoice. Dr. Finney is a math teacher with an interest in transparent and effective government.  He grew up in South Dakota but has lived in Baton Rouge for more than 20 years.

His observations should not be interpreted as a criticism of the Catholic Church but rather an objective look at how the state’s voucher program has been mismanaged and vouchers paid in disproportionate amounts to church-affiliated schools by the Louisiana Department of Education.

 

By James Finney, Ph.D.

Did the headline get your attention?  If so, that’s good. When I saw the details of voucher funding for 2014-15, I was startled at how much of the nearly $40 million in spending went to Catholic schools.

The total amount sent to the 131 voucher schools participating in the Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence program in 2014-15 was $39,486,798.20. This figure is reported in a spreadsheet I received from the Department of Education in response to a public record request.  Of that, approximately two-thirds ($26,819,434.44) went to the 76 participating schools that are affiliated with the New Orleans Archdiocese and the Dioceses of Shreveport, Alexandria, Baton Rouge, Houma-Thibodaux, Lafayette, and Lake Charles.

A defender of the voucher program might suggest that most of the private schools in the state are Catholic, so it makes sense that most of the vouchers would be used in Catholic schools. The evidence says otherwise. There are 412 nonpublic schools listed in the state’s 2015-16 School Directory (which I received incidental to another public record request). Of those, 190 are identified by the state as being Catholic. So the Catholic schools are fewer than half the nonpublic schools, but they account for two-thirds of the vouchers. There is no easy way to compare total enrollment (Catholic vs. non-Catholic private schools) since the state does not appear to collect or report private-school enrollment data.

As mentioned earlier, 76 of the 131 voucher schools are Catholic. Of the remaining 55, nearly half (25) have a school name containing the word “Christian” and nine have a name containing “Lutheran”, “Living Word”, “Bishop”, “Baptist”, “Adventist” or “Bible”. And there’s Jewish Community Day School.  So that leaves roughly 20 of the voucher schools that might be secular.  So much for the separation of Church and State.

It’s interesting to rank the voucher schools by total amount paid in 2014-15:  The top six schools account for more than $10 million, and the next 14 for more than another $10 million:

  • St. Mary’s Academy (Girls) (C), Orleans (417): $2,606,160
  • Hosanna Christian Academy (AG), EBR (390): $2,265,944
  • Resurrection of Our Lord School (C), Orleans (466): $2,103,286
  • Our Lady of Prompt Succor (C), Jefferson (208): $1,045,417
  • St. Louis King of France School (C), EBR (182): $1,021,094
  • 506087 Leo the Great School (C), Orleans (191): $1,016,667

Five of the most expensive voucher schools, and 17 of the top 20, are Catholic.  The non-Catholic schools among the top 20 are Hosanna Christian Academy (No. 2 above), Evangel Christian Academy in Caddo Parish (No. 16) and Riverside Academy in St. John the Baptist Parish (No. 20).

One of the voucher schools appears to be a public school: Park Vista Elementary School in Opelousas (St. Landry Parish). It would be interesting to know the story on that school’s participation in the program, and where the students are coming from. The state sent the Parish an average of somewhere around $7,760 each for 19 students, contributing $150,000 to the local system’s bottom line.  Compare that to the $5,570 that the state sent to St. Landry Parish Schools in Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) funding for each student who actually lived in St. Landry Parish.

Two of the schools that received vouchers are not even on the state’s list of nonpublic schools:  Walford School of New Orleans received $17,717, and McKinney-Byrd Academy in Shreveport received $3,566. If they aren’t on the state’s list of nonpublic schools, why did they receive voucher payments? In 2015-16, the SIHAF K12 Learning Academy joined the ranks of voucher schools not on the list of nonpublic schools, and in 2016-17, Weatherford Academy in Westwego will be allowed to offer up to six vouchers and Children’s College in Slidell will be allowed to offer one or two vouchers. Go figure.

State Superintendent of Education John White would like us to believe that at an average of around $5,500 each the vouchers saves the state a lot of money. There’s a flaw in that argument. The average per child state share of the MFP in 2014-15 was only $5,185.  So there might be a savings to local school districts, if those local districts had to educate fewer students with the same amount of local tax revenue. Unfortunately, there’s a huge loophole in the voucher program that allows students who have never (and probably would never) have been enrolled in a public school to get their private educations funded by the state. Maybe that’s why I can’t get a meaningful response to my request to the Department of Education in which I seek the records of how many voucher students had actually “escaped” public schools.

As an example of the fallacy of the vouchers-as-a-bargain-for-the-state argument, consider East Baton Rouge Parish Schools. In 2014-15, the state share of MFP was $4,165 per student. Of the 20 voucher schools within the district’s boundaries, the only school with an average voucher amount below $4165 was St. Francis Xavier School at $4,103.  At least five voucher schools charged the state over $8,000 per student. For two schools, Most Blessed Sacrament and Country Day School of Baton Rouge, both the average tuition per student and the number of students each quarter were (illegally?) redacted from the records supplied by the state, so there’s no way to know how much each school charged the taxpayers per student.

The highest tuition rate ($9,000) was charged by Prevailing Faith Christian Academy in Ouachita Parish for its 31 voucher students. It appears that the schools get to set the rate the state pays for an education over which the state exercises no oversight, as long as there are at least a few families willing to pay that amount out of their own pockets. With no effective state oversight, there is no way to tell just how good (or more likely how bad) a bargain the state is getting by funding private education.

Meanwhile only 91 schools are accepting applications for new voucher students in 2016-17. Perhaps many of the private schools have realized that mixing public money and private education is a bad idea all around.

F 17 of February 20 (voucher school status for 2016-17, and Q1 enrollment for 2015-16)

11 of February 20 – 2014-15 SEE Enrollment and Funding (2014-15 voucher spending)

2014-15-circular-no-1156a—final-budget-letter—march-2015  (Look at “Table 3 Levels 1&2” tab, in columns AP and AT.)

 

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Just as there are many deserving nominees for Boob of the Year, so are there those who deserve to be recognized for their work to bring the actions of those boobs to public light. Their efforts have helped to expose corruption in lieu of an ineffective State Ethics Board that Jindal gutted as his first action upon becoming governor.

And for those who think we’re too negative, here is our chance to put some positive spin on state politics. Unlike our Boob of the Year nominees, few of our nominees for the John Copes Beacon of Light award are public officials, though it would be unfair to say that no elected official is worthy.

Copes, a Louisiana Tech graduate, was one of the very first political bloggers in Louisiana, launching his website The Deduct Box in 1999. A resident of Mandeville, he died in October of 2006 at a time when his blog was getting about 10,000 hits per day.

Because any such list is subjective, some deserving candidates will be left out by oversight as occurred with our Boob of the Year nominees. Accordingly, you are free to make your own nominations.

So, with that in mind, here we go:

  • Former State Sen. Butch Gautreaux: All he did was to bust a gut in trying to save the Office of Group Benefits from certain corruption and mismanagement. He failed, of course, because Bobby Jindal wanted to privatize the agency and indirectly raid OGB’s reserve fund. Now the fund has been depleted, premiums have risen and benefits have been cut and Sen. Gautreaux has been proven correct.
  • State Sen. Dan Claitor: Claitor filed a lawsuit to nullify the illegal retirement increase of some $50,000 for State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson. He won that suit and then filed a bill to make certain there were no more backdoor deals for Edmonson. He also objected to the administration’s less than ethical ruse to delay payment of Medicaid claims by two months, thus kicking the final two months’ problems into the next fiscal year—long after Jindal and his fraudulent cohorts will be gone. Sadly, Claitor’s objections to the move were ignored by the administration—and his fellow legislators who once again, allowed Jindal to have his way with them.
  • Lame duck BESE members Carolyn Hill and Lottie Beebe: Both stood up to State Superintendent of Education John White and both paid the price. Out of state money poured in for their opponents and both Hill and Beebe were defeated for re-election.
  • John Bel Edwards: It may be too early to call him a Beacon of Light. That will depend on what he does as governor. But he did fight Bobby Jindal for eight years and overcame mind boggling odds against a Democrat with little name recognition outside Tangipahoa Parish upsetting powerful (as in $10 million worth of power) U.S. Sen. David Vitter. While Jindal held onto his congressional salary right up to the time he took the oath as governor, Edwards has resigned from the Louisiana Legislature.
  • Tommy and Melody Teague: She was fired from her job (but won it back on appeal) for daring to testify before Jindal’s governmental streamlining committee; he for the audacity of taking over an agency (OGB) with a deficit of some $200 million and take it to a surplus of $500 million and then not falling all over himself to support Jindal’s proposed privatization of OGB. Jindal prevailed of course, and the surplus (reserve fund) was depleted, premiums increased, benefits reduced and many retirees now living out of state have lost their medical benefits altogether. At least Tommy Teague saw the danger way before the smartest man in the room.
  • Murphy Painter: As director of the Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC), he refused to allow FOB (friends of Bobby) short circuit the regulations for an alcohol permit for Champion’s Square across from the Superdome. For insisting that the applicant comply with ATC regulations, he was fired and indicted on made up criminal charges. Rather than bene over and grease up, he fought back, was acquitted at trial and stuck the state with his legal bills of nearly $300,000.
  • Whistleblower Jeff Mercer: The Mangham, Louisiana contractor was harassed, coerced and intimidated when he refused to comply with a DOTD inspector’s demand that he give the inspector money and/or equipment (a generator). When he complained about the extortion attempt, more pressure was applied in the form of harsh inspections, delayed and denied payments for work performed. He went bankrupt as a result of the DOTD actions but determined to fight back, he sued and won a $20 million judgment from the state. A pity since the governor’s office was made aware of the inspector’s actions but chose to do nothing to avert the eventual courtroom battle.
  • Whistleblower Dan Collins: The Baton Rouge professional landman complained about things he observed in the Atchafalaya Basin Program and promptly got frozen out of future state contracts. Undaunted, he and his one attorney went up against the Department of Natural Resources and its four corporate attorneys and on Friday (Dec. 11, 2015) won treble damages totaling $750,000—all after complaints to the governor’s office had been ignored, leaving us with the unavoidable conclusion that the Jindalites would rather pay hefty lawsuit judgments than correct obvious problems early on. To paraphrase the title of Hilary Clinton’s book, sometimes It Takes a Pissed off Citizen….
  • Lamar White: This Alexandria native, along with Bob Mann, has been a persistent thorn in the side of our absentee governor, a couple of congressmen, and anyone else he sees tampering with governmental ethics. But more than merely badgering, Lamar thoroughly documents everything he writes. If any official has anything to hide, he will be outed by Lamar. He is the one who dug up the story about U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise’s close connections to David Duke. That story, said Baton Rouge Advocate reporter Billy Gunn, “exemplifies the power of the pen and its ability to challenge the mighty.” High praise for someone another blogger once ridiculed for his cerebral palsy affliction which makes it difficult for him to walk. “But there’s nothing wrong with his mind,” Gunn said. “He writes on subjects ranging from the rights of the disabled to racial inequity.” Walter Pierce, editor of the Lafayette news site The Ind.com, said, “He has a sort of selfless bravery.”
  • Bob Mann: Journalist/author/political historian Bob Mann holds the Manship Chair in journalism at LSU and has unflinchingly taken on the powers that be, including his bosses on the LSU Board of Supervisors. Mann, who writes a column for Nola.com and Salon.com, has become such an irritant that one LSU Board member, Rolfe McCollister, has even advocated Mann’s firing for his saying that the LSU Board was more loyal to Jindal than to the students at LSU. This is the same Rolfe McCollister, by the way, who publishes the Baton Rouge Business Report. So much for his defense of the First Amendment. McCollister quoted a “former seasoned journalist” as saying “Every good journalist knows that you cannot ethically cover the institution that pays your salary and the people who supervise the work you do for that salary.” So much for his defense of the First Amendment. But Rolfe, how about “ethically” serving higher education that your boss has tried to starve to death with repeated budgetary cuts that resulted in higher and higher tuition for students? How is that you’re able to “ethically” look out for the interests of students and faculty of LSU while giving $17,000 to Jindal’s campaign, serving as treasurer of his campaign, and treasurer of Believe Again, the Super PAC created to promote Jindal’s presidential campaign. I guess the question really comes down to who has the higher ethical standard, you or Bob Mann. We go with the Mann. Every time.
  • C.B. Forgotston: What can we say about this former legal counsel for the Louisiana House? C.B. has a political blog but he doesn’t post often. And when he does post, the dispatches are usually short. But what he lacks in verbiage, he more than makes up with impact. He is terse, to the point, and quite often vicious in his critique of anyone he sees in office who he believes is wasting time or state dollars. Most people who know him would rather be on the receiving end of volumes of criticism from Jindal and his minions than a single sentence of disapproval from C.B.
  • Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne: for having the courage to cross party lines and endorse Democrat John Bel Edwards over Diaper Boy Dave Vitter. Dardenne took a lot of heat for that but who could blame him after Vitter’s carpet bombing of him and fellow Republican Scott Angelle in the first primary? Some will say his appointment as incoming Commissioner of Administration was the payoff. Perhaps so, but if anyone can come up with a better person for the job, we’re listening.
  • State Treasurer John Kennedy: His ill-advised endorsement of Vitter aside, Kennedy has been tenacious in his guarding of the state treasury, taking on Jindal and Commissioner of Administration Kristy Kreme Nichols time after time when they tried to play funny with the money. He would have easily walked in as Attorney General after the first primary had he chosen to run for that seat, which we encouraged him to do. Instead, he has chosen to remain as Treasurer—at least for the time being. Remember there is Vitter’s U.S. Senate seat that opens up next year and Kennedy would like that job. Whatever his motives for endorsing Vitter (many speculate had Vitter won, he would have appointed Kennedy to fill the remaining year, thus giving him the advantage of incumbency), no one can deny that he has been a splendid foil for the Jindalites for eight years.
  • Louisiana Trooper Underground: This unknown author or authors undoubtedly has/have reliable links deep within the upper echelons of the Louisiana State Police command in Baton Rouge. A relatively new entry into social media, this a Facebook page that posts the latest developments in the unfolding saga involving various troop commands and LSP headquarters itself.
  • Finally, all the others who have been Teagued: Tommy and Melody were the inspiration for the term but they are in good company with a long list of those who attempted to do the right thing and were either fired or demoted by a vengeful Jindal. Despite the obvious reprisals that lay ahead, each of them stood up for what was right and paid the price. They’re the silent heroes.

There are our nominees. You are free to write in your own favorite’s name. It is our sincere hope that the response to this will be as gratifying as that of the Boob of the Year.

Go.

Vote.

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By Monique Harden (Special to LouisianaVoice)

Before state lawmakers on the Louisiana House of Representatives Education Committee on May 7 unanimously agreed to pass House Bill 180, which would prohibit the building of a new school on a waste site, an official with the LA Department of Environmental Quality gave a full-throated defense of the department’s astounding decision to do just the opposite.

The LDEQ gave the thumbs up to a plan by the Recovery School District to build a new school on the old Clio Street/Silver City Dump in New Orleans. According to Chance McNeely, an Assistant Secretary at the LDEQ who spoke to the Education Committee, the LDEQ uses “the safest, most stringent standard,” but “didn’t find anything that pointed to a toxic landfill or dump site there.” This conclusion is absurd. Governmental records show that this dump received more than 150 tons of waste on a daily basis and operated from the late 1890s to the late 1930s. According to the technical reports prepared by environmental consulting firms working for the RSD, which the LDEQ purportedly reviewed, the site of this former waste dump remains contaminated to this day. These reports show “unacceptable levels” of toxins at the ground surface down to 15 feet below ground that exceed the risk-based standard for residential use and would “pose a risk to children occupying the site.”

It is more than eye-opening that the LDEQ would turn a blind eye to information showing the existence of the Clio Street/Silver City Dump and revealing present-day soil contamination that can harm human health. The LDEQ lacks credibility in concluding that it is safe to build a school on a waste dump.

When McNeely discouraged the idea of avoiding the health risks at the former waste dump by looking at an alternative school site he raised the ire of Representative Wesley Bishop from New Orleans.  McNeely suggested that “probably the same thing” would be found at the alternative site as was found at the former waste dump.  When Rep. Bishop asked McNeely to explain why, McNeely admitted that he was not familiar with the alternative site.  Showing his frustration with McNeely, Rep. Bishop declared, “You’re not making any sense.”

Perhaps the only “sense” driving the LDEQ’s apparent opposition to House Bill 180 is the pressure of approving the RSD’s plan to build the school on the former waste dump in order for the RSD to collect $69 million dollars from FEMA.  According to McNeely, “FEMA requires that, if you’re gonna spend that money, you gotta confirm that there’s not a contamination that would be a danger.”

 Monique Harden is an attorney and co-director of Advocates for Environmental Human Rights, a public interest law firm in New Orleans, LA.

…And for the record, we have, courtesy of Ms. Harden, the transcript of the testimony of Chance McNeely, assistant secretary, Office of Environmental Compliance, Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality.

You may remember Chance McNeely, who moved over from the governor’s office (with a big raise) to become the DEQ Environmental Compliance Officer while simultaneously attending law school. Here are links to some of our earlier posts about Chance:

https://louisianavoice.com/2015/01/13/if-you-think-chance-mcneelys-appointment-to-head-deq-compliance-was-an-insult-just-get-a-handle-on-his-salary/

https://louisianavoice.com/2015/01/12/taking-a-chance-on-chance-or-how-i-stopped-worrying-and-learned-to-love-the-proposed-m6-open-burn-at-camp-minden/

https://louisianavoice.com/2015/01/14/environmental-compliance-head-mcneeley-once-worked-for-gop-rep-luetkemeyer-who-leads-the-way-in-science-denial/

TRANSCRIPT OF STATEMENT ON HOUSE BILL No. 180

by

CHANCE McNEELY, ASSISSTANT SECRETARY

OFFICE OF ENVIRONMENTAL COMPLIANCE

LOUISIANA DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY

(We have attempted to edit out numbers that do not belong. If we missed any and you see numbers that look out of place, ignore them; they’re just the line numbers for the official transcript.)

Chance McNeely: “I would just say. If I may just give you a little bit of history that you guys may already be aware of, but I’ll just proceed anyway. Obviously, we had the Industrial Revolution in the last century. And all of that pre-dated any environmental regulations or laws. So in the sixties and seventies, we started environmental regulations. And so, in the time between there, we obviously had contamination that would take place in various locations. This is not unique to Louisiana. This is something that every state deals with. And so, I just, I guess my comment would be that the point of RECAP [Risk Evaluation and Corrective Action Plan] is to put sites back into commerce. And if RECAP says that it’s, if our system shows that it’s safe, we stand by that system. And I think it’s important for y’all to be aware that there are statewide implications for this bill.

Rep. Carmody: Mr. McNeely, you’re with the Department of Environmental Quality. In these situations where – again, I’m not familiar with the areas in New Orleans were talking about here – but these former sites, impacted sites, the school has then come back over at some point and built on top of them. And the [unintelligible] I was just kind of given was that the remediation plan, I guess presented, has gone through DEQ approval process to say that in order to address the concerns regarding the high standards for some of these chemicals to a depth of – whatever it was – three feet, this has to be removed. And then at that point, encapsulation on top of that should create a barrier to prevent the migration of any of these chemicals. Correct?

Chance McNeely: That’s right. I mean, it’s essentially taking three feet of dirt out, 40 putting six feet of dirt in. Well, before you put the six feet of dirt in, you put a layer – like a fabric –so if you ever dig down and hit that, you know to stop. There’ll be six feet of dirt on top of that that’s clean. And then most of the facility, you know, it’s going to be the school built on top of it. So, there’s not, I assume that there, I think there is going to be some grass area, but a lot of it’s going to be covered with the building.

Rep. Carmody: Do all of these qualify as Brownfields sites?

Chance McNeely: Ummm

Rep. Carmody: And the reason I guess I’m asking you that question is that if it’s a Brownfields site, you don’t go all the way to the bottom of that hole until you finished digging out everything you find, is it?

Chance McNeely: Right. And that’s part of RECAP, where they evaluate all the factors. For schools, it’s treated like residential standards. So this is the safest, most stringent standard for remediation that we have. And we stand by it. So does the EPA. We kind of lead the nation in RECAP. We got a great program. And so it’s, again, we do stand by our standards and say that it is safe.

Rep. Carmody: Just to clarify, you’re here for informational purposes only as a representative of the Department of Environmental Quality.

Chance McNeely: That’s correct.

Rep. Patricia Smith: Question I have for you is when you mitigate a particular site do you inform anyone who’s building there what’s there? Are they aware when they first build 60 of what is actually in the ground?

Chance McNeely: I guess the way to explain that – I’ll use the example that we’re talking about. So the Recovery School District is being funded by the feds, FEMA. FEMA requires that, if you’re gonna spend that money, you gotta confirm that there’s not a contamination that would be a danger. And so, RSD does sampling. We have oversight of that. That’s how we got involved in this is that FEMA requires RSD to make sure that the site is okay. And so that’s how the sampling got done and we got involved. Again, we have oversight. We approved all the sampling plans, everything like that. We run it through our RECAP system to determine, you know, the risks. I’ll also point out and I’ll say that, you know, the sampling that came back was consistent with urbanization throughout the, you know, 1900s. We didn’t find anything that pointed to a toxic landfill or dump site there. So, you know, we’re talking about lead. Lead is the primary thing that we found. And we all know there’s lots of sources of lead, you know, that have existed. And you’re gonna pretty much find that in a lot of urban areas.

Rep. Smith: Well, the question I have though is the school opened in 1942. I’m sure that folks knew it was a dump site at that time. 1942 standards compared to 2015 standards ought to be quite different.

Chance McNeely: They are. There were no standards back then.

Rep. Smith: There probably were no standards. You’re absolutely right. Therefore, there ought to be more stringent standards when we’re looking at something that was already there to be able to determine whether or not anything was emitted from it. You got samples. Did you go all the way down to the 15 foot level for any samples that you know of?

Chance McNeely: I believe we did. I believe we went all the way down. It’s either 12 or 15 feet, I believe.

Rep. Smith: But even if you build and you’re looking at only the three foot level, what’s to say that you cannot disturb what’s under the layer that you put in there? There’s nothing to say that. A bulldozer or something can go farther down – just like folks hit water lines, gas lines, you know, that are underground. So, what’s to say that it doesn’t go beyond that?

Chance McNeely: Again, dig down three feet. Put that fabric in. If you ever get to that point, you see it, and you know you’re supposed to stop. But, during construction, we’re talking about constructing on top of six feet of clean, new soil. And so, the reason you need six feet is out of an abundance of caution. You know, if they had any kind of pipe burst or something that it would be in that six feet of barrier without ever having to down 95 to the area that has any contamination.

Rep. Smith: I guess because of the fact that dump sites and waste sites, Brownfields, and all these are mostly in urban, African American communities. That when we begin to build that’s where we’re building. When we begin to build and looking at trying to replace schools that often times they’re not many places to go unless we look for new 100 sites outside of the urban areas where these have been located and that’s an atrocity in itself. We know that.

Chance McNeely: My response to that would be we’re on the same page. The point of a Brownfields program and RECAP is to put contaminated properties back into commerce. We don’t want to have to build schools for the children of New Orleans way 105 outside of town. We want them to be in town. And there’s contamination in town that we address through RECAP.

Rep. Wesley Bishop: Quick question for you. I am familiar with this area. I am familiar with this district. It’s in my district. And the one thing that stands, I think, as a stark testament as to why we should not be doing this is Moton School. Moton School is in my district. Reason why I know is because my mother-in-law is the principal of Moton Elementary School. And when you look at it right now, you drive in my district, that school has sat there abandoned for years for the very same concerns that we’re talking about. You put that same remediation piece in place. You remediate this particular area, it would actually make it good. The one thing no one has been able to answer for me is why in the world do we have this conversation when we talk about our kids. I can’t figure that one out. My understanding and, Representative Bouie, correct me if I’m wrong, this situation came about based upon the Booker T. Washington High School. I’m also saying also that there is a $40 million budget to erect a new Booker T. Washington High School. I understand that there are some alumni, who have some concerns as to whether or not this will slow down the process. And that’s a valid concern because we’re many years beyond Hurricane Katrina and it’s still not built. But I also understand that there is an alternative site that’s present right now that you could build this very school on right now. Only $4 million has been spent to remediate this process. So, basically you eat the $4 million. As an attorney, it makes sense to eat the $4 million. Because if you don’t and you build this school, the number of lawsuits you’re going to face based upon parents [unintelligible] sent their kids into what most folks consider to be harm’s danger would pale in comparison. Rep. Bouie, can you talk a little bit about the alternative site that’s available for the building of this school?

Rep. Bouie: [Discussion of the Derham School property as an alternative site.] 

Chance McNeely: If I may, if it’s the pleasure, if it’s determined that the site has to move, my understanding would be that, you know, FEMA would still require sampling. And I’ll just tell you they’re probably going to find the same thing they found [stops].

Rep. Bishop: But is there reason to believe that a landfill [unintelligible] at the new site? 

Chance McNeely: I’m not familiar with that site.

Rep. Bishop: You’re not making any sense. How do you get to interject that into the argument when you have no reason to believe that that’s the case?

Chance McNeely: Because what we found through sampling at the current site has nothing to do with a landfill. It has to do with is standard urbanization: lead. It’s not, we 140 didn’t find anything that said, “Oh, there was a hazardous landfill here.”

Rep. Bishop: I disagree with you totally, sir.

Chance McNeely: Ok.

Rep. Bishop: I disagree with you. I know you gotta job to do and gotta come and make this argument, but I totally disagree with what you said.

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