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You’d think Gov. John Bel Edwards would be a little better at reading the tea leaves.

After all, it was Louisiana’s teachers who first pushed him over the top to win the governor’s election over David Vitter in 2015.

And the teachers again provided needed support when he was challenged by businessman Eddie Rispone who had the backing of would-be kingmaker Lane Grigsby.

So, how did Edwards reward teachers for their support?

A raise of $1,000 per year in 2019. That’s $83 per month before taxes—and that was nearly four years into his first term before he got around to doing that much.

Yes, I know a lot of workers in Louisiana didn’t get raises of $83 per month but before jumping in with that argument, consider what teachers are expected to do (other than teach in a classroom) and how their salaries stack up with other states.

Last April, the NEA released FIGURES that showed Louisiana’s teachers (before that $1,000-per-year boost) still ranked 13th lowest in the nation.

And those same figures showed that the national average teacher salary, adjusted for inflation, had actually decreased 4.5 percent over the previous decade. Teachers were paid 21.4 percent less than similarly-education and experienced professionals, the NEA study revealed.

The national average teacher salary increased from $59,539 for the 2016-17 school year to $60,477 for 2017-18,

The average pay for teachers in Louisiana was $50,256.

So, what did Edwards to this year to try and bring teacher into alignment with other states when he submitted his proposed budget for next year?

Crickets chirping. Nothing. Nada. Nil. Zip.

And his wife was a teacher before he was elected governor. His daughter is a school counselor.

As might be expected, teachers took umbrage at the governor’s slight—as well they should have.

An acquaintance offered a defense of sorts for the governor’s omission. “The Republican legislature wouldn’t approve another teacher pay raise anyway, so he just didn’t brother.”

My response to that is, “So what? Put it in the budget and put the onus on the legislators. Let them explain why Louisiana cannot support its teachers. There are, by the way, part-time legislators who pull down more than starting teachers in this state.

Gov. Edwards did finally reverse himself, but only after teachers bristled publicly. But you’d never know he truly felt their wrath when he offered up a $500 per year raise. That’s $42 per month, a little more than a dollar a day. You can’t even go to McDonald’s with that.

If Edwards is considering a run at John Kennedy’s Senate seat, he’d do well to remember the teachers.

And don’t give me that worn-out B.S. about teachers only working nine months a year. That’s pure bunk. No sooner than the school year is over than teachers must turn their attention to the coming year by preparing lesson plans, cleaning out classrooms, re-stocking supplies and attending meetings.

Teachers endure problems we can only imagine in our jobs. As a news reporter, I would get irate calls from subjects of my stories but try sitting across the desk from an arrogant parent who won’t accept the explanation that their kid, who never received discipline or help with his homework at home, is disruptive, a problem student and deserved that poor grade or suspension.

Teachers must watch for signs their students are abused at home. Ever had to do that in your job? Ever had to look at a bruised child and asked him or her to tell you what happened? It’s a pretty depressing responsibility and can leave teachers sickened with nightmares.

Sometimes teachers are called on to stop a bullet to save a child—and they do it, Alex Jones’s claims to the contrary notwithstanding.

Test papers are taken home by teachers who, while the rest of the family is watching American Idol, must plod through 25 or 30 test papers for grading. They sacrifice time with their own families so they can devote time to their jobs.

Teachers dip into their own pocketbooks to purchase materials for their classrooms. And believe me, that isn’t cheap. I knew a teacher in Lincoln Parish who bought shoes for a child who had none.

They are saddled with tons of paperwork other than test grading and they are burdened with bureaucratic requirements in preparation for standardized testing and if the kids don’t do well, it’s the teacher who bears the brunt of evaluations by politicians who decide who is and who isn’t a good teacher—without ever meeting the teacher or sitting in her classroom.

Teachers must step in to stop fights and God help her if she’s a little too physical with the kids. Might as well go ahead and retain legal counsel.

And sometimes a teacher spots potential in a kid no one else has seen. They take the student under their wing, nurture his/her talents, and develop a kid everyone thought had no future into a productive citizen. On that point, I speak from experience. Thank you, Mrs. Garrett, Miss Lewis, Miss Hinton, Mr. Peoples and Mr. Ryland. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Teachers deserve better, Gov. Edwards. As a friend suggested, “Go big or go home.”

You gave state police enormous pay raises. You gave your cabinet members substantial increases.

Teachers, cafeteria workers and other school employees deserve nothing less than the same consideration you’ve given state troopers and cabinet members.

You’re beginning to look a lot like Bobby Jindal.

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Pre-trial intervention (PTI) programs, in theory at least, are designed to give those charged with a first offense—such as driving while intoxicated (DWI), for example—to keep the conviction off their record by participating in a program of community service or a series of classroom sessions, usually extended over a period of several weeks.

The purpose of the programs, again in theory, is that not every person charged with an offense should be subjected to criminal prosecution and that there are those who can be prevented from becoming repeat offenders through proper intervention.

The problem with Louisiana’s PTI programs is that there is no uniform application or oversight, allowing local district attorneys complete autonomy in how the programs are administered.

Instead of serving their intended purpose, many local PTI programs have morphed into cash cows and as such, lend themselves to widespread abuses at the expense of other programs such as indigent defender boards and local law enforcement.

In May 2018, former Baton Rouge Advocate (now Associated Press) reporter Jim Mustian wrote an excellent story that illustrated that very point. His entire story may be seen HERE.

Mustian showed that from 2012 to 2017, two parishes in particular had taken advantage of the program to create a lucrative source of income for prosecutors while a third did even better during the years from 2012 to 2017.

Calcasieu Parish District Attorney John DeRosier saw income for his office increase threefold, from $556,000 in 2012 to $1.65 million in 2016. Jefferson Parish did even better with its income from PTI programs increasing four times, from $335,000 to $1.37 million during the same period.

But Rapides Parish DA Phillip Terrell has turned the practice into an art form, boosting his PTI revenue by a factor of seven, from $302,000 in 2012 to a mind-blowing $2.2 million in 2017.

Still, that influx of new dollars didn’t keep Terrell from requesting more than $2.5 million in parish funds for his office in 2018 despite a looming budgetary shortfall of $427,000 for the parish.

That was enough to attract the attention of online publication Politico, which normally devotes its attention to stories of national and international significance than to the budgetary problems of a parish situated in the middle of Louisiana. Politico’s story can been read in its entirety HERE.

Rapides Parish Treasurer Bruce Kelly wondered why the DA’s office was suddenly asking for more funds than at any time in his 30 years in the parish treasurer’s office knowing, as he did, that the DA had a new fleet of vehicles with leather seats.

He soon learned why.

Pre-trial diversion, otherwise known as pre-trial intervention, or PTI.

The DA’s income from court fines had dropped by nearly half, from $900,000 to $500,000 over the past three years. That corresponded with a similar drop in traffic tickets issued—from 12,000 per year to 7,000.

At the same time, however, Terrell’s office had significantly increased its PTI program, allowing offenders to pay money to the DA in exchange for charges being dropped and their cases dismissed, thus keeping their tickets or arrests off their records as though they never happened.

Offenders were charged dismissal fees ranging from $250 for traffic tickets, $500 for misdemeanors and as high as $1,500 for felonies.

And Terrell’s office, Kelly learned, was keeping that money for itself—money that should have gone into the parish’s general fund to be shared with indigent defender offices and the sheriff’s office.

Believing Terrell was depriving the parish of fine money to which it was entitled, Kelly and the parish leadership filed suit against Terrell’s office in an effort to get the court to force the DA to share its PTI revenue.

Terrell responded that he could make as much as he wanted through PTI because…well, because the law didn’t say otherwise.

And he was right in the assertion that there were no statewide standards to the implementation and operation of PTI programs and thus, no restrictions as to his ability to exploit the program.

To make his case, he brought in a hired gun in the person of Hugo Holland, a prosecutor who normally works only as a prosecutor in criminal cases and who appears to be on the payroll of several parish district attorneys simultaneously, from Caddo Parish in north Louisiana to Calcasieu Parish in the state’s southwestern extreme.

The battle between Terrell and Rapides Parish Police Jury took on true Trumpian overtones when Holland threatened the police jury members with investigations into their own use of funds if they did not agree to drop their fight with his client. When that tactic failed, Terrell filed a countersuit arguing that he did not owe any money to the parish and calling the police jury’s lawsuit “politically-driven.”

It’s easy to see why Terrell is so possessive of his sudden stream of income—and why similar battle lines could be drawn between prosecutors and parish governing bodies as more and more DAs are made aware of the untapped revenue windfalls currently available to them.

It’s also pretty easy to predict an intense lobbying campaign by the Louisiana District Attorneys Association (LDAA) to protect PTI programs from regulation should some state lawmaker have the temerity to introduce legislation to rein in such a lucrative enterprise.

I’m willing to bet even money that Arkansas would have a better chance of beating LSU today than any such bill would have of making it out of committee.

 

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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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The Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s office, as required by law, issued its Report on Fiscal Deficiencies, Inefficiencies, Fraud, or Other Significant Issues Disclosed in Governmental Auditors for the first quarter of Fiscal Year 2019 last October.

And now, six months down the road, it’s a pretty good bet that no more than a handful of legislators, at best, have even glanced at the five-page REPORT that nine state agencies and one local agency for 17 deficiencies or irregularities totaling more than $245.7 million. Some of the deficiencies reported go back as far as 2008.

In fact, the smart money says that no more than a half-dozen of the 28 House members and 19 Senators who comprise the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget have even picked up a copy of the report.

After all, there are campaign funds to be raised and lobbyists to be kept happy and one must have priorities.

And these are the ones who are charged with watching the purse strings on the state budget:

Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget (JLCB)

HOUSE
Henry, Cameron                           Chairman                          
Abraham, Mark                           Member                          
Abramson, Neil C.                           Member                          
Amedée, Beryl                           Member                          
Armes, James K.                           Member                          
Bacala, Tony                           Member                          
Bagley, Larry                           Member                          
Berthelot, John A.                           Member                          
Billiot, Robert E.                           Member                          
Carter, Gary                           Member                          
Chaney, Charles R.                           Member                          
Edmonds, Rick                           Member                          
Falconer, Reid                           Member                          
Foil, Franklin J.                           Member                          
Harris, Lance                           Member                          
Hodges, Valarie                           Member                          
Leger, Walt III                           Member                          
McFarland, Jack                           Member                          
Miguez, Blake                           Member                          
Miller, Dustin                           Member                          
Pylant, Steve E.                           Member                          
Richard, Jerome                           Member                          
Simon, Scott M.                           Member                          
Smith, Patricia Haynes                           Member                          
Zeringue, Jerome                           Member                          
Jackson, Katrina R.                           Interim Member                          
Stokes, Julie                           Interim Member                          
Barras, Taylor F.                           Ex Officio                          

 

SENATE
LaFleur, Eric                           Vice Chair                          
Allain, R. L. Bret                           Member                          
Appel, Conrad                           Member                          
Barrow, Regina                           Member                          
Bishop, Wesley T.                           Member                          
Donahue, Jack                           Member                          
Fannin, James R.                           Member                          
Hewitt, Sharon                           Member                          
Johns, Ronnie                           Member                          
Martiny, Daniel R.                           Member                          
Morrell, Jean-Paul J.                           Member                          
Tarver, Gregory                           Member                          
White, Mack “Bodi”                           Member                          
Chabert, Norbèrt N. “Norby”                           Interim Member                          
Morrish, Dan W. “Blade”                           Interim Member                          
Thompson, Francis C.                           Interim Member                          
Walsworth, Michael A.                            Interim Member                          
Alario, John                            Ex Officio                          
Long, Gerald                           Ex Officio                    

 

I base my opinion on the premise that had any of them read the report, they would—or should—be raising holy hell over such things as:

  • For the sixth consecutive report, the Department of Environmental Quality has not fully implemented effective monitoring procedures over the Waste Tire Management Program (WTMP) to ensure that waste tire date used to calculate subsidized payments to waste tire processors is reasonable. “We first reported weaknesses in controls over payments to WTMP processors in our engagement that covered fiscal years 2008 and 2009,” the report says. For the period from July 1, 2007, through June 30, 2017, DEQ paid out $99.4 million in subsidies to six waste tire processors.

Other major deficiencies cited included:

Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (Hazard Mitigation):

  • Expense reimbursements not supported by invoices, receipts, lease agreements, contracts, labor policies, time records, equipment logs HUD settlement statements, appraisals, elevation certificates, duplication of benefits verification, engineer plans inspection photographs or other documentation: $1.8 million;
  • Contracts and purchases did not comply with applicable federal and state procurement requirements: $1.47 million.

Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (Public Assistance):

  • Completed work not within the scope of an approved project: $2.3 million;
  • Expense reimbursements not supported by invoices, receipts, lease agreements, contracts, labor policies, time records, equipment logs, inventory records or other documentation: $40.1 million;
  • Contract and purchases did not comply with applicable federal and state procurement requirements: $11.95 million;
  • Work reflected in the expense reimbursements did not comply with applicable FEMA regulations: $9.4 million;
  • GOHSEP’s cost estimating tool and/or expense review form either omitted or contained duplicate and/or incorrectly categorized expenses: $956,000.

Attorney General:

  • The AG did not deposit money into the Fraud Fund in fiscal year 2016 in accordance with state law: $713,000.

Louisiana Department of Health:

  • LDH did not deposit money into its Fraud Fund between fiscal years 2012 and 2017 in accordance with state law: $2.8 million;
  • LDH incorrectly deposited money into the Medicaid Fraud Fund in fiscal year 2012 that should have been deposited into the Nursing Home Residents’ Trust Fund: $323,000;
  • LDH spent money from the Medicaid Fraud Fund in fiscal year 2017 for salaries that do not appear to meet the intended purpose of the Fraud Fund: $477,000;
  • LDH spent money from the Medicaid Fraud Fund in fiscal 2012 on software that could not be implemented due to system compatibility issues: $643,000.

Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (Oil Spill):

  • Amounts requested/invoiced not supported by invoices, receipts, lease agreements, contracts, labor policies, time records, equipment logs

It’s somewhat puzzling when people like Reps. Cameron Henry (R-Metairie) and Taylor Barras (R-New Iberia) try to fight the governor’s budgetary proposals at every opportunity (including his attempt to increase teachers’ pay) but you never hear a peep out of them about a paltry $245 million.

And Henry just happens to be chairman of the JLCB and Barras just happens to be Speaker of the House.

As our late friend, C.B. Forgotston was fond of saying, “You can’t make this stuff up.”

 

 

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LouisianaVoice has expressed concerns about the industrial tax incentives, aka giveaway programs, for years. It has been our contention that while welfare cheats are an easy target for criticism, the money lost to fraudulent welfare and Medicaid recipients is eclipsed by the billions of dollars stolen from taxpayers in the form of industrial tax exemptions, incentives, and credits.

Of course, the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry would never concede that fact. Instead, they use the stage magician’s tactic of misdirection by claiming runaway lawsuits, organized labor, higher wages (they are especially terrified of an increase in the $7.25 minimum wage) and poor public education performance are to blame for Louisiana’s economic and social ills.

Never (not once) will one hear LABI point to poverty as a cause of the state’s low ranking in everything good and high ranking in everything bad. Never (not once) will one hear LABI, the local chambers of commerce, or the Louisiana Office of Economic Development call attention to the billions of dollars in relief given businesses and industry—from Wal Mart to Exxon—in the form of corporate welfare—leaving it to working Louisianans to pick up the check.

And all you have to do to understand how this has occurred is to follow the money in the form of campaign contributions to legislators and governors and visit the State Capitol during a legislative session and try—just try—to count the lobbyists. Better yet, you may do better by counting lobbyists and legislators following adjournment each night as they gather for steaks, lobster and adult beverages at Sullivan’s or Ruth’s Chris—compliments of lobbyists’ expense accounts.

And while LouisianaVoice has attempted to call attention to this piracy, an outfit called Together Louisiana has put together a 15-minute video presentation that brings the picture into sharp, stark focus. The contrast between two separate economies living side by side is stunning.

Stephen Winham, retired director of Louisiana’s Executive Budget Office called the video “a super good presentation of facts our decision-makers choose to ignore as they have for many, many decades.”

Winham went a step further in saying, “Our leaders seem to think we are all too dumb to understand this—and that’s a positive assessment. A more jaundiced view would be that they don’t want us to understand it.

“All we can do is keep on keeping on with our individual attempts to communicate this and let our elected officials know that we do understand and that we hold them responsible and accountable. Unfortunately, when I attempt to talk about this with individuals and groups, their eyes glaze over within minutes. I’m not going to stop trying, though, and neither should anybody else.

“I am happy to have this information in such a tight presentation,” Winham said.

So, with that, here is that video:

 

And if that’s not enough to convince you, THIS STORY was posted late Friday.

 

 

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