Friday, February 20, 2009

Jindal, other governors may turn down stimulus that would go towards education

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, joined by several legislators including Speaker of The House Jim Tucker, R-Terrytown, second from right, and Rep. Jane Smith, R-Bossier City, far right, exits a news conference at the State Capitol in Baton Rouge, La. on Feb. 18. Jindal is among a handful of Republican governors are considering turning down some money from the federal stimulus package, a move opponents say puts conservative ideology ahead of the needs of constituents struggling with record foreclosures and soaring unemployment.

Associated Press Writer

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A handful of Republican governors are considering turning down some money from the federal stimulus package, a move opponents say puts conservative ideology ahead of the needs of constituents struggling with record foreclosures and soaring unemployment.

Though none has outright rejected the money available for education, health care and infrastructure, the governors of Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alaska, South Carolina and Idaho have all questioned whether the $787 billion bill signed into law this week will even help the economy.

"My concern is there's going to be commitments attached to it that are a mile long," said Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who considered rejecting some of the money but decided Wednesday to accept it. "We need the freedom to pick and choose. And we need the freedom to say 'No thanks.'"

U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, the No. 3 House Democrat, said the governors — some of whom are said to be eyeing White House bids in 2012 — are putting their own interests first.

"No community or constituent should be denied recovery assistance due to their governor's political ideology or political aspirations," Clyburn, from South Carolina, said Wednesday.

In fact, governors who reject some of the stimulus aid may find themselves overridden by their own legislatures because of language Clyburn included in the bill that allows state lawmakers to accept the federal money even if their governors object.

He inserted the provision based on the early and vocal opposition to the stimulus plan by South Carolina's Republican governor, Mark Sanford. But it also means governors like Sanford and Louisiana's Bobby Jindal — a Republican up-and-comer often mentioned as a potential 2012 presidential candidate — can burnish their conservative credentials, knowing all the while that their legislatures can accept the money anyway.

Jindal said he, like Perry and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, is concerned about strings attached to the money even though his state faces a $1.7 billion budget shortfall next year.

Barbour spokesman Dan Turner, for example, cited concerns that accepting unemployment money from the stimulus package would force states to pay benefits to people who wouldn't meet state requirements to receive them.

In Idaho, Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter said he wasn't interested in stimulus money that would expand programs and boost the state's costs in future years when the federal dollars disappear — a worry also cited by Jindal and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, last year's Republican vice presidential nominee.

A spokesman said Sanford, the new head of the Republican Governors Association, is looking at the stimulus bill to figure out how much of it he can control.

"We're going through a 1,200-page bill to determine what our options are," Spokesman Joel Sawyer said. "From there, we'll make decisions."

But state Democratic Party chairwoman Carol Fowler says Sanford's hesitation is driven by his political ambition rather than the best interests of a state that had the nation's third-highest unemployment rate in December.

"He's so ideological," Fowler said. "He would rather South Carolina do without jobs than take that money, and I think he's looking for a way not to take it."

Not all Republican governors are reticent about using the federal cash.

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist lobbied for the stimulus plan and Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue has embraced it as he looks to close a $2.6 billion deficit in the state's budget this year. Alabama Gov. Bob Riley has already figured the money into his state's budget.

Pearson Cross, a political scientist at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, said fiscally conservative governors may be able to give themselves political cover by turning down small portions of the stimulus money, like health care dollars requiring a state match, that they might not fully use anyway.

But in the end, he said, they will likely take most of the available money because their states need it so badly.

"Ideology usually takes second place for governors," he said. "And that's going to mean that most governors are going to go ahead and take the money even though they have misgivings about it."


Associated Press writers Seanna Adcox, Mary Clare Jalonick, Shannon McCaffrey, John Miller, Emily Wagster Pettus, Phillip Rawls, Anne Sutton and Jim Vertuno contributed to this report.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.

Juvenile justice system undergoing house cleaning

Associated Press Writer

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Some innovation is happening in Louisiana's derided system of handling delinquent children.

Rapides and Jefferson parishes are trying to fix what's considered the key problem in the juvenile justice system: too many children, some accused of first-time, minor offenses, get hauled in front of a judge facing charges.

"We felt like those cases shouldn't be in the court system, and that the court should really be reserved for more serious offenders," said Daphne Robinson, an assistant district attorney for Rapides Parish.

Truancy was the source of 65 percent of total juvenile offenses processed in Jefferson Parish's court system in 2006, according to new data from Paul Frick, a University of New Orleans research professor. Frick also found that only 25 percent of youths in the court system in Rapides and Jefferson parishes were facing "true delinquent" charges; the rest were accused of truancy, underage drinking, curfew violations and other nonviolent offenses.

The goal is to get cases such as truancy dealt with at school, or another intermediate facility, rather than in a courtroom — though judges and prosecutors consider the offense serious, partly because it can lead to far worse.

"When you've got a kid who's on the street for eight hours, instead of being in school, the possibility is great that that child will get into some conduct that can lead to trouble," Robinson said.

Robinson is overseeing Alexandria's new "Neighborhood Accountability Board," which will essentially take the place of a judge in minor, first-offense cases. She said the panel will probably be made up of former educators and community leaders with an interest in children and improving the city and parish.

The board, meeting in a recreation center will pass judgment on children caught in first-offense violations such as breaking curfews, underage drinking, vandalism or shoplifting.

Board members will have the power to hand down creative sentences, some more educational than punitive. A young vandal might be forced to write a letter of apology to his victim. Or mow the victim's lawn every week for a few months — something like community service, but aimed at providing a service to the harmed party and maybe teaching the kid a lesson.

Robinson has said she believes diverting first-time offenders away from the court system could save the parish over $3 million per offender, if it succeeds in lowering the rate that first-offenders commit further crimes, thus reducing future prosecutions and incarcerations.

The board will get a briefing at its next meeting, on Monday, from the head of the St. Louis board it was modeled after.

The Rapides innovations, and others elsewhere in the state, are the fruits of grants from the Chicago-based Catherine D. and John T. MacArthur Foundation.

Robinson said teens' low-level crimes usually stem from troubles at home, mental illness or just plain bad parenting — problems better addressed in school or by a social worker, not a prosecutor and a judge. If those troubles can be remedied, she says a teenager has a better shot at avoiding more serious crimes.

"If everybody was a great parent, we probably wouldn't have the cases we have in Juvenile Court," Robinson said.

Truancy in particular is a problem caused by parents, said District Court Judge Patricia Koch of Alexandria.

"Some people just don't force their kids to get up and go to school. Isn't that insane? It's not just poor children, it's across the board," Koch said. "The parents just give up. They say, 'I have to leave and go to work,' and the kid doesn't go to school."

Koch and Robinson's work in Rapides is the latest sign that Louisiana is slowly cleaning up a juvenile justice system that, not long ago, was considered the nation's most violent and least effective. Those involved in the process to improve the system say the state has finally moved away from its old lock-'em-up attitude, toward one that acknowledges that the descent of children into violent crime can be prevented.

"We're learning," said Pete Adams, executive director of the Louisiana District Attorney's Association. "Obviously, it comes down to money, and it's hard to change things, but we're getting there."


School boards and Pastorek fight over new school board laws

Associated Press Writer

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — To Louisiana Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek, an overhaul of the laws governing local school boards would reform and modernize education.

Local school board members see it as a direct assault against them to consolidate power in Baton Rouge.

Pastorek wants to put term limits on board members, take away their salaries and limit their authority over school superintendents. If the state education board agrees next month, the political tug-of-war will head to the Legislature.

That will drop lawmakers into a heated dispute testing political alliances. A dozen state legislators are former school board members. Many others have close relationships with local boards.

"A lot of political careers have been launched in school boards, so I think there's going to be resistance there," Pastorek said. "I think the real question is: What's the right thing to do for children? I'm hoping that legislators will put aside their political support with local school boards and make an honest assessment."

Pastorek said he sees the proposals as important reforms. He said he looked to those he considers model states, including Texas and Kentucky, for ideas.

"We do have some real challenges with some school boards around the state, school boards who micromanage, school boards who have relatives who are in administration whose contracts get approved by school boards, people who have been around 30 to 40 years and their experience of what schools should be are far different than what is going on today," Pastorek said.

So, Pastorek suggests limiting how long school board members can serve, capping their pay to either a per diem for the days they work or to reimburse expenses, restricting family of school board members working in the same districts and reducing authority of board members in hiring and firing.

Pastorek's department will present recommendations for legislation in March to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, whose members will decide which to pursue with the Legislature. BESE member Glenny Lee Buquet of Houma said she thinks many of the proposals will be forwarded to lawmakers.

Nearly all the ideas have generated opposition.

"Paul is doing all that he can to dismantle public education as it exists now. He has indicated that he feels like school board members are a part of the problem and not a part of the solution, but it's difficult for us to understand that," said Nolton Senegal, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association.

Rep. Joe Harrison, a former Assumption Parish school board member, said he's received numerous calls from board members complaining they've had no input. Harrison, R-Labadieville, said he has reservations about the proposals and expects many could face a tough time in the Legislature.

The ideas are the latest in a series of disagreements between Pastorek and school boards.

The education superintendent successfully fought for state takeovers of 10 failing public schools in Baton Rouge and Shreveport against the wishes of local officials. Pastorek got into a public disagreement in Monroe after he asked for an investigation into the rehiring of the schools superintendent and an attempt to put a board member's daughter in a school district job for which she wasn't qualified. State Police decided against investigating the matter.

East Baton Rouge Parish School Board President Jerry Arbour said the state should be debating more pressing education needs than Pastorek's proposals.

"I think it's a waste of the Legislature's time and effort. I think we've got other things as far as education-related matters that we need to address other than just trying to take away local control," Arbour said.

Senegal and Arbour said term limits weren't needed because voters in the state's 69 public school districts can decide whether to re-elect members every four years. Senegal said state law already caps board members' salaries at $800 per month, or $900 for board presidents. Arbour said calculations showed if board members were given per diem payments for the days they worked, it could cost taxpayers more.

Only a handful of states have statewide term limits on local school boards, and pay varies widely, according to the National School Boards Association and the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Beyond pay and tenure, Pastorek wants to change the state nepotism law that allows family of local board members who work as teachers, in some instances, to be promoted to administrative or principal jobs. Pastorek said such promotions create negative public perceptions.

Senegal said board members must inform the state ethics board if a relative works in the school system and recuse themselves from votes involving family members. He said he believes those provisions are sufficient.

The most important changes, Pastorek said, would restrict the boards' authority over their school superintendents by requiring a two-thirds vote to fire a superintendent and allowing superintendents to hire and fire staff without their approval.

"There are many school board members who dictate who the superintendent will and will not select. It's done in very subtle ways, but I hear it all the time," he said, declining to give examples.

Gov. Bobby Jindal has yet to weigh in on Pastorek's ideas, saying he would need to read specific legislation before commenting. But he expressed support for Pastorek, saying the superintendent was "doing a great job."


Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education:

Louisiana School Boards Association:

Employees at Louisiana School for the Deaf investigated for sex scandal

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — An investigation into allegations of inappropriate contact has led to a teacher and supervisor at the Louisiana School for the Deaf being placed on leave.

The alleged incidents of inappropriate touching or physical contact between the teacher and students were reported earlier this month by students during a group discussion with peers and a member of the school's staff, State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek said Wednesday.

The identities of the teacher and supervisor were withheld. Both are on paid leave pending further investigation, Pastorek said.

"Clearly, the possibility that inappropriate behavior has occurred is unfortunate, and this is a serious matter that we will treat with the greatest sense of care," he said. "But it does give me some reassurance that these incidents were reported by students. ... That tells me these students, and hopefully all of our students, expect to be treated with the respect they deserve and that they know they will be supported and protected."

The school was briefly closed last year and security revamped after accusations of rape and sexual misconduct.

The school reopened in November.

Pastorek had temporarily closed the school in October after charges that a 16-year-old student with a history of behavioral problems raped a 6-year-old student on a school bus.

It was the latest in a string of complaints about sexual misconduct at the school, which has more than 190 students from elementary school through high school on its Baton Rouge campus, many of whom live in a campus dormitory during the week.

A lawsuit recently was filed against the state and the deaf school accusing two male students of repeatedly molesting a female student. In addition, at least five people — including three current or former teachers — were arrested between November 2007 and April 2008, accused of indecent behavior with students.

While the deaf school was closed, the state added new security cameras, retrained security guards and installed an electronic-monitoring system to track dormitory staff. Monitoring on the school buses that take students home on weekends also was increased, according to education department officials.



Changes considered for Louisiana school boards

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Next month, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will consider several proposals to change state laws governing local school board operations. Recommendations emerging from the board, known as BESE, would be passed to the Legislature for possible action. Among proposals BESE will consider:

—Term limits for local school board members.

—Elimination of salaries, with either a capped per diem or reimbursement of expenses.

—Changes to the nepotism statute. Currently, family members of board members can be promoted to administrative or principal jobs.

—Establishment of a minimum education requirement (high school diploma or equivalent) to qualify for school board membership.

—Requirement of a two-thirds school board vote to fire a superintendent.

—Strengthened professional development requirements for school board members.

—Authorization for local schools superintendents to hire and fire without school board approval.


Source: Louisiana Department of Education

Date: 2/18/2009 6:54 AM

School takeovers prompt parent lawsuits

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A group of parents and teachers have filed a lawsuit, seeking to block the impending state takeover of eight Baton Rouge public schools.

The five plaintiffs claim that the Recovery School District -- the state-run school district that would assume control of these eight schools -- is already in violation of state laws.

The plaintiffs, represented by Baton Rouge School Board members Jay Augustine and Tarvald Smith, are seeking both a preliminary injunction and a permanent injunction to prevent the school takeovers. State District Judge Todd Hernandez is set to hear the case on Feb. 26.

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted Jan. 15 to take over 10 schools -- eight in Baton Rouge, two in Shreveport -- out of 33 chronically low-performing schools in the state.


Information from: The Advocate,

Former teacher sentenced in sex case

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A former Belaire High School art teacher has been put on probation after pleading guilty to charges that accused her of having off-campus sex with a 15-year-old male student in the fall 2007.

State District Judge Todd Hernandez sentenced 29-year-old Kesha D. Manuel on Tuesday to eight years at hard labor on a felony charge of cruelty to a juvenile and six months on a misdemeanor charge of carnal knowledge of a juvenile, but suspended both terms.

Hernandez put Manuel on active supervised probation for five years on the felony charge. The judge said Manuel cannot have any contact with the victim and cannot be employed or engaged in volunteer work that involves anyone under 17.

The judge placed Manuel on unsupervised bench probation for two years on the misdemeanor charge.


Information from: The Advocate,

Baton Rouge School places second in competition

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — St. Thomas More School in Baton Rouge took second place in the 2009 National Engineers Week Future City Competition, good enough to earn the school a big scholarship and new software.

Teams from 38 middle schools nationwide, winners of regional competitions in January, participated in the Future City National Finals this week at the Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

St. Thomas More won for their Future City, which they titled Esperyance. The team is comprised of students Maggie Talbot and Annie Talbot, both 13 and Tyler Bellue, 14, teacher Shirley Newman and mentor Ricky Lee of SEMS, Inc.

St. Thomas More received a $5,000 scholarship for its technology program, and a 10-seat academic suite of engineering software from Bentley Systems.


School cameras in Tangipahoa

AMITE, La. (AP) — The Tangipahoa Parish School Board is moving forward with plans to increase security at all of its 35 schools.

On Tuesday, the board approved cost quotes for cameras at Kentwood High, Independence High, Amite High, Independence Middle and West Side Middle schools. Also approved was a $20,605 contract quote for 13 cameras at Loranger High School.

Schools already with camera systems are Sumner High, Ponchatoula High, Hammond High and Northwood High schools.

Officials say camera systems provide schools with the ability to monitor campus activities. They serve to both prevent strangers from entering schools and as a deterrent to student confrontations.

Board President Danny Ridgel said eventually, all schools will have cameras.


Information from: The Advocate,


New Orleans schools get recommendations for improvement

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A panel of land use experts is set to give recommendations for marketing dozens of New Orleans schools that would be "landbanked" as part of a proposed master plan.

The Urban Land Institute panel looked at four properties considered representatives — in a business corridor, low flood plain and residential areas.

Thelma French, director of board operations for Orleans Parish schools, said the panel is providing technical assistance as part of the master planning process. It is looking at how officials might try to market the schools for another use.

Louisiana's education superintendent has said the city's school system was overbuilt before Hurricane Katrina, with capacity for about 100,000 students but only about 60,000 enrolled. The number of students is even lower post-Katrina.

Friday, February 13, 2009

University of New Orleans may have to layoff employees, cut research, eliminate courses


Associated Press Writer

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — If forced to cut more than $175 million from the next budget, LSU system officials said they would have to lay off at least 1,900 employees, eliminate dozens of courses, shut down research programs and possibly suspend all athletics at the University of New Orleans.

System President John Lombardi said the cuts proposed Wednesday for the fiscal year that begins July 1 could jeopardize accreditation for some campuses, would lower the educational quality for students and would damage the universities' ability to compete nationally.

The cuts might not come, however.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration asked colleges to propose how to reduce spending next year, and the LSU System's top range cut was $175.8 million — on top of $29 million already slashed this year. That would be a 13 percent reduction to the nearly $1.4 billion university system's annual budget.

Under the worst-case scenario, LSU "will no longer be capable of competing among America's significant public university systems, its flagship will lose its place in the competition among American flagship institutions and its campuses and medical enterprises will find themselves dramatically behind the rest of the South," Lombardi wrote in the document.

Proposals include laying off 650 faculty and more than 1,250 support employees at the system's 11 institutions, increasing class sizes, shortening library hours, cutting student services and closing two of the eight academic departments at LSU-Alexandria.

"It's scary, and it's going to have a dramatic impact on the LSU System statewide," said Charles Zewe, a spokesman for the LSU System.

Also proposed: cutting travel and supplies, reducing campus publications and student activities and shutting down agricultural extension and research programs.

University support of the National World War II Museum and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans would be eliminated. Emergency room care and patient services at the LSU-run public hospitals would be reduced, and some outpatient programs would be eliminated.

But none of the cuts are certain.

Jindal's financial advisers sought proposals across state-funded agencies for possible reductions as they cope with an expected $1.2 billion drop in state general fund income. Higher education, one of the largest areas of state discretionary spending, is among the most vulnerable and was assigned one of the deepest cut possibilities.

But Commissioner of Administration Angele Davis, the governor's top budget adviser, said the figures were preliminary and don't necessarily reflect what will be suggested when the governor's 2009-10 budget proposal is delivered to lawmakers in mid-March.

"As I have said, these reduction goals are subject to change, and most likely will change ... However, it is necessary for agencies to prepare for what could be their worst-cases scenarios,"

Davis said in a statement Wednesday.

She didn't comment directly on LSU's budget proposal, saying she had yet to receive it.

After Jindal submits his budget recommendations, the Legislature will hammer out the final spending plan for next year.

Lawmakers are considering tapping into the state's "rainy day" fund and other pots of unspent state money to fill gaps next year and are hoping that economic stimulus proposals in Congress will provide budget aid to Louisiana.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.

Sponsor says public funded school voucher program will grow

Associated Press Writer

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The sponsor of legislation that lets some New Orleans children attend private school at public expense says she's pleased with response to the program and expects it to grow, although the number taking part in its first year is lower than expected and future funding is uncertain.

In its first year, only about 640 of about 1,300 students who applied enrolled in the program. The legislation authorized tuition for 1,500.

State Sen. Ann Duplessis, D-New Orleans, said there was little time to promote the program to parents between the time it was approved last summer and the beginning of the current school year. "We passed this legislation and had less than a month to get the rules promulgated and to get it marketed to parents," she said in an interview last week.

The program covers up to $7,138 in private school tuition per student, according to the state Department of Education. Tuition costs vary from school to school, but the average award is approximately $3,856, the department said.

Also, Department of Education spokeswoman Ashley Rodrigue said, some of the private schools had more state-funded applicants than they could accommodate and students declined to attend other eligible schools.

Duplessis, who handled the legislation along with state Rep. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans, said she's confident the program will grow this year as more parents learn how to apply. She also predicted the program will be fully funded despite the state's budget problems. The state budget for the current fiscal year, which runs from July through June, had to be trimmed by $341 million at mid-year and projections are that the state will have $1.2 billion less to work with as it prepares the next fiscal year budget.

Passage of the voucher program was a major legislative goal last year for Gov. Bobby Jindal, who had to overcome fierce opposition from teacher unions and public school administrators who have long fought vouchers, saying tax money is better spent improving public schools. It remains important to Jindal, his spokesman said Friday, although how much he will seek hasn't been determined.

"We're still in the process of reviewing all state expenditures and final decisions will be announced when the governor's budget is presented to the Legislature on March 13," Kyle Plotkin, Jindal's press secretary, said in an e-mailed statement. "The scholarship program is a priority for the governor and it's important that these students have the ability to continue their education."

At Jindal's behest, lawmakers included $10 million in the state budget for the voucher program for the 2008-09 school year.

With the first year's low enrollment, only about $3.7 million of that will likely be spent, according to testimony late last year before a House committee.

Growth was built into the program, however. It was available this year only to New Orleans students from low- and moderate-income families who were entering kindergarten though third grade and who otherwise would be attending failing New Orleans public schools.

Those who received the vouchers this year are to keep getting them through 12th grade. Also, eligibility is to expand each year, grade level by grade level, with new fourth-graders able to join the program this year.

All of that is contingent on money being appropriated for the vouchers.

While the administration hasn't yet said how much it will ask the Legislature to appropriate for the program next year, a major opponent, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, will ask lawmakers to kill it by cutting off its money.

"We were opposed form the beginning and we're going to be consistent in our opposition," LFT president Steve Monaghan said Monday.

While backers of the plan say it provides some lower-income students with a better opportunity for a good education in a city where schools are infamous for low achievement, LFT notes that the state has taken major steps to improve those schools, taking over scores of them. The voucher program essentially puts the state in competition with itself, Monaghan said.

"If you're going to cut off a piece of the population that you're hoping to serve, then you wonder about the soundness of the public policy debate," he said.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.



Louisiana and Mississippi get poor teacher ratings

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A national nonprofit advocacy group has given Mississippi a D-plus and Louisiana a C-minus in recruiting and retaining quality teachers and getting rid of those who are ineffective in the classroom.
The National Council on Teacher Quality recently released its 2008 State Teacher Policy Yearbook. The report finds that laws and regulations in most states discourage promising new teachers from staying in the classroom while doing little to rid schools of inadequate teachers.
The report gives Louisiana a D-plus in identifying effective new teachers, a C in retaining effective new teachers and a C-minus in getting rid of ineffective new teachers.
Mississippi fared even worse, getting a D-plus in identifying effective new teachers, a D in retaining effective new teachers and a D-plus in getting rid of ineffective new teachers.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.


DeSoto superintendent gets contract extension

MANSFIELD, La. (AP) — The DeSoto Parish School Board has granted Superintendent Walter Lee another contract extension.
Lee, who is starting his 30th year as leader of the parish public school system, says he's not ready to retire.
On Thursday, Lee received unanimous approval of his request to extend his contract that was set to expire Dec. 31. The extension will keep the 74-year-old at the helm of the district through June 30, 2011.
Lee also represents District 4 on the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. The district includes Bienville, Bossier, Caddo, Claiborne, DeSoto, Natchitoches, Red River, Sabine, Webster and Winn parishes.
Information from: The Times,

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.

Date: 2/4/2009 5:56 AM
BC-LA--School Takeovers/134
Eds: APNewsNow.
10 apply to take over La. schools
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Ten organizations are vying to run charter schools in Baton Rouge and Shreveport, at the public schools recently approved for state takeover.
The state will take control of eight schools in Baton Rouge and two in Shreveport in July because of their poor performance.
Louisiana Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek wants to turn them into independently run charter schools. The state education department says 10 groups have applied for the chance to operate the various schools.
Local and national education experts will review the applications. Then, the education department will review those recommendations and submit them to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in March for a final decision.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.


High school students flock to Tulane

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The effects of Hurricane Katrina — which sent Tulane students scurrying for safety, flooded more than 70 percent of the campus and caused more than $650 million in damages — have not dampened interest in the elite university.
The school says that nearly 40,000 high school seniors have applied to be part of the university's 1,400-member fall 2009 freshman class. That shatters last year's record-breaking number of 34,125 applicants,
The school says that based on the latest figures, Tulane's applications have now more than doubled since Hurricane Katrina.
Tulane President Scott Cowen credits the increased interest to several factors, including a plan enacted after Katrina that made public service a requirement of graduation. Tulane is the only major research university in the country that has public service as part of its core curriculum.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.


Rapides school board recommends African American studies classes

ALEXANDRIA, La. (AP) — A committee of the Rapides Parish School Board has recommended that an African-American Studies course be offered as an elective in parish schools.
The full board votes on the issue in two weeks and committee chairman Wilton Barrios Jr. predicted Tuesday that it will pass.
The motion, by board member Janet Dixon, stems from a Louisiana law that calls for all public high schools to offer instruction in black history and historical contributions by all nationalities.
Only two high schools in Rapides — Peabody Magnet High and Alexandria High School — currently offer an African-American studies course, Dixon said.
Dixon said the courses could be offered in other schools quickly and cost effectively through video conferencing. For instance, courses being offered at Peabody could also be offered via video in other high schools.
Dixon said the district's schools are equipped with the technology to offer video conferencing, which, she said, "will afford students at other high schools an opportunity to take that class if they so choose and it will save the board money because we won't have to hire another teacher."

Friday, February 6, 2009

Education, health care may be subject to budget cuts

Possible budget cuts for education $538 million
Possible budget cuts for health care: $412 million

Associated Press Writer

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana's large budget shortfall could hammer public education and health care programs next year, as the Jindal administration asks for proposals that could eliminate up to $950 million in health and education spending.

Though a recent round of midyear budget reductions caused few noticeable ripples to students and health care patients, the cuts being considered for the new budget year that begins July 1 could be dramatic to cope with a drop in state general fund income pegged at $1.2 billion.

The governor's budget crafters sent out letters this month to state offices that outlined ranges of budget cuts for which they should offer proposals. The maximum numbers for health care and education were hefty: $538 million for education and $412 million for health care — of that, more than $380 million each for public colleges and the state health department.

Gov. Bobby Jindal's budget officer, Commissioner of Administration Angele Davis, said that the figures were preliminary and don't necessarily reflect what cuts will be suggested when the governor's 2009-10 budget proposal is delivered to lawmakers in mid-March.

Davis' office gave departments a range of possible cuts and asked them to prioritize their programs, describing what should be slashed first and then what should be stripped from spending as the cuts get more severe. Davis said those answers will help the administration make the decisions of which programs are expendable.

"Some of these cuts are going to be tough cuts to make, but there are no indications that I'm aware of that our revenues are going to go up," she said.

Jindal must present his budget proposal to lawmakers by March 13, and the Legislature will hammer out the final spending plan, which is expected to be significantly less than the $29 billion-plus budget for this year.

Lawmakers are considering tapping into the state's "rainy day" fund and other pots of unspent state money to fill gaps next year, but even that wouldn't fill the entire shortfall. State officials also hope that economic stimulus proposals in Congress could provide aid to Louisiana and that the economy will improve and boost state revenue collections.

But for now, the administration is working with the worst-case scenario, and state officials say the cuts being considered would force grim choices in their agencies, including significant layoffs and sharp reductions in services.

Because health care and higher education are the largest areas of state discretionary spending, they are the most vulnerable to budget cuts.

LSU Chancellor Michael Martin said he's considering a proposal to boost student tuition and fees, perhaps based on type of curriculum, as a way to help offset some cuts. But he said that won't be nearly enough.

To cope with the rest of a cut that could be as high as 14 percent of the budget for LSU's main campus, Martin said he's looking at hundreds of layoffs, major program eliminations, larger class sizes, shortened library hours and an array of other reductions.

"This is a big hole in the hull of the flagship institution, and I'm not sure the pumps can operate fast enough for us to keep the ship afloat," Martin said of the range of possible cuts.

In the Department of Health and Hospitals, a $381 million cut could multiply into an even larger hit.

The state uses its money to draw federal matching dollars for the state Medicaid program for the poor, elderly and disabled in a nearly 3-to-1 match. Medicaid is the largest portion of the health care budget, so the cut for which DHH was told to prepare could top $1 billion with the loss of federal money.

Joe Donchess, executive director of the Louisiana Nursing Home Association, said he worried that could mean large cuts to the money the state pays nursing homes to take care of Medicaid patients.

Donchess said he's hopeful about a congressional bill that would provide additional Medicaid money to states. He said if DHH is forced to take the cut that is in discussion now, it would be devastating to health care services for the most vulnerable Louisiana residents.

"This is potentially one of those death-knell types of budgets," he said.

A handful of offices weren't asked to draw up budget cut recommendations.

Davis said the governor wants to protect the state's free college tuition program, known as TOPS, and also won't seek cuts to the state ethics board or the Division of Administrative Law, which handles ethics violation cases.

Jindal made ethics a centerpiece of his campaign for office and successfully pushed for an overhaul of state ethics laws when he took office, and Davis said he wants to protect ethics enforcement despite the tight budget.

Meanwhile, the governor's budget writers also are looking at undoing some of the restrictions that lock up certain parts of the budget and keep them safe from cuts. Davis said the governor may ask lawmakers to free more areas of spending to spare the most severe reductions from falling solely on education and health care.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.

'Go Grant' program needs more funding

Associated Press Writer

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The state's financial aid program for needy college students is running over budget, expected to cost $3 million more to cover all eligible students than the $24 million budgeted.

Louisiana's higher education leaders have agreed to fill in the gap this year, despite a round of budget cuts on colleges. But the state's troubled financial situation next year could threaten the "Go Grant" program.

More than 12,000 students received grants through the program in the fall semester.

Melanie Amrhein, executive director of the Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance, said Wednesday that the grants were projected to cost $27.3 million for the 2008-09 school year — but the governor and lawmakers only budgeted $24 million for the program.

Amrhein said the actual shortfall figure won't be known until March, the billing deadline for spring semester grants.

College system presidents agreed to cover any shortfall so no students should be left without their expected financial aid this year, said Commissioner of Higher Education Sally Clausen.

"We made a commitment to students at the beginning of the year to fund these grants, and we stand behind that promise," Clausen said in a statement. "Our number one priority is to support the students we serve in reaching their goal of attaining a degree and Go Grants play an important role in meeting that mission."

The program's future, however, is less clear.

Lawmakers created the Go Grant program for the 2007-08 school year, pushed by then-Gov. Kathleen Blanco and college leaders. Now in its second year, the program has grown from its initial $15 million and is projected to top $40 million by its fourth year.

The grants, up to $2,000 a year, are targeted to low- and moderate-income students and nontraditional students, 25 years or older. The program pays for costs that aren't covered by federal financial aid and the state's free college tuition program called TOPS. Only Louisiana residents are eligible for grants, and the maximum lifetime award is $10,000 per student.

But the Office of Student Financial Assistance might be in line for budget cuts that could curtail the program or shut it down entirely next year, as the state copes with an expected $1.2 billion drop in state general fund in the new year that begins July 1.

The governor's budget crafters asked the student aid office to offer recommendations for cutting anywhere from $20 million to nearly $37 million from its $129 million budget next year.

Gov. Bobby Jindal's budget officer, Commissioner of Administration Angele Davis, said cuts to TOPS are off the table, so Amrhein said that would force cuts to the GO Grant program to save TOPS.

Davis has said the reduction figures were preliminary and don't necessarily reflect what cuts will be suggested when the governor's 2009-10 budget proposal is delivered to lawmakers in mid-March. Her office gave nearly all state departments a range of possible cuts and asked them to prioritize their programs. Lawmakers will hammer out the final version of the budget during a regular session later this year.

Girl makes perfect score on ACT

The (Baton Rouge) Advocate

LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) — Perfect. But Melaine Sebastian will be the first to tell you that the word doesn't suit her.

But perfection is what Sebastian, 17, accomplished in December when she took the ACT and achieved a composite score of 36 on the college entrance exam.

It's a feat that few students accomplish. In fact, last academic year, only 514 students in the

country and only five in Louisiana achieved a 36 on the test, according to Ed Colby, a spokesman for American College Test.

"Less than one-tenth of 1 percent of students who take the test earn a score of 36," Colby said.

The test was taken by more than 1.4 million students last year and assesses students' skills in math, reading, English, science and writing.

Melanie Sebastian sits in her room on Thursday, Jan. 15, 2009.

It was Sebastian's third time to take the test, but charm had nothing to do with it.

The first time Sebastian took the ACT she scored a 26. She was in the seventh grade.

The testing was part of a Duke University study that gauged the effectiveness of gifted programs.

The second time was in early 2008. She scored a 33.

A little positive peer pressure from her friends convinced her to try again. So she decided to buy one of those test preparation manuals to help. If not for Hurricane Gustav causing her family's evacuation to Monroe, she said, she likely wouldn't have cracked the guide open.

"I think what helped me are the challenging classes I have at Lafayette High," Sebastian said. She's in the gifted program at the high school.

The hardest part of the test? The essay.

"Twenty-five minutes doesn't cut it for me," she said. "I think I can write a kickin' essay if I had the time. I'm picky when it comes to word choice and when it comes to structuring my sentences."

Her perfect score isn't really the topic of many conversations.

"It's hard to talk about," she said, shrugging her shoulders. "You try to encourage friends who have scores they worked hard for, too. I try to remind people, I'm just a kid. I work hard for what I do earn."


Information from: The Advocate,

BESE science and religion policy language delays inevitable

Associated Press Writer

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — There are disagreements on what exactly will result from policy language the state education board recently adopted for teaching science in Louisiana public schools, but one thing looks pretty clear: sooner or later Louisiana is going back to court in a case that will look like a descendant of the 1987 argument over "scientific creationism."

Barbara Forrest, staunch opponent of anything that might bring the religious-based concept into science classes, thinks such a fight is just what some supporters of the new state policy have in mind. She points fingers at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, a think tank that backs, among other things, the idea of intelligent design — the concept that there is scientific evidence that living organisms were designed.

An institute spokesman denies any desire for a court fight over the issue and points to its public position in support of intelligent design but against requiring its teaching in public schools.

"We're certainly not looking for a test case and we're not trying to legislate the instruction of intelligent design," said John West of the Discovery Institute.

So, what has Forrest worried?

Earlier this month the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted to establish policy language in light of last year's legislation that allows local school systems to supplement state-approved science texts with supplemental materials to encourage "critical thinking" on science topics.

Opponents questioned the need for such a law and said it's likely a means of trying to infuse science classes with concepts based on faith rather than science. Proponents said it would merely allow science-based questions about topics such as evolution.

Charged with implementing the law, BESE staff came up with draft policy language that included this sentence: "Materials that teach creationism or intelligent design or that advance the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind shall be prohibited for use in science classes."

Louisiana's law giving creationsm equal time with evolution in science class was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1987. In 2005, a federal judge barred the school system in Dover, Pa., from teaching intelligent design alongside evolution in high school biology classes. The judge said intelligent design is religion masquerading as science.

Given those decisions, the draft BESE language would seem to be sound policy that would keep teachers out of legally questionable territory.

BESE has the right to block materials it deems inappropriate and it may be called upon to do so by a parent who believes his or her child is being taught religion instead of science.

But, if BESE doesn't want to specifically block intelligent design now, will it do so if a teacher introduces an intelligent design text into a classroom?

If it doesn't, Forrest and others will surely go to court.

If it does, some backers of intelligent design — whether supported by the Discovery Institute or not — would likely do the same, perhaps under the banner of the new legislation.




Principal dies

SHREVEPORT, La. (AP) — A Shreveport middle school principal has died.

Bernadine Anderson, assistant to the Caddo Parish school district superintendent, said 41-year-old Monica Jenkins-Moore died on Sunday. Jenkins-Moore had been the principal at Linwood Middle School since 2004.

Grief counselors were available for students and staff Monday.


Information from: The Times,

Man pleads guilty to fraud against school board

SHREVEPORT, La. (AP) — A Louisiana man accused of participating in a scheme to defraud the Bossier Parish School Board has pleaded guilty to mail fraud.

Federal prosecutors say 41-year-old Mark Edward Rowe, of Plain Dealing, worked in the school board's maintenance department and knowingly approved invoices to pay contractors for air conditioning work they failed to perform.

Rowe also allegedly failed to conduct proper inspections of the work and falsely certified that the proper equipment was in place.

Rowe faces up to 20 years in prison following his guilty plea Wednesday. His sentencing is set for May 20.

Rowe was one of five defendants indicted in the case last month. Two others already have pleaded guilty to fraud charges.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.


Teacher attacks principal, gets arrested

MARKSVILLE, La. (AP) — A Marksville High School teacher and basketball coach has been arrested after he allegedly attacked the principal at his school.

Authorities say 27-year-old Roch Michael Bordelon of Marksville was arrested Monday afternoon and booked with battery of a schoolteacher and disturbing the peace.

Marksville Police said on Tuesday that Bordelon, a special education teacher and the girls basketball coach, is accused of punching and kicking Principal Duke Allgood.

Avoyelles Parish Schools Superintendent Dwayne Lemoine said Bordelon is on administrative leave without pay.

Allgood said he wasn't able to comment on the incident because it is a personnel matter.


Information from: Alexandria Daily Town Talk,