Grueling committee meetings highlight intensity of debate

BATON ROUGE, La. – Today at 12.40 p.m., Louisiana’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved Superintendent Paul Pastorek’s policy framework by which Recovery School District schools could transfer out. Of the 11 BESE members, only two opposed Pastorek’s plan which allows RSD schools, upon meeting various stipulations, to petition for a new governing authority or a return to their previous governing authority.

The vote came after the previous day’s 13 hours of public committee meetings. The meetings featured stormy debate, and not only from the approximately 300 attendees. One BESE member, Dale Bayard, starting shouting at a fellow member and stormed out. At times, heated disputes between members and attendees overshadowed the proposal up for discussion. And when attendees refused to relinquish the microphone, the meeting’s chair, Chas Roemer, threatened to adjourn.

The original five year mandate for schools to enter the RSD is nearing an end, and after lengthy consultation BESE has finalized how 84 schools in the RSD, including 68 from Orleans Parish, can proceed. Pastorek believes his plan guarantees local control while retaining competition and accountability.

“The Department’s proposal is designed to establish a clear and fair policy to govern the process… grounded in real local control, best practices, and the needs of the students in respective communities – not tradition or politics.”

The plan delineates how RSD schools could depart, but it is geared towards both the retention of the state-controlled RSD and the schools within it. The default position is that RSD schools remain in the district, and if a school fails in its application to leave, it cannot reapply for another five years. If a school meets the performance and paperwork requirements, BESE still retains the authority to reject the application. In the case of schools run directly by the RSD, the district’s superintendant would need to initiate the application for a school’s departure.

After a departure from the RSD, a decline in performance to “academically unacceptable” within three years of departure brings an immediate return to the RSD. In the case of parishes with more than 25 percent of its schools in the RSD, such as Orleans, the state superintendent may assign further stipulations for governance, even though the school would nominally be back in local control.

Numerous organizations were present and in favor of Pastorek’s plan, including Citizens for 1 Greater New Orleans (pictured below), Educate Now, the Cowen Institute of Tulane University – all New Orleans based non-profits – and the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools.

Citizens for 1 Greater New Orleans
Citizens for 1 Greater New Orleans supporters, from left to right: Bonnie Conway, Judy Andry, Janet Bean (education chairman), and Betty Hope.

“This plan allows time to develop a consensual governance model and to protect the improvements that have been made in local public education,” said Ruthie Frierson, founder of Citizens for 1 Greater New Orleans. Leslie Jacobs, founder of Educate Now, praised the success of the RSD and Pastorek’s efforts to consider feedback from interested stakeholders. She is hopeful that the plan “presented today will support accelerated growth across our community.” The Cowen Institute representative, Nash Crews, believes several revisions have addressed her original concerns, particularly the need for greater clarity over how success would be measured and a plan for what to do with schools within the RSD but still failing.

Members of the Orleans Parish School Board, however, were unimpressed, and they are already engaged in a legal battle with BESE. According to OPSB member Brett Bonin, “It is a sorry state of affairs for the children and citizens of New Orleans, when the State Superintendent fails to recognize a locally elected school board that has chartered three fourths of its schools, risen like a phoenix from the ashes following the devastation of Katrina, and achieved a complete academic and fiscal turnaround of epic proportions…

Instead of praising and applauding the Orleans Parish School Board’s recovery, our achievement is met with a school return plan that suggests the return of schools to some new entity, person, or company of the State Superintendent’s choosing… contrary to law… it is time for Baton Rouge to restore local elected leadership pursuant to the Constitution and laws of the State of Louisiana.”

Fergus Hodgson is the capitol bureau reporter with the Pelican Institute for Public Policy. He can be contacted at, and one can follow him on twitter.