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“Other” Bill To Return Schools Is
Just A Ploy To Maintain The Status Quo

A NEW ORLEANS TRIBUNE EDITORIAL:

After more than 10 years of disorder, disenfranchisement and damage to public school students in Orleans Parish as a result of so-called reform efforts that amounted to a state-sanctioned experiment on public school students, it seems now everyone wants schools to “return” to the Orleans Parish School Board.

All of a sudden, return is “inevitable”. And everyone wants to talk about what local governance is going to look like. Yeah, right.

Those pushing the pro-reform agenda want to hold meetings with and make donations to this community organization and that local group, some of which have never before expressed interest in education as a policy issue. Of course, this is a part of the reformers’ playbook to gain the backing of “trusted” groups and individuals to sway the opinion of the people. Luckily, after more than 10 years of this exploitation, we no longer trust so easily. Truth is, in the past 10 years, we cannot remember a time when so many people across the board agreed that schools needed to return to local elected school boards.

We will tell you what we do remember. We remember futile attempts by members of the community to return John McDonogh High School to OPSB. We remember students at John Mac and Walter L. Cohen protesting at their respective campuses and at RSD headquarters, demanding redress for any number of grievances and being all but ignored. We recall dozens upon dozens of parents raising concerns that loosely managed charter schools were not serving their special needs students.

April2016.inddAnd we remember that state Rep. Joe Bouie, during his first stint in the legislature, authored and presented a bill to return schools operating under the Recovery School District to the control of the elected school board from which they were transferred. We remember that when true education advocates, students, parents, and taxpayers that understood the fallacy that operated in Orleans under the guise of reform and demanded that their schools come back, Rep. Bouie listened.

His action was bold. He had done something that none of his colleagues in either the House or the Senate had done, though many of them had served in the legislature years before his arrival. And more than a few of them were complicit in approving the legislative framework that made way for the experiment that has become education “reform” in Orleans Parish. Make no mistake—that is what we remember.

Bouie’s bill is a straightforward proposal that mirrored the original intent and spirit of the law that created the Recovery School District and that was subsequently bastardized by former state superintendent Paul Pastorek with the collusion of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education by placing the decision of return in the hands of un-elected charter school board members.

Under this drawn-out plan only one school has returned to OPSB despite dozens being eligible to do so. But Bouie’s bill would have created a simple path for schools no longer considered failing to be handed over to the local school boards from which they were taken following the original intent of the law. It was real uncomplicated—kind of like the uncomplicated manner in which our schools were stolen. If the state no longer considers it a failing school, it goes back to the local school board—no caveats and no conditions on return. Just do it.

During the last regular session, his bill made it out of committee, but failed on the House floor. He promised, however, to reintroduce the bill in the next regular session.

Isn’t That Ironic

April2016.inddAnd he has. Bouie is back with HB 466. And that is great, especially now that EVERYONE agrees that return is inevitable, right?

Problem is now that the return of schools to local, elected boards is so unavoidable and so inevitable and so unstoppable, HB 466 has competition; and a clear and straightforward path to return just doesn’t seem to be good enough. All of a sudden, state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson’s SB 432 is gaining momentum. State senators Wesley Bishop, Troy Carter and J.P. Morrell, along with state representatives John Bagneris, Gary Carter, Jimmy Harris, Stephanie Hilferty, Walt Leger and Helena Moreno have signed on in support of Peterson’s bill, which has garnered a lot of support from the usual suspects in the pro-reform community.

Still, we wonder why these legislators did not just sign on in support of Bouie’s HB 466? They knew he would return with the bill, which was pre-filed back in early March. Why isn’t HB 466 good enough?

HB 466 is clear, concise and effective without imposing a gang of unnecessary qualifications. It is a bill that trusts the ability of local school boards to govern the schools under their control. And it is a bill that would actually give them to ability to govern returning schools, not just loosely “oversee” them in name or allow them to operate independently. Why can’t they see that HB 466 works? Could it be that the supporters of SB 432 don’t care at all about the return of schools to duly elected school boards?

The Problems with SB 432

For whatever reason, SB 432 is the pending legislation that appears fast-tracked to define how schools under the RSD return to local control.

What’s wrong with it? Where do we begin? Well, let us count the ways.

This “other” return-the-schools bill that is set to be introduced in the state Senate education committee this week is duplicitous and misleading—11 pages of convoluted mumbo-jumbo that mostly spell out what charter schools may do and what schools boards can and cannot do once schools return to local control.

The bill fails to lay out conditions upon which return occurs. It only states that by July 2018, every school “transferred” to the RSD shall be returned to the school system from which it was transferred and that by July 2017, at least 10 schools must be transferred from the RSD. Schools can volunteer, but if 10 schools do not volunteer to do so by July 2017, the state board of education will develop a policy to select those 10 schools that will return.

Here is why that is problematic. We thought there was already a policy in place for determining when schools could return. Once a school is no longer deemed failing—meaning sufficient improvement in academic performance has been made—schools can make the decision to return, a right unelected board should have never been given, by the way. Why is this measure no longer sufficient? We are almost certain that it will not be the measure used by BESE in any new policy to decide what schools return to local, elected school boards. If that were the case, it would have been written into the legislation. Instead, Sen. Peterson leaves determining which schools return by 2017 up to BESE with vague, imprecise language, instead of clear practice and explicit policy. For example, the bill could have read that if at least 10 schools do not volunteer to return by 2017, BESE will select the schools (up to the number needed to make 10) with the highest SPS scores to be transferred to local school board control.

Worst case scenario, BESE could construct a policy to do the exact opposite, transferring to local school boards the worst performing, most dysfunctional charter schools now operating under the RSD—a move that would set local school systems up for cyclical failure. Don’t think they would do it? Let’s face it, we are talking about the same state government that has raised and then lowered minimum SPS scores to fit self-serving needs and hide the failure of this reform.

Also, under SB 432, any schools currently under construction would remain under the control of the RSD until “construction is substantially complete.” It is a move that only prolongs the rightful return of schools to real local control. The school board itself can stand in the way of returning schools, prolonging the process by as much as a year with a two-thirds majority vote of its members if it desires to do so.

The biggest problems as we see it with SB 432 is that it allows any charter school under the elected board’s jurisdiction and with approval from the board to act as its own local education agency. We can imagine this current board and superintendent, with their pro-reform leanings, allowing this to happen with ease. Instead of one troublesome recovery school district, Orleans Parish would be littered with dozens of schools effectively acting as their own governing agencies—hardly different from what we have now and, in fact, a much worse scenario. If any of these schools are allowed to become their own LEAs then it is no longer under the control or direction of the elected school board or the RSD for that matter. We bet every one of these schools will line up to just that. That is why this impractical and excessive option was even written into the proposed legislation. Don’t you see? This is the plan. State Sen. Peterson and these other legislators will get to say that they authored a bill to bring our schools back and enjoy any political capital that affords them; meanwhile, every one of the 60 plus schools operating under the RSD will ask local school boards to act as their own LEAs. And these boards—many of them with members whose campaigns were financed with money from the corporate-driven, pro-reform movement will simply rubber stamp their request.

And before anyone dares quip that we must be careful in returning schools because “we can’t let things go back to the way they were” before the takeover and start ranting about “corruption” and “mismanagement”, you have to know that in the more than 10 years since the takeover of public schools, charter school operators and their employees have tampered with tests scores and have been implicated in cheating scandals. They have stolen public money. The RSD has time and again been cited by the state legislative auditor for losing track of millions in public property. And the lack of oversight and adherence to DBE rules in the lucrative school construction projects has been rampant. To be clear, we can’t let things remain the same.

The bottom line is that SB 432 is not the bill we need to guide and define the return of schools to the Orleans Parish School Board. It is written to serve the needs and desires of the charter school movement and the predators and profiteers that have unapologetically gained from this experiment—not the people, parents, students, voters and taxpayers of school systems that have been decimated by a so-called reform movement that has done far more harm than good. There was already a bill to return schools to local elected control. The “other” bill is nothing more than an underhanded attempt to undermine Rep. Bouie’s bill and replace it with one that only pretends to transfer schools back to locally elected school boards.

Don’t be fooled. The unconditional return of schools will only take place with HB 466. Anything else—including SB 432—is fraud and deceit of the highest levels. And if it should somehow make it out of committee and is passed, we certainly expect Gov. John Bel Edwards, who backed Rep. Bouie’s bill during the last regular session, to veto this Trojan horse.

We need to Back Bouie’s Bill!

Editor’s Note: Make your voice heard. Go to www.legis.state.la.us to track SB 432 and to get contact information for members of the legislature and the senate education committee.

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