Friday, March 13, 2009

Board vetoes Pastorek's proposals, suggests task force


Associated Press Writer

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The state's top education board refused Wednesday to weigh in on a contentious package of proposals by state Education Superintendent Paul Pastorek to term limit local school boards, take away their pay and limit their authority.

Instead, a committee of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education suggested the Louisiana Legislature should form a task force to study the ideas. The full board will vote Thursday on the task force idea, but it will only be procedural because all members were at the committee meeting. Nine of the 11 board members voted for the task force.

Even as BESE requests the study, a group of organizations said they intend to pursue the changes to local school board governance in the upcoming legislative session in bills to be sponsored by Rep. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge.

"I don't have a problem if the board wants to do a little task force, but this train has left the station. Legislation is being prepared and is going to be filed," Pastorek said.
Gov. Bobby Jindal on Wednesday said he supported the Pastorek proposals, particularly a change that would limit school boards' ability to influence the decisions of school superintendents.

"I want to applaud (Pastorek's) effort to change the way that we've done business here in Louisiana, and I'm especially ... supportive of the idea of giving more authority, more responsibility, to those that we have tasked with managing our schools," Jindal said.

Pastorek said he would sit down with local school board leaders next week to work on the proposals and suggested BESE delay making recommendations on the proposals until after that meeting. But BESE members proceeded with their task force recommendation instead.
Board members said it wasn't BESE's role to recommend legislation, but rather it should comment when measures are introduced.

"It came to my understanding that this is not a BESE issue, that this is an issue for the Legislature because of where the Legislature sits and what's in the Constitution," said member Linda Johnson, who sponsored the task force recommendation.

Supporters of the school board changes, however, said BESE removed itself from a debate that will happen anyway, when lawmakers meeting in a regular session that begins April 27 consider the bills.

Among Pastorek's proposals are: limiting how long school board members can serve, doing away with their salaries and capping their pay to expense reimbursement, restricting family of school board members working in the same districts and reducing authority of members in hiring and firing decisions.

Pastorek said the changes would modernize education and remove boards from micromanaging school systems. Local school board leaders describe the ideas as a Pastorek power grab, to take away authority from local officials and dismantle public education.

As he pledged Wednesday to meet with the local school boards, Pastorek repeated his intention to push for a revamp of the laws governing the boards.

"It's about getting new ideas to the table ... It's about getting integrity and competence into all of our board members ... It's about not being involved in the micromanagement of local superintendents," he said.

Local school board members spoke in support of a task force.

Russ Wise, a member of the school board in St. John the Baptist Parish, called a task force "a common sense approach of rather than having us throwing rocks at each other, taking some time and seeing if we can work together."

"I think it's a good first step for us to talk," said Clarence "Sonny" Savoie, a member of the St. Charles Parish School Board.

But representatives of three organizations — the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, the Council for A Better Louisiana and the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana — said they will move ahead with the bills that Carter will introduce this session.

"We would hope that you wouldn't delay until next year on weighing on in on these things," said Barry Erwin, head of CABL.

The only BESE member who voted against the task force recommendation was Chas Roemer of Baton Rouge. Committee chair Louella Givens of New Orleans didn't vote.

"The history of a task force is it's a place where we send something to never hear from it again," Roemer said.

Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, disagreed. He said the task force would let people set aside rhetoric and discuss best practices and ideas.

"A task force doesn't have to be a funeral procession," he said.
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