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Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

MAGNIFYING GLASS

By Ken Booth

Guest Columnist 

Under the provisions of Louisiana 44:1 et seq. (The Public Records Law), should any local or state government official raise questions as to whether requested records are public, the agency’s custodian of public documents is required to notify in writing the person making the request of the custodian’s determination and the reasons, including the legal basis. Said notice shall be made within three days of the request exclusive of Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays (emphasis added).

The law is pretty plain. It doesn’t say “may be made,” “might be made” or “should be made” within three days. The word used was shall.

MIKE EDMONSON PHOTO

But with the introduction of the new administration, elected and appointed officials in Louisiana seem to have decided they are exempt from provisions of the state law…one of them, the head of the State Police, of all people, even having “manufactured…own loophole for denying public records requests,” as reported by Louisiana Voice. https://louisianavoice.com/2016/06/01/lsp-stakes-out-claim-that-investigations-records-are-exempt-from-public-records-law-if-no-disciplinary-action-is-taken/

Are they perhaps taking their cues from federal officials?  Within the past week, for instance, the State Department told a federal court that processing a demand for documents relating to Hillary Clinton and her aides would take as long as 75 years and would stretch “generations.”

Besides Obama, of course, Nixon, both Bushes and Bill Clinton have regularly invoked executive privilege as a means of protecting documents from public scrutiny.

What brings this to mind are a series of demands for public records recently involving three areas of significant public interest but which have either gone unacknowledged or denied or even fought with lawsuits against the public seeking the records.  That’s a mean stretch even by Louisiana’s political and corruption standards.

When the weekly Ouachita Citizen sought to follow-up on a state audit that pointed to possible payroll fraud involving a law clerk for the 4th Judicial District Court, the court’s judges balked and denied the paper’s request for disciplinary action taken against court clerk Allyson Campbell over her alleged falsification of time sheets and other public documents.

When the newspaper filed a complaint with the District Attorney, the court filed a lawsuit against the newspaper which from a financial standpoint would effectively throttle further attempts to litigate the issue.

The paper has multiple public requests in at the office of state Attorney-General Jeff Landry which have for weeks gone unanswered.

Similarly, a couple of my own requests (shown here) to the new “transparency-minded” and “aggressive” Republican Attorney-General remain without result except for one letter which said it “may take some time.”

In a June 7th E-mail to Landry’s office, I wrote: “I would very much appreciate either the documents requested sixteen days ago or an opinion from that office on why they cannot be produced. Please know this is a public records request that will not go away silently.”

Landry’s press secretary Ruth Wisher has made sure that reporters know that her boss doesn’t always return her texts. Well, that certainly makes everything hunky-dory.

BOOTH REQUEST

AG RESPONSE TO BOOTH

BOOTH FOLLOW UP REQUEST
           Known records requests to the AG’s office also demand access to a state police report on its investigation into the allegations of possible payroll fraud and destruction or concealment of court documents. A report on the findings from a companion investigation by the Inspector General’s office was released back on April 15th. The state police report is known to be in the hands of the Attorney General.

All of this is at odds with the very public Landry who has been throwing his weight around the capitol lately pushing for control of his agency’s own finances, making national headlines while trying unsuccessfully to crack down on illegal aliens, and squaring off (at least publicly) with the Gov. John Bel Edwards as if he hopes to succeed him some day.

But Landry and the 4th Judicial District Court in Ouachita Parish are not the only ones playing keep-away with public records.

LouisianaVoice has been repeatedly stymied by the Louisiana State Police with respect to sought after records.

In fact, as a recent LouisianaVoice post notes, Edmonson has manufactured his own loophole for denying public records requests after tiring, he suggests, of the public learning of “far too many instances of misconduct at LSP followed by a mindset of circling the wagons.”

Several high-profile cases of alleged improper State Trooper conduct have been determined to have been free of wrong doing and are therefore exempt  from public records laws if no diciplinary action is taken. That’s staking out a rather questionable claim by the Supertindent.

Curiously, however, his agency did release records showing payroll fraud had occurred at Troop D headquartered in Lake Charles when the lieutenant there was accused of having instructed the men under his command to pad their time sheets to reflect work that had not been performed.

Ironically, that’s the same charge investigated by the same LSP against the law clerk in Ouachita Parish, the report of which has been hidden from public scrutiny even amid growing speculation nothing will come of the charges against her or the Judges who approved her bogus time sheets. It should be noted that the Troop D lieutenant was found to have engaged in “no wrong doing” and access to any investigation findings with respect to him has been denied. However, a trooper he supervised and who figured in the padded time sheets was fired.

The Superintendent of the Louisiana State Police is appointed by the Governor with consent of the State Senate. Edmonson had—and continues to have—the support of Gov. Edwards.

Edwards is also credited with preserving through his influence, at least indirectly, the job of another Jindal administration hold-over department head, Education Superintendent John White. While White actually is appointed by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education over which the governor has little control since most board members are elected, his stated support of White certainly didn’t hurt.

JOHN WHITE PHOTO

White, a 2012 BESE appointee, has been under considerable public fire over his steadfast defense of the Common Core program.

White has filed a lawsuit against two individuals seeking public records in five different requests from the Department of Education, presumably to block their access to dirty laundry in that agency as might be said of the lawsuit by the Judges in Monroe against The Ouachita Citizen.

Even considering Louisiana’s notorius reputation for politial scandals, suing private citizens or even the news media by government agencies has plunged the state’s standards to a new low.

As has been pointed out elsewhere the use of unlimited financial and legal resources—all paid for by the taxpayers—to block citizens with limited financial means is a dangerous threat to the very notion of checks and balances that are supposed to protect the public from abuse.

For those elected Louisiana officials to sit back and do nothing to put a stop to this unprecedented assault on the public’s right-to-know is pretty much tantamount to an endorsement of such actions.

And if the civilian public looks the other way when this kind of mess is exposed and doesn’t demand that it stop then expect the level of distrust to grow.

 

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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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It seems that certain state officials are finding a new means of discouraging Louisiana citizens from seeking information about the way the public’s business is being conducted. This new tactic is nothing less than a form of official harassment that is both chilling and dangerous.

Transparency and accountability in government are currently hot news topics. Last week (May 26), a local Baton Rouge group, Leaders with Vision, held a lunch meeting and discussion with the theme, “Are Louisiana Sunshine Laws adequate in today’s 21st Century World?” Participants included Sen. Dan Claitor; Rep. Dee Richard; Former Baton Rouge Advocate Executive Editor and transparency advocate Carl Redman and LouisianaVoice Editor Tom Aswell.

Both the state and the federal government recognize the need for transparency in the democratic process. Louisiana passed the Louisiana Public Records Act, also known as Louisiana’s Sunshine Law, in 1940 – more than 25 years before President Lyndon Johnson signed the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in 1966. Anyone can request public records and the purpose of the request does not need to be stated. In fact, the custodian of the record is not allowed to ask the purpose. The major exemptions are pending criminal litigation; juvenile status offenders; sexual offense victims; security procedures; trade secrets; and some public employee information.

Unfortunately, not everyone in government agrees with the concept of transparency and accountability. We have public officials suing constituents in an obvious effort to prevent them from accessing public records. Two recent examples follow.

On May 27, A LouisianaVoice REPORT revealed that several judges in the 4th Judicial Circuit Court filed a lawsuit against The Ouachita Citizen and Publisher Sam Hanna, Jr to prevent the publication from seeking public records to which they were legally entitled. In this case, judges are suing a publication to prevent them from accessing public records concerning the court operation and their presumably dirty laundry.

Now we find that closer to home, John White has likewise filed a LAWSUIT against Mike Deshotels and Dr. James Finney over public record requests that they made to the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) – most likely because they have hit a nerve.

On May 31, 2016, Dr. James Finney detailed the history of the suits in a letter to the Governor, John White, the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) members, and various state staff how the lawsuit came about:

As you may recall, I sent you an email March 12 (attached below) describing the status of several pending record requests that I had placed with John White and the Department of Education.  I also mentioned the existence of a lawsuit (Finney vs White, 6395333, attached).  That lawsuit, which was filed May 22, 2015, was set for trial in late April.

However, on April 11, Mr. White’s attorney requested and was granted a continuance, presumably to become better prepared for trial and to resolve a scheduling conflict with the Department’s sole witness.  Rather than prepare for trial, however, it seems that Mr. White instead instructed his attorney to file two lawsuits against me which appear to be groundless, unnecessary, and against the public interest. Meanwhile, Mr. White and his staff have made no effort to address the 35 pending requests which are subject of my lawsuit.

The first new lawsuit (White vs Finney, 647827, attached) addresses five requests I made in fall 2015, five that I made in February of this year, and one that I made in March. In the lawsuit, Mr. White apparently is asking the judge to create special conditions on Louisiana’s public records law. It seems that, for whatever reason, Mr. White is bending over backward to make sure the public has no idea what statistical distributions LEAP, iLEAP, or EOC test scores follow.  Are they symmetric?  Skewed?  Bimodal? Uniform?  Nor does he, it seems, wish the public to have any means of verifying that School or District Performance Scores have been fairly and accurately calculated.

The second new lawsuit (White vs Deshotels et al, 647953, attached) attempts to reverse favorable judgments Mr. Deshotels received in two prior lawsuits, and apply that reversal (which seems unlikely given that the 19th JDC is not an appellate court) to a subsequent request by Mr. Deshotels and also to one of my requests.  He seeks to use Mr. Deshotels and I as pawns, and cost us additional time and money, to establish a data-suppression policy that was already soundly rejected at court.

I have repeatedly requested meetings with Mr. White and/or his staff to work out arrangements that allow the public to have access to important public records without compromising student privacy nor causing the Department undue burden. I have consistently been rebuffed. And now we’re tangled in litigation in three different divisions of the local district court.

Most of my requests to date, and all that are subject to litigation thus far, could be collected into the following six categories. I trust you would consider these all to be important and of potential public interest:

  • calculation details regarding Value-Added Modeling as performed by the Department
  • voucher programs’ exact enrollments and costs, and demographics of voucher students
  • test-score distributions and technical reports
  • details of School and District Performance Score calculations adequate to verify accuracy and credibility
  • charter schools’ enrollments, charters and leases, and other information
  • exact enrollment numbers with no more suppression than is absolutely required to protect the anonymity of an individual student

I urge you as a body to ask Mr. White to defend his position regarding data secrecy, and his preference for litigation over useful dialogue. Is the department in service to the public, or to test-creators, charter networks and private schools? Have the school grades and Value-Added measures been calculated fairly?  How will we ever know? Is Southern politeness more important than democracy? Is it appropriate to sue citizens rather than responding properly to public record requests?  Please ponder those questions carefully, and provide the appropriate guidance to the Superintendent who is employed at your pleasure.

Thank you.

Dr. James Finney

As one might expect, the suits against Deshotels and Finney are funded by you, the taxpayer, as the LDOE has brought the suit using LDOE funds. Deshotels and Finney are on their own when it comes to legal fees related to these suits. Just to be clear:  You are covering the costs for John White to sue private citizens to prevent them from exercising their constitutional rights.

Of course, Deshotels and Dr. Finney intend to pursue the suit in the courts, rather than ask for a dismissal, to press forward on their requests to this public information that is critical to determining the impact of various policies on our children’s education and the efficacy of the charter experiment in Louisiana. (Remember the last time the government experimented in the south? It happened at Tuskegee.)

As Mercedes Schneider recently noted in her blog deutsch29, “Suing private citizens over public record requests is a new low for an already sorry excuse of a state superintendent. However, it seems that with White, no low is too low.” https://deutsch29.wordpress.com/2016/05/31/la-superintendent-john-white-sues-citizens-who-made-public-records-requests/

The use of virtually unlimited financial and legal resources (at taxpayer expense, no less) to beat down citizens with limited funds to fight back poses an unprecedented and dangerous threat to the very checks and balances upon which our government is founded.

When will Governor Edwards tire of this excuse for a superintendent and encourage the BESE board to bring John White’s tenure up for a vote? Let’s get the BESE members on record as to whether they stand for Louisiana’s children or for the out-of-state interests that bought their seats. Let’s decide, once and for all, if BESE stands for accountability or for secrecy.

For Edwards, the Legislature, and BESE to sit back and do nothing about this infringement upon the public’s right to know should be seen as an endorsement of clandestine activity worthy only of our distrust and fear.

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Three book signings have be set for my latest book, Bobby Jindal: His Destiny and Obsession.

Our first book signing will be this Saturday at 2 p.m. at Cavalier House Books in Denham Springs’ Antique Village. It’s the same store where I held my first book signing for my first book, Louisiana Rocks: The True Genesis of Rock & Roll.

Also on hand for this Saturday’s signing will be Del Hahn, author of Smuggler’s End: The Life and Death of Barry Seal. Hahn is the retired FBI agent who successfully pursued Seal. I had a small hand in the book as editor.

Before we go any further, it might be worthwhile to point out that my book about Jindal is not a powderpuff book in the mold of the two books by Jindal which probably resulted in his dislocating his shoulder from repeatedly patting himself on the back.

Please know that this book was undertaken and written in its entirety with zero collaboration or cooperation from anyone in the Jindal camp.

It’s the kind of book that result in my being removed from Jindal’s Christmas card list—had we ever been on that list, which we certainly were not.

This 294-page book is an examination that addresses several issues:

  • How did Jindal become a multi-millionaire after only three years in Congress?
  • Jindal’s claims of a new high standard of ethics are debunked by his own actions as governor.
  • Jindal’s claim of transparency is also belied by his penchant for secrecy.
  • His vindictive nature in firing or demoting anyone and everyone who dared disagree with him.
  • His awarding of prestigious board and commission memberships to big contributors.
  • His sorry record in protecting the state’s environment and the state’s coastline.
  • His mysterious deal to sell state hospitals via a contract containing 50 blank pages.
  • His single-handed destruction of higher education and health care.
  • His near-comical, yet pathetic candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination.

There is much, much more, of course, but you will have to get the book to read it.

Here is the current schedule for upcoming book signings:

  • Cavalier House Books in Denham Springs: Saturday, May 14, at 2 p.m.
  • The Winn Parish Library in Winnfield: Thursday, May 19, at 2 p.m.
  • Barnes and Noble Bookstore in Mandeville, Saturday, June 18, from 2 to 4 p.m.

This schedule will be updated as additional signings are scheduled.

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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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