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BESE Report October 2014

Ebola fears prompt emergency rule

Prompted by fears that the Ebola virus could invade Louisiana, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved emergency rules giving superintendents the authority to close schools or send students home if threats appear.

While no cases of Ebola have been reported in Louisiana, Assistant Superintendent Erin Bendily told the board that the schools should be prepared for the eventuality.

Once a comment period is complete, the new rules will become part of the Louisiana Handbook for School Administrators. The emergency rule was approved without discussion or objection.

While not specifically mentioning Ebola, the rule says that local superintendents can dismiss schools when there is “any actual or imminent threat to public health or safety, which may result in loss of life, disease or injury.”

The rule also allows superintendents to remove students or staff if there is evidence from a health care professional that the individual has a communicable disease that could spread to the general population.

Students required to miss school because of quarantine would be provided with assignments, homework and instructional services.

Hearing officer applications to be submitted by November 10

BESE set a November 10 deadline for attorneys who want to be listed on a state database of hearing officers to adjudicate teacher discipline and dismissal cases.

According to Act 570 of 2014, tenured teachers may appeal discipline and dismissal proceedings to a district hearing officer. Each school board may establish its own list of hearing officers, or may select from a list created by BESE.

The BESE list is secondary, to be used in the event that a local school system chooses not to create its own list of approved hearing officers.

Qualified applicants may choose to serve in any or all BESE districts, listed on this map: http://bese.louisiana.gov/about-bese/map-of-bese-districts.

BESE announced that applications for the positions would be posted on October 16. As of this writing, however, that has apparently not been done. The Louisiana Federation of Teachers will repost the applications as soon as possible.

The LFT urges local chapters to seek out persons who will be fair, competent hearing officers, who also meet the qualifications set by state law and ask them to complete the application form by the November 10th Deadline!

Competitive grants out of 8(g) allocation

Following a bitter debate, the full BESE board overturned a committee recommendation and adopted a $24.5 million proposal for spending money from the 8(g) offshore oil and gas settlement fund.

By a narrow margin, the board decided to eliminate controversial competitive grants that one member called “flawed and unfair.”

Over the objection of some members, the board kept a $1 million appropriation in the fund budget to pay for a mandate from the legislature to develop a system of “unique identifiers” that will protect the identities of students from misuse.

The board eliminated about $1.7 million in competitive grants after Member Lottie Beebe of St. Martin Parish charged that the selection process for grant winners was unfair.

Dr. Beebe said that her parish had the highest scores in last year’s grant competition, but received no money. Board Member Holy Boffy, with whom Dr. Beebe often disagrees on issues, chairs the committee which awards the 8(g) grants.

“I take issue with the meddling by some BESE members (in the grant approval process)” she said.

Neither the committee recommendation nor the final board vote matched the recommendation that had been provided by the 8(g) Advisory Council.

The final vote on the fund budget was tied until President Chas Roemer agreed with a plan by Member Walter Lee that provides $11.3 million to local systems as block grants and $12.3 million to the state for pre-IK programs, college and career readiness, technology and innovation.

Future uncertain for Jefferson charter school

A controversial state-approved charter school in Jefferson Parish may have to close if it cannot find a new site by December.

Superintendent of Education John White said that his staff and Milestone Academy’s board have been unable to agree on a Memorandum of Understanding that would allow the school to retain its charter.

“This is a school that is not managing its business properly,” White said.

Milestone’s charter was nearly yanked last summer after it cancelled its management contract with SABIS and was unable to negotiate a new agreement with the Algiers Charter School Association. For a while the school had no principal either, but spokesmen said that one has now been hired.

The school is currently located in a Jefferson Parish School Board-owned building, and has a lease through the end of the 2014-15 school year. JPSB plans other uses for the building next year, however, and Milestone has been unable to locale a new school site.

White recommended a December deadline for the D-rated school to find a new home or risk losing its charter. Extending the deadline longer would be unfair to parents who must find new schools for their children if Milestone is forced to close, he said.

BESE and local community remain deadlocked on John McDonogh High School

BESE’s continuing refusal to return John McDonogh High School to local control frustrated New Orleans community leaders at the monthly board meeting.

After a lengthy discussion that spanned two days of BESE’s meeting, Chairman Chas Roemer refused to consider any motions regarding disposition of the school, saying that the board was only receiving an update on John Mac’s status.

That hardly satisfied community members and the Orleans Parish School Board – they want the building, which is undergoing a complete renovation, to be returned to local control. It has been under the auspices of the Recovery School District since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

An ad hoc committee of the OPSB maintains that state law requires BESE to return control of schools that have been closed by the RSD to local school boards. While the state has agreed to consider the committee’s opinions, that doesn’t go far enough to satisfy the community.

The school was labeled a failure while under control of the RSD and charter operators before being closed for renovations.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Member Lottie Beebe moved to immediately return John Mac to local control, but her motion was ruled out of order by Roemer.

Rancor over the school has become personal. At a recent community meeting, OPSB Member Ira Thomas called RSD representative Dana Peterson a flimflam man, charging that the state’s ultimate objective is to hand the school over to a charter agency.

State Superintendent John White demanded an apology from Thomas at Wednesday’s meeting; the school board member declined.

Allegations stall Lake Providence charter school

Amid charges that the application for an East Carroll Parish charter school contained fraudulent information, BESE voted to delay a vote on the school until the December meeting.

While Superintendent of Education John White said that he has seen no evidence of fraud, he recommended the delay until the effect of Louisiana Delta Empowerment Group’s charter on other schools in the sparsely populated rural parish could be determined.

That prompted stinging criticism from BESE Members Lottie Beebe and Carolyn Hill, as well as Louisiana School Boards Association Executive Director Scott Richard.

East Carroll Parish School Superintendent Dr. Voleria Millikin presented BESE members with a stack of notarized affidavits from citizens who said they were misled about the charter application. Richard cited “material defects” in the application and said that “false documents” were submitted.

When Dr. Beebe asked White to investigate the allegations, the superintendent responded that his department “is not an investigative agency.”

But White said he will send a team to Lake Providence to meet with the local school board and charter proponents to “do this is a way that is not disruptive to the flow of kids Pre-K through 12.”

Vote delayed on Alexandria and Monroe charter schools

BESE delayed a vote on proposed charter schools in Monroe and Alexandria until test scores from other schools run by the same management firm are released.

Charter Schools USA, operating as the Louisiana Charter Foundation, applied to open the schools. White said, “I believe Charter Schools USA is doing a commendable job, but I’d feel better about giving approval of future charters after I see school performance scores.”

White said the will have a recommendation for the board at the December meeting.

In other action, BESE rejected a charter application for Kingdom Builders Collegiate School in Lafayette. The parish school board had previously denied a local charter for the school.

An application for a charter school at Grambling State University was withdrawn after sponsors said they plan to work with the local school system and the university on a plan to open a locally chartered school.

Interim executive director named

Following the departure of Executive Director Heather Cope to work in a New Jersey school system, BESE named department staff member Kimberly Tripeaux as interim executive director.