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Archive for the ‘BESE’ Category

Kira Orange Jones prevailed in the challenge to her candidacy for re-election to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education from the state’s 2nd District in a special court hearing in New Orleans on Tuesday, lending further validation to the theory that in Louisiana politics, anything goes.

That anything includes:

Jones listing at least three separate residents on various reporting forms submitted to the state;

Her failure to file Louisiana state income tax returns for the years 2015 and 2017 (a prerequisite to seeking political office in Louisiana, but…);

Her serving as executive director for Teach for America (TFA), which contracts with the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE), a clear conflict of interests and a not-so-trivial ethics question;

Her chronic absence from BESE meetings—she missed more than one-third of all meetings last year;

Here several years’ delinquency in filing required annual financial disclosure forms with the state—another requirement of candidates and even in-the-trenches civil service employees;

Her serving as a board member for a non-profit called Instruction Partners (IP) which is listed by LDOE as a vendor for professional development for 2018-19—another potential ethics problem and conflict of interest.

But what I found most humorous was the suggestion by educator and blogger Mercedes Schneider: “Given that Orange-Jones’ uninterrupted residence in BESE District 2 is in serious question (Her husband was at one time during her tenure New Mexico’s top education official), it seems in (opposition candidates) (Shawon) Bernard’s and (Ashonta) Wyatt’s best interest to file a claim against Orange-Jones with the Louisiana Ethics Board.”

So, why would I find that so amusing? Simple. Not to make light of Schneider’s well-intentioned suggestion, but the Ethics Board is Louisiana’s single biggest political JOKE going and has been since Bobby Jindal’s ethics “reform” of 2008.

Eight years ago, special interests hijacked BESE from Louisiana’s citizens by buying the offices of the likes of Orange-Jones, Jay Guillot, Holly Boffy, and others so that people like John White could ram through education “reform” designed to benefit corporate ownership of virtual on-line schools and charter schools.

Boffy, who is seeking re-election to her District 7 seat, is manager of an outfit called EdTalents in Lafayette, which, according to its web page, works to support schools or districts “in creating an educator talent system to attract, hire, place, develop, leverage, and retain teachers for student success.” Go HERE for the Louisiana Secretary of State’s corporate report on EdTalents.

She also is an Educator in Residence for the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) for the central and southeastern states. CCSSO was instrumental in writing COMMON CORE standards for the state.

In other words, like Guillot when he served on the board, Boffy contracts for services with school districts that are governed and regulated by the board on which she sits.

No conflict or ethics problem there.

But let’s look at some of the results under the tenure of Orange-Jones, Boffy and White:

  • Today, every single charter school in New Orleans is FAILING;
  • Louisiana, after a decade of White’s leadership, remains the fourth-worst EDUCATED state in the nation;
  • While the state’s teachers were going without pay raises, 20 unclassified employees at LDOE raked in average PAY RAISES of nearly $27,000 each over a five-year period—that’s more than $5,000 per year, compared to the meager $1,000 raise teachers got this year—finally.
  • LDOE attempted to gloss over a major ERROR in the Minimum Foundation Program for fiscal year 2018-19 which created an actual $17 million surplus for LDOE, but instead of distributing the money to the schools as it should have done, LDOE made no mention of the error for fear of an audit. Instead, the money was expected to be used for one-time expenses for the department.

And did a single legislator raise the first question about the mistake?

Nah. It’s all good. Move along. Nothing to see here.

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A lawsuit was filed last Thursday in Civil District Court in New Orleans that seeks to disqualify Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) member Kira Orange Jones as a candidate for re-election to the 2nd District seat she has held since 2012.

While the petition of plaintiffs Linnell Steib and Michael McFarland cites only two causes for the disqualification of Jones, there appears to be an entire laundry list of reasons she should be disqualified as a candidate, some of which LouisianaVoice has addressed in previous posts.

Little is known about the plaintiffs other than a Google search turned up the name of one Linnell Steib as being manager of judicial courts of the State of Louisiana. There was another Linnell Steib, but his work address was given as Wichita, Kansas.

But as long as the plaintiffs are electors in Jones’s district, they have legal standing to bring the lawsuit to block her candidacy.

The two disqualifying points they list in their petition are:

  • Jones’s failure to file Louisiana state income tax returns for the years 2015 and 2017 as required for candidates;
  • Her failure to pay outstanding ethics fines and fees to the attorney general’s office totaling $8,800.

But there are other reasons, according to educator Mercedes Schneider, who has a web blog called DEUTSCH29 in which she points out Jones’s chronic absence from BESE, missing more than a third of its meetings altogether and either arriving late or listing alternatively no fewer than three separate residence addresses on various reporting forms—not counting the New Mexico address of her husband Christopher Ruszkowski, the former secretary-designee for the New Mexico Department of Education.

Schneider also questioned whether or not the New Mexico Department of Education had a contract with Teach for America (TFA), for whom Jones serves as an executive director (it does). Here is another of her posts about JONES.

LouisianaVoice had previously questioned possible conflicts of interest with Jones as an executive director for Teach for America (TFA), which had a lucrative contract with the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) even as she sat on BESE.

Schneider also noted that Jones sits on the board of directors for a non-profit called Instruction Partners (IP) which is listed by LDOE as a vendor for professional development for 2018-19, a relationship that also could be considered a conflict of interests or an ethics violation.

Finally, Schneider, on her blog, notes that Jones was “extremely delinquent” in filing her required annual financial disclosure forms with the state. In fact, Schneider said, as of August 11 of this year (last Monday), she still had not filed her annual disclosures for 2017 and 2018, only doing so on August 12 (last Tuesday), six days after she official qualified for reelection.

Apparently, there are those who worked for Jones at TFA who were less than enamored with her leadership. This from the website GLASSDOOR.COM.

Jones is opposed in this year’s election by Shawon Bernard and Ashonta Wyatt.

The Louisiana Democratic Party has Wyatt in the District 2 race.

“We’ve seen the effects of Democratic leadership versus Republican leadership on our educational systems,” Stephen Handwerk, Executive Director of the Louisiana Democratic Party said. “Under a Republican administration, we’ve seen underfunded education, underpaid teachers, and a lack of concern about investing in our children. Compare that to a Democratic administration who is putting teachers, students, and our educational institutions first and it’s clear why we need to support Louisiana Democrats for the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. The endorsements we made today will promote education reform and push our state forward and I’m confident we’ll see them making a difference this January.”

The following are candidates the Louisiana Democratic Party endorsed for BESE:

BESE District 2: 

Ashonta Wyatt

 

BESE District 6: 

Ciara Hart

 

BESE District 8:

Vereta Tanner Lee

Preston Castille

 

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If you are a school teacher in Louisiana or if you have a teacher in your family, here are nine names you should remember next October when voters march to the polls to elect a governor, 39 state senators and 105 state representatives:

These are the nine members of the House Education Committee who yanked $39 million from local school districts—money that could have gone to supplement an already insulting pay raise for teachers, provide classroom supplies and help absorb increases in health insurance premiums.

Oh, and just in case you’d like to thank them, here are the five who voted to keep the $39 million in the Minimum Foundation Plan as adopted by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE):

The $101 million for teacher pay raises (safe, for the moment) and the $39 million for local school districts were pat of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ plan to move Louisiana back to the Southern Regional Average.

Instead, the nine Republicans, led by committee chairperson Landry voted to send the MFP back to BESE with a request to cut the $39 million for local school districts.

Landry, who has been less than a friend to public education throughout her legislative career, was steadfast, stating from the start she was going to make the recommendation to send the MFP plan back to BESE.

Edmonds, in an attempt to give credence to Landry’s position, raised the point that Louisiana spends $12,153 per student which he said was $3,000 more than Texas and $2,000 more than Florida. He managed to get Superintendent of Education John White to acknowledge that the state ranks 46th in efficiency of funds spent on students.

And while saying there will likely be no new funds for early childhood education, Edmonds somehow managed to overlook the fact that Texas pays its state legislators $7,200 per year, less than ONE-THIRD of the $22,800 for Louisiana legislators.

That’s right: Louisiana spends $10,000 more per year on legislators to come to Baton Rouge to hobnob with lobbyists, to enjoy sumptuous meals at Sullivan’s and Ruth’s Chris than it does to education our children.

Let that sink in: $22,800 per legislator for a part-time job (and if they have to travel to Baton Rouge or anywhere else on state business, they get $164 per diem, plus travel expenses).

At the same time, we spend $12,153 per student.

It’d be pretty interesting to find a ranking of the state’s “efficiency of funds spent” on legislators.

Louisiana’s students are the second-poorest in the nation, White said, ahead of only Mississippi.

But what’s important is the tons of additional REVENUE many legislators earn as attorneys, accountants, etc., representing state and local governments. There are literally more hidden perks to being a legislator than could be listed here—and I have unlimited space.

But I digress. Landry, in order to bolster her disdain for public education in general and Gov. Edwards in particular, even called on Appropriations Committee Chairman Cameron Henry (R-Metairie) to address her committee on the $39 million proposal.

In case you might not be aware, if Henry had an alias, it would be: “Dedicated political enemy of John Bel Edwards, no matter what Edwards might propose.”

So, what it all boiled down to was the Republicans in the legislator led by Henry and Speaker Taylor Barras (R-New Iberia), unable to block the pay raises of $1,000 per year for teachers and $500 per year for support staff, were damn sure going to throw up as many roadblocks as they could for any additional funding for teachers—even at the cost of depriving local school districts desperately needed funds for resources and salaries.

At a press conference at the conclusion of Tuesday’s committee meeting, the Louisiana Public School Coalition urged BESE to stand firm on its MFP proposal and to push legislators approve it as is.

White showed how political loyalties can shift, even at full throttle. First appointed by Bobby Jindal and reappointed during the Edwards administration, he said, “The previous administration swung and missed badly” at early childhood education.

Even more revealing that the fate of the $39 million was sealed well in advance was the participation—or lack thereof—of committee members. Each of the five Democrats asked several relevant questions and made valid points while fewer than half of the nine Republicans had a word to say during discussion of a pretty important piece of legislation. And those who did speak, like Edmonds, did so only as a means of supporting Landry’s motion.

The others were strangely mute—almost as if they already had their marching orders from Landry, Henry and Barras.

And that’s how democracy in the gret stet of Looziana works.

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That ugly scene in which a Sterlington High School coach goaded a 16-year-old student into drinking vodka straight from a bottle and then physically attacked the youth, hitting him with his fists in the chest and face seems to have involved about half the officialdom of Ouachita Parish and maybe even a few folks from a neighboring parish.

Before taking this narrative any further, it’s important to remain focused on the primary issue because there are a lot of peripheral issues that come into play in its telling and each, in its own way, is an integral part of the whole.

In a nutshell, here is what happened:

Jack Goode, a coach, a teacher, an adult responsible for educating and molding the lives of young people, allowed teenagers who came to him for more beer after their supply ran out to handle an AR-10 assault rifle and then forced a 16-year-old, Chandler Jones, to drink vodka against his wishes, called him a p***y when he got sick from the booze and threw up, threatened to beat the youth like his (Goode’s) own father never had, then did so, striking him in the chest and face, and threatened to kill him, according to testimony given at an LSPC hearing.

Goode subsequently attacked Chandler Jones, throwing him down in a ditch while threatening to kill the youth and later appeared on a motorcycle at the home where the teenagers were partying and cut do-nuts in the lawn.

Goode was arrested on cruelty to a juvenile and for contributing to the delinquency of a minor but Geary Aycock, the district attorney’s chief felony prosecutor, inexplicably reduced the charges to simple battery and Goode was sentenced to pay a $300 fine, a sentence that was subsequently suspended, and he was placed on unsupervised probation. A condition of his probation was that he would not be able to seek employment at Sterlington High School nor Sterlington Junior High School. That wording is noteworthy because is said nothing about his working at other schools in Ouachita Parish.

Chandler’s mother, Haley Jones, a deputy sheriff, was subsequently accused of causing damage to her patrol car, demoted to radio duty and pushed to the point of resigning her job when she wasn’t even at the scene the night of the April 2017 incident. The pressure, she said, was because her father-in-law, a retired state trooper, posted comments about the incident on Facebook and Sheriff Jay Russell found his comments objectionable.

Her immediate supervisor was demoted from captain to lieutenant in the wake of the brawl triggered by an intoxicated high school coach when he remained with Mrs. Jones after she learned that her son had been attacked by Goode because he felt she was too distraught to be alone.

The deputy who conducted the investigation of the attack on Chandler Jones by Goode received a verbal reprimand.

Chandler’s dad, a Louisiana state trooper was initially recommended for a 40-hour suspension for interfering with the sheriff’s department’s investigation but had that reduced to 12 hours by LSP Superintendent Col. Kevin Reeves, which was in turn upheld by the LSPC. The trooper, Joseph Jones (Chandler’s father), was off-duty, not in uniform nor was he in a state police vehicle when he arrived at Goode’s home, though he did admit he had drunk “eight to 10 beers” prior to hearing of the incident with his son. He also admitted to using profanity and offered to drop criminal charges against Goode if the coach would take the matter into a nearby field to handle the matter like men.

You can go HERE and HERE to READ REPORTER Zach Parker’s entire story of the incident and the LSPC hearing in the Ouachita Citizen.

All of which brings us to these two very obvious questions which must remain the center of the discussion after all else is said and done and which must be answered by the proper authorities:

How is it that Jack Goode is now back in a classroom just down the road from Sterlington at West Monroe High School (in Ouachita Parish) teaching children?

For the answer, LouisianaVoice did a little investigation of our own and what we found was certainly interesting, if not conclusive.

It seems that Jack Goode is a native of Richland Parish.

His mother, Linda Goode, is Assistant Administrator at Richland Parish Hospital in Delhi.

She is a MEMBER of the hospital’s Advisory Committee and Community Partners for the Richland Parish School-Based Health Center for the Delhi senior and high schools.

State Sen. Francis Thompson also is a MEMBER of that same committee.

Linda Goode made five CONTRIBUTIONS of $200 each to Thompson’s political campaigns between 2010 and 2017 and son Jack Goode chipped in another $200 in 2014.

As we said, those facts, while intriguing, are not conclusive, so LouisianaVoice sent the following email to Thompson Thursday at 4:14 p.m.:

Senator, did you intervene or otherwise have any input, influence, or involvement in the decision by the Ouachita Parish School Board to hire Jack Goode to a teaching position at West Monroe High School after he agreed to resign from his teaching/coaching position at Sterlington High School as a result his providing alcohol for and fighting with a 16-year-old student in April 2017?

Did you discuss the status of Jack Goode with anyone either:

  • In the office of the Ouachita Parish District Attorney,
  • At the Ouachita Parish School Board office, including but not limited to School Board President Jerry Hicks,
  • Any official of West Monroe High School, or
  • Any individual associated with the Louisiana State Police?

Did anyone, including Jack or Emily Goode or Linda Goode, ever contact you on behalf of Jack Goode as a result of the altercation between juvenile Chandler Jones and Jack Goode?

On Friday at 9:46 a.m., we received this one-word response from Thompson through his Delhi Senate office:

From: Thompson, Sen. Francis (District Office) <thompsof@legis.la.gov>
Sent: Friday, September 14, 2018 9:46 AM
To: ‘Tom Aswell’ 
Subject: RE: JACK GOODE

No.

Perhaps this is an issue the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education might wish to take up.

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The key is to listen to what they don’t say.

Whenever an elected official or bureaucrat starts talking, especially if he’s boasting of some accomplishment, it’s important that you tune out what he says and listen closely to what’s not being said. Always.

A case in point is information fed to the public by the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) this week.

What they said: LDOE issued a glowing news release announcing that the Louisiana high school graduation rate for the class of 2017 was a record 78.1 percent, skyrocketing from the 77 percent of 2016.

What they didn’t say: The Louisiana high school graduation rate is 8th lowest in the nation, higher than Mississippi (4th lowest) and New Mexico (the lowest) but lower than Florida (9th lowest), Alabama (3rd highest), Arkansas (25th highest), Tennessee (9th highest), Oklahoma (21st lowest), and West Virginia (18th highest).

What they said: Students from low-income families graduated at a rate of 72.6 percent, in increase from 71.5 percent in 2016.

What they didn’t say: Speaking of low-income, the median salary for school teachers in Louisiana was 5th lowest in the country—$48,307, compared to the national median salary of $57,949. Mississippi is at rock bottom with a medial salary of $30,070 for all workers.

What Superintendent of Education John White said: “Not only is the state making progress but historically disadvantaged populations are also making progress at a rate that is greater than the state average.”

What he didn’t say: The per pupil expenditure of $12,153 is right in the middle of the pack at 25th highest, which can be attributed in large part to the flow of funding into charter and virtual schools and to top-heavy salaries in the Claiborne Building (headquarters for the Department of Education) where there are 37 political appointees knocking down an average of $127,000 per year.

What he said: “We know our graduation rate needs to be better.”

What he didn’t say: “At least we’re not Mississippi.”

 

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