In Louisiana Convicted Murderers Have More Civil Rights Than School Children with Disabilities

In Louisiana Convicted Murderers Have More Civil Rights Than School Children with Disabilities

When I saw this video and story recently it reminded me why I became an education activist 4 years ago and also why I have become a Libertarian more recently. We have allowed our government to become our punisher instead of our protector. The Louisiana government has given itself the right to treat your children worse than it treats convicted murderers.  People need to realize it’s our job to reign in our government, not the other way around.

In Georgia a woman was told she must grant the school district the right to “paddle” her 5 year old son or she would go to jail if they had to suspend him. He had missed 18 days of school for various dignostic tests for cancer. At least 19 States, including Louisiana, allow corporal punishment in schools. Louisiana is one of the only states, if not the only state, that grants school districts the right to strike children of all ages and any disabilities with a wooden paddle, but without parental consent (and even against parental wishes.)

Using physical punishement against adults is considered cruel and unusual punishment by the US Supreme Court, and torture by the Geneva Convention (and most of the civilized world for that matter) however the same punishment when used against children, especially those with disabilities, is considered not only legal but necessary by many in our state – including many legislators and judges. Without getting into the argument as to whether it’s okay for you to spank your own kids or not (or for whatever reason varous public or private school officials decide) consider that what is meant by Corporal Punishment in Louisiana schools is a 2 foot long wooden paddle that is used on kindergarteners and highschoolers alike. According to data I reviewed while I worked at the Louisiana department of Education, some children in our state have been paddled more than a dozen times a year for very minor infractions.

As a parent, if you spank your kids and cause them harm you could face criminal charges if they are seriously hurt or injured. However as a result of our legislature’s actions, strangers, school employees, cannot be held accountable in most cases, despite many children ending up emergency rooms each year as a result of school sponsored paddling. As a parent, you might be angry with your child, but you understand your own children’s limits, and hopefully love them even if you are mad at them or feel they need some form of physical discipline. School employees that paddle children have no such constraints or equivalent emotional bonding with the children they paddle.

Years ago the state legislature passed a law that corporal punishment is allowed in our state, at a school district’s discretion, not a parent’s. Parents do not have a right to refuse on behalf of their children. In an opinion written by Judge Scofield in 2004 for our Third Circuit Court of Appeals in the Setlif versus Rapides Parish School Board

To allow parents to unilaterally thwart the legally sanctioned decisions of school officials, could lead to troublesome, if not chaotic, results. There would be nothing to prevent ten, twenty or a hundred parents calling in to request that their child not be spanked. What if these same number of parents requested that no form of punishment whatsoever be administered to their children? The legislature, in its wisdom, chose not to leave the door open for such potentially dire consequences.

Scofield conjures up a ridiculous scenario where all forms of punishment are abolished if parents are allowed to request their kids not be beaten by the state to defend his decision to legalize the rights of schools to use discipline methods that are considered too inhumane to be used against animals by the SPCA, and quite harmful psychologically and physically to use against children by the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines. Moreover, our Supreme Court has deemed corporal punishemnt to be cruel and unusual and has banned the practice agaisnt even the most hardened criminals in our prisons. Even prisoners being put to death by the state via lethal injections are protected by our Constitution from unnecessary pain or suffering while their executions are carried out. Yet our children can be beaten until they are hospitalized and school employees are protected from prosecution by the laws enacted by our legislature and rationalized by our courts.

Scofield further defends his decision in the Setlif V Rapides corporal punishment appeal by making the case that violating the basic civil and human rights of anyone in a minority can be justified so long as you have a subjective goal seeking the “best acadmic atmosphere achievable” for the majority, as deemed by government officials, who also get to define what “order” they are trying to preserve and who the “miscreants” are that need the punishing.  By this definition, anyone who disagrees with a government defined “order” is a miscreant and can be stripped of their Constitutional protections.

The rationale of the legislature and the school board in allowing corporal punishment is based squarely upon the goal to preserve for the majority of students and teachers the best academic atmosphere achievable, even at the expense of swatting the behinds of those few miscreants who choose to disrupt the order.

That corporal punishement is necessary to maintain government defined “order” in our society, and without it the world would descend into chaos, is a warped idea that ignores the fact that the vast majority of civilized and orderly places do not use corporal punishment and that for the most part the only places that do are actually the least advanced and most chaotic. Scofield’s “logic” defends this practice by saying that the basic civil rights of minorities are irrelvant when considering the welfare of the majority, even if the objective is not to defend life or property, but just to improve the “academic atmosphere” a little. Furthermore judge Scofield argues that without the ability of public schools to use paddles on all children (including those with disabilities) whenever they wanted to, and regardless of parental wishes, (in the pursuit of “order”) schools would be uncontrollable. Most states in the United States do not permit Corporal Punishment on children, nor do most Western countries permit it on anyone. If this statement had any vestiage of accuracy we would see Corporal Punishment use increasing in the United States and across the “civilized” world. Contrary to the bizarre and unsubstantiated “belief” expressed by Scofield, the more rural or isolated the area the more likely this discipline method is used – probably because no significant media is around to report on it. Even the NFL, not known for the gentleness of its athletes, took a firm stand against corporal punishement when it suspended Adrian Petersen for a year after he injured his own son during a discipline session involving a “switch”.

The Louisiana Department of Education was instructed by the Louisiana Legislature to start collecting Corporal Punishment statistics in 2010. For years I have requested the details of that information numerous times in public information requests that copied the State Superintendent of Education, John White. To date, none of my requests have been filled. I know the state collected this data because I was the one who designed the system to collect it, and the one responsible for collecting it through 2012, when I left the Louisiana Department of Education.

I believe simply analyzing and reporting this data will lead to Louisiana in the direction of more rights for parents and children, and fewer opportunnities for citizens to be legally abused by their government.

Last year Superintendent John White testified numerous times against a charter school in Lafayette that did not propose using corporal punishment in the charter submitted to the state. However the founders of the charter, Kingdom Collegiate Academy of Excellence, had appeared on a reality show called America’s Supernanny spanking their own kids. This outraged John White (publicly). Even though John White had sponsored this charter operator with state funds, JW declared he was not comfortable having these folks in charge of a charter school in his state because of their actions on the show

If John White is really this fervently opposed to Corporal Punishment, why then have I been repeatedly met with illegal refusals to provide information collected by the Louisiana Department of Education, that was also supposed to be reported to the legislature annually?

I discussed my earlier attempts to get this information out with some insiders who wrote White’s stonewalling off as politics. The majority of the State that still permits and freely uses and promotes corporal punishment is in the northern part of the state, which was Bobby Jindal’s stronghold of support. (Parishes shown in green ban corporal punishment, districts in red allow it.)

from page 16 of CP study by Quentina Timoll
from page 16 of CP study by Quentina Timoll

Bobby Jindal and John White largely supported and protected each other until the end of Jindal’s second term so that reasoning might have been marginally plausible once.  I doubt John White relayed my request to Jindal though. If John White really cared about the use of corporal punishment why wouldn’t he have followed through with the push by former Superintendent Paul Pastorek and interim Superintendent Ollie Tyler to collect and disseminate this information to the public, as they were directed to do by Louisiana House Resolution 167?  Why withhold this information from me for 4 years?

I was told Pastorek’s hope was that publicizing this was a first step towards putting pressure on school districts to put a stop to it. However, if politics did play a role, we now have a new governor named John Bel Edwards in the Governor’s mansion with support in the more southern and metropolitan areas of the state and teacher’s unions.  I wonder if things will be any different with a Democrat versus a Republican? I’d like to think these policies would run contrary to the beliefs of the teacher’s unions and I hope that Edwards and his team will make some moves to put a stop to the practice.  I would think even LABI and Stand for Children Louisiana would get behind an effort to put an end to a practice that has been shown to lower IQs and other test scores, increase violent crime, cause depression and psychological trauma, reduce earning potential – and which has not even been shown to actually prevent future discipline incidents, merely make the future ones more likely to be violent.

I wonder if anyone has told John Bel Edwards that close to 1/4th of all students corporally punished in Louisiana have one or more disabilities and are classified as Special Education students according to the latest data I have available from the 2011-2012 school year through the Office of Civil Rights Office of Civil Rights?

Student’s classified as Special Education under IDEA make up around 10-11% of the public school population.  For those of you who are parents of a Special Education student let me break down what that means.  Your child is more than twice as likely to be corporally punished as a child without disabilities.  Are children with disabilities twice as disruptive as students in regular education?  Perhaps some children with some exceptionalities are more disruptive due to their exceptionality, like children with some forms of autism or severe emotional disturbance.

Perhaps hitting these types of children with wooden boards will “fix” their behavior problems? I kind of doubt it though.  I also wonder how many of these meted corporal punishments are not evidence of misbehavior, but frustration on the part of the teacher or the student?

Qualified and experienced Special Education teachers are often the hardest spots to fill, especially in rural districts.  When communication with words breaks down, maybe the best way to resolve situations involving children with disabilities is a two foot long wooden board and some pain? Not all of these children may understand why they are being punished, or be able to control their actions consistently due to their disability, but many animal trainers believe fear and pain works well for training animals to obey, so why not kids the theory goes.  Without properly trained professionals to handle the myriad conditions our students come to school with, maybe the best our school districts can do is to use pain to train obedience in the kids that are too hard to work with?  The evidence seems to support that hypothsis if we look at this situation in the best light.  Other conclusions we might draw are that students with disabilities are just more innately “bad”, and thus need more paddling, or that students with disabilities are easy targets and/or administrators administering corporal punishment derive some form of deviant satisfaction or pleasure from spanking children with disabilities.   I can’t really think of any non-depressing reasons this is true.  Can you?

We can ask them though.  LDOE also collects the names of the folks performing each paddling session.  Punishing that list might put a stop to the practice too.

Fortunately my earlier expose’s on this subject tipped off other researchers like Dr. Richard Fossey about the existence of LDOE’s corporal punishment data.  I spoke with Dr. Fossey at a few public venues and engaged him in e-mail correspondence for a while. He told me he was working on a project with LDOE through some of his graduate students who were given access to some of this data. I was careful not to rock the boat while this project took place, although I admit I eventually lost track of it, until now. <== Study Link

For the most part this thesis is a good resource on the history of Corporal Punishment in the United States and Louisiana, and includes some fascinating details about various court cases across the United States and where things stand now. I commend Quentina Timoll on producing this great reference source. I would caution readers to consider the actual numbers suspect as:

  • the author notes the figures provided by LDOE are as much as 30% lower than what the school districts reported to the federal government directly
  • pages 61 and 62 appear to have significant addition and subtraction errors
  • the “percentages” on pages 63 and 64 and throughout the paper are off by a factor of 100 (unless it is customary to show percentages as decimals but still label them as percentages in tables.)
  • some parishes are left off both the lists that permit corporal punishment and the lists that allow (like Red River)  They did not report any data and LDOE apparently did not enforce compliance.
  • the study lumps districts that permit corporal punishment (but rarely do it) in with districts with excessively high rates (but small populations).  I believe this leads the author to draw incorrect generalizations about the whole
  • and perhaps most importantly, because I had access to the preliminary data before I left LDOE.

When the project to collect this data first started at LDOE I somehow found myself in charge of it. I reviewed the preliminary data which was not tied to SIS, the Student Information System, but was instead tied to lists of forms collected for each instance of corporal punishment which were tied to incident checklists our folks in charge of discipline data required the school districts to complete and retain on file. The data I reviewed showed some districts disciplined upwards of 40% of their student body with wooden paddles, and numerous students were “disiciplined” this way more than 12 times over a six month period. At first I thought I was being given duplicate records.  I verified that some were.  However for the most part the records I reviewed had different action dates and different reason codes. I had a few records with identical dates – indicating a student corporally punished more than once on the same day – which were confirmed by school district data coordinators.

This preliminary data shocked me of course. I asked school districts to confirm my results and much to my surprise they were largely confirmed. Paul Pastorek was asked to resign by Bobby Jindal to make room for John White not long after my results started coming in.  I had plans to publish this information on our department website once a full year’s worth of numbers came in.  However John White came during the first full school year we started collecting this data through SIS.

After White’s arrival we were informed his intent, which was realized not long after his arrival, was to drive off all data coordinators and shut down the department I was associated with. I left not long after his arrival.  White and his minions successfully drove off or fired every one of my immediate co-workers within the first year.  That led to a great loss of institutional knowledge about what LDOE collected and how to go about validating it. The belief relayed to me by one of his appointed overseers (just before I escaped the slaughter) was that the Department needed to “get out of the business of validating data and holding school districts hands”. School districts needed to “submit the data correctly the first time or live with the consequences.” While this may sound good at first blush, it’s all of Louisiana that has to live with the consequences of bad data in the form of:

  • wasted funding for students that are not really present or improperly classified
  • invalid rankings of schools
  • teachers effectiveness calculations (ie VAM)
  • inflated graduation rates

Ultimately all this bad data leads to bad statistics which leads to incorrect conclusions and usually harmful and destructive actions.

Currently a majority of the 70 Louisiana City/Parish school school systems authorize the use of corporal punishment and only 16 (including the Special School District) ban the use of it.

School districts that reported using this the most from 2011 – 2014 with rates ranging from 5 – 10 % are: Caldwell, Franklin, Morehouse, Richland, and Sabine. Explained another way, your regular education child has a 1 in 10 to 1 in 20 chance of being paddled one or more times each year in these school districts (1 in 5 if your child is identified as a Special Education Student) – so your child is probably not graduating without a few licks during their K-12 education experience.


John Bel Edwards has not Taken Office and Already his Team has Made Some Major Missteps

I am not happy.

I’m actually quite pissed off and had to take extra blood pressure medication today to prevent my head from exploding off my shoulders.  I think I am like a lot of people that supported John Bel Edwards for Governor for his stands on education, who got the shaft after the election.

Is John Bel making all the decisions on education committees and BESE picks?

Probably not.

Whomever is doing it however is doing a piss poor job.

I contacted Edward’s Facebook page, Onward Louisiana site, and a number of close contacts to inquire about his education agenda and to offer my help or input.  I was ignored in some cases, and told to wait until after he takes office before brining my concerns or ideas so John Bel could tackle the budget crisis and his top priority, Medicare expansion.  Doing so has proved to be a disastrous mistake on my part, compounded by horrible decisions by his education team.

While I was waiting numerous education reformers secured a seat at the various tables and parents and regular teachers who fought so hard and for so long were left walled out and cut off.  Leslie Jacobs, Queen Reformer of Louisiana and Architect of the Recovery School Disaster was given a seat on a 53 member committee that included many union reps, and other reformers, but none of the folks that crossed party lines to vote for John Bel and for education.  The list did include these folks however:

  • Ronnie Briggs Board Chairman of The Good Shepherd School (“School Choice Champion”)
  • Gwendolyn Hamilton Community Affairs, New Schools for Baton Rouge/CEO EBR Redevelopment Authority (unelected and unaccountable private Charter School Authorizer)
  • Leslie Jacobs Former BESE Member  (Queen of the Recovery School Disaster, wealthy donor for education reformers across the state, owner of misleading pro-referom propaganda organization EducateNow!)
  • Dr. Andre Perry Principal, A.M. Perry Consulting (infamous and outlandish eduction reformer and charter proponent from NOLA –  I think he’ll like that title)

Of course the presidents of the two unions were there.

  • Debbie Meaux President, Louisiana Association of Educators
  • Steve Monaghan LA Federation of Teachers President

And one of the 3 people this panel decided to appoint to BESE on John Bel Edward’s behalf was also on this panel.

  • School Doris Voitier Superintendent of St. Bernard Parish School System


Wow.  I wonder if she voted to appoint herself?  (Well, technically I did that too but I was one of a 400 thousand people or so.)

About half the panel was composed of current or former union reps and members. More than 10% of it consisted of notorious education reformers who had no doubt campaigned and donated hard against John Bel (and plan to shiv him in the shower at some point in the near future).

These are Education Reformers who opposed John Bel and all the FlipBESE candidates and who raised obscene amounts of money from out of state billionaires and have been buying our BESE elections for more than a decade.  They spent close to 10 million dollars with over 90% coming from out of state donors and PACs and won 7 BESE seats.

I’m told Edwards wants to include everyone in his governing. However those folks were already more than fully represented. What I didn’t see was an anti-Common Core activist or activist parent that’s been fighting with me at BESE and the legislature. I didn’t see one of the candidates nominated that won close to 50% of the vote in their districts and even after being out raised/spent between 40 and 100 to one.

Already this administration is making the same mistakes as the last one by wooing the wealthy and ignoring the regular folks who are just trying to be heard and thought John Bel would make that happen.

In my opinion, John Bel owes his win to us, the FlipBESE candidates, as much as anyone else.  We forced these organizations to spend all their time and money on us.  That money would have been used against him and those organizations would have campaigned against him and his unions if they had not been so concerned about the threat we flipBESE candidates posed.  That 10 million would have been about what John Bel spent for the governors race.  I wonder if he could have done as well as a flipBESE candidate if he had the same monetary disadvantage we had.

(For perspective, that would have been more than 1 billion dollars.)

About half the state voted against Common Core and John White, and they have no champion on this panel or among the 3 recent BESE appointees.  the LABI backed candidates actually ran for local control and against Common Core, and some people believed them, not knowing those were complete lies.  Here’s some of the ads one of my opponents ran.

(Most of the ads run by the LABI candidates were identical carbon copies with the same points, music and typeface.  These were corporation sponsored and run campaigns.  If you want to see what I mean check these 2 ads out that even ran back to back on the same channels.

Empower/LABI Engen Commercial

Taylor Generic Empower/LABI commercial

I think a lot of people are going to pissed when they find out they voted against Common Core and thought they elected a candidate that was against it, only to find it was rebranded and actually made worse, as the review committee has reportedly done by the various folks who have resigned from it in protest.

Do you think they are going to blame their BESE candidate (that they probably don’t remember now) or the Governor who ran against Common Core and John White?

Education Reformers have been crowing for well over a month that John Bel cut a deal and John White is safe.  I don’t hear one peep of complaint out of them either.  Meanwhile many of the folks that brought John Bel to the Governor’s Ball are left out in the cold and we are not happy with what we have seen so far.

In case you’re wondering what the story will be when John White stays, Leslie Jacob’s website, Educate Now! is already delivering for mass consumption.

Governor-elect John Bel Edwards has chosen his three appointees to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education: Doris Voitier, superintendent of St. Bernard Parish schools; Thomas Roque, superintendent of the Diocese of Alexandria; and Lurie Thomason, assistant professor in the Criminal Justice Department at Grambling State University. While Governor-elect Edwards may have wanted a new state superintendent, he does not have the votes to replace John White, and his three BESE appointees said in an interview they would be “open” to working with White.

For those who make excuses to say John Bel can’t remove him because he doesn’t have 8 votes, here are my rebuttals and questions:

  • If you can’t replace John White, why on earth would you make that promise after the BESE elections?
  • If you can’t replace John White, why would you appoint three people open to working with him?
  • If you can’t replace John White, why would you let John White’s allies choose who the appointees are!?!?!?!?!

My understanding is the plan all along was to trade those appointments and to take it easy on John White, in exchange for cooperation on other projects like the Budget Crisis and Medicare.

No doubt the budget and Medicare are noble causes, but I’m not a chess piece and neither are my kids.

I’m told I should look to John Bel’s “history” of supporting Public Education and to trust that he will do right by us.

This is what history tells me:

Louisiana Governors, like JBE’s predecessor Bobby Jindal, promise anything to get elected and then once they get in office they are immediately corrupted by power and bound by reality and wall themselves off in their ivory towers and let their minions take the heat.

Oh, I knows my Looziana history alright.

I was asked to give Edwards time to get situated before lobbying him on education issues.  I guess the education reformers that campaigned hard against him didn’t get that memo.  Now John Bel has named 3 permanent appointees (for the next 4 years) to BESE that he cannot revoke, while I was waiting patiently.  He was able to do that before he took office.

Wanna know what I have to say about that?

Total. Bull. Shit.

John Bel, I was told if I wrote a blog about this, you would never ever see it and that I needed to go through the proper channels (like the ones that have already failed me to date).

Let’s see if that’s true or another lie.

It appears to many on the outside that you seem to have taken the side of education reformers, and taken great pains to include them in your Kumbaya moment while also excluding around 50% of the population that hates Common Core and John White and his policies.

We were screwed over by corporations and billionaires from out of state and we looked to you to help make it right.  That’s not what many of us see happening.  I feel my trust has been abused, but to be fair I have not spoken to you and you may not be aware things aren’t being seen as going smoothly outside your circle.

Gimmie a call and let’s rap sometime. . .when you’re not too busy.  My number is 225-892-4410.

Thanks and good luck getting rid of White!  I, and a lot of others, are counting on you.





John White’s final days or rabbit trick waiting to happen?

John White’s final days or rabbit trick waiting to happen?

Those who follow k-12 education in Louisiana closely know about state supt. John White and his illusionist tricks.  There have been several times over the last few years I expected John to hightail it out of here, only to see him double down on his egregious and dishonest behavior and come out stronger than before each crisis.  Amazing and mystifying, but he is a true magician.

In the last BESE (BESE is the State School Board responsible for hiring and firing the state superintendent) election John White’s out-of-state billionaire supporters (led by education crime syndicate boss and chairman of LABI, Lane Grigsby) poured millions into the race to save his lying ass from getting canned for all the atrocious, dishonest, and antagonistic behavior he’s exhibited over his entire tenure as State Sup and local Sup of the New Orleans Recovery School District.

White even received some national notoriety (and praise) for “standing up” to Governor Bobby Jindal over the issue of Common Core State Standards. While this dispute may have been staged for the benefit of Jindal’s National presidential ambitions from the outside it looked like Jindal was really giving White a hard time.

(Fighting something controversial is a good way to stay in the media – see Donald Trump’s entire campaign – but actually resolving issues has a way of removing that spotlight so I don’t believe Jindal actually wanted to resolve the Common Core issue.)

Jindal is now leaving office in disgrace, unable to become more than a sad footnote in this presidential race, unable to extricate the state from Common Core, leaving a mortgaged state in shambles with a budget held together by rusty screws and tattered, generic Scotch tape, and a gaping multi-billion dollar deficit for years to come for governor elect John Bel Edwards.

Whatever the truth, Jindal looks like Tweedle-dum, and White looks like the Cheshire cat that ate that rat.  John White has the effect on people.

John White’s fortunes may be looking up.  Grigsby and his corporate education cabal managed to snare 7 of 8 elected BESE seats through lies, trickery, false promises and outrageous SuperPAC spending.  4 very vocal critics of White will be gone from BESE by the January meeting and he will have 7 solidly purchased allies in his pocket (and in the pocket of the charter industry who purchased their seats.)

John White was obviously feeling his oats at the December 1st BESE meeting where he routinely interrupted and spoke rudely and condescendingly to the outgoing members and only provided materials to members to review on the day of the meeting, prompting at least one citizen to publicly chastise the board for their lack of decorum and preparation.  White was even rude and combative to citizens providing testimony at the meeting.

(As usual, every one of John White’s recommendations was rubber-stamped by his accomplices on the board.)

Not exactly the actions of someone who feels they may be at the end of their rope.

Governor elect Edwards will appoint 3 members, and the 8th elected official, Kathy Edmonston, is an ally of mine, an NPE endorsed candidate, and a staunch opponent of all things John White, and John White himself.

 (As an interesting note, I learned John White and outgoing BESE district 6  representative Chas Roemer audaciously tried to butter Edmonston up right after the election, but she was having none of that foolishness.  After their allies manipulated video of Kathy to  accuse her of being an idiot who wants an illiterate America I predict it’s unlikely she will be coming around to their side anytime soon.)

As Dr. Mercedes Schneider discovered and covered in her blog, John White’s contract ends with the new terms of BESE and the Governor. It also requires 8 votes to approve a contract.  Governor elect John Bel Edwards has consistently insisted he wants John White gone, and will do anything in his power to see that happen.

I do not believe John White can stay as Superintendent of Education while I am Governor. And to the extent that I can control that, that will not happen. Because I do not find him to be honest and credible when he deals with the legislature and other members of the public in Louisiana.
I know, for example, from some of his dealings with me, and some of the things he has said about me.
We know he went into a Senate Education Committee meeting with the intended purpose of muddying the water as opposed to telling the truth. He did it to promote a bill that was patently unconstitutional, that he had to have known was unconstitutional: funding vouchers through the Minimum Foundation Program. That is a problem for me.

(From where I stand there is no way John White can reach the 8 vote threshold on an 11 member board.  Other LDOE personnel under contract immediately cease to work there when their contract expires.  I would have expected the same to happen here although it sounds like White will remain as a month to month employee under the terms of his original contract per Dr. Schneider’s blog.)

Moreover I have been assured by another longtime source that not all of Grigsby/LABI’s backed 7 approve of John White and will vote to keep him.  If that is true White is sitting at 6 or fewer votes of the required 8 he needs to keep his job.

(I have discussed working with the new administration to target those staffers loyal John White’s lies and not to Louisiana’s children with members of John Bel’s campaign prior to the election.  I hope they end up in a position to take me up on that offer.)

However another longtime source has revealed John White is claiming to his staff that he has the required 8 votes he needs.

OH- JW has told some staffers that he has 8 votes (that would mean Edmiston is in his pocket) AND – he will remain as superintendent.This may simply be another of John White’s lies meant to keep his staff from staging a mass exodus.

I disagree that White has Edmonston in his pocket, however White is a wiley bastard and his allies have deep pockets and no fear of employing lies or deceit to get what they want. Another possibility is that Edwards has offered BESE positions already to some folks who are planning on betraying him and his wishes on keeping John White.

I have not been contacted by the transitional Edwards administration despite offering my services on multiple occasions, although some 53 others have been contacted and appointed to a k-12 advisory committee. One of the members of this advisory committee is a former BESE member,  a well connected and wealthy New Orleans Democrat, claims to be the RSD architect, and is a staunch John White supporter named Leslie Jacobs.

This is a concern for me and I would hope her role remains limited as she is a proponent of everything John Bel has claimed he is against.

Obviously this is making me a little nervous as the time approaches for Edwards to take office and make his appointments.  I chose to back Edwards in the last election in large part for his history and stances on education issues and don’t wish to have to turn that support to withering scrutiny so early in his term, but I haven’t fought this long just to see a new administration support the same bad people and terrible ideas.

I have a much longer history keeping an eye on White than just about anyone in this state and I know he’s slicker than WD40 smeared on an icy lake.  The Edwards administration doesn’t have to contact me of course.  (Who am I to them after all?) However I don’t see many of my allies on his list of 53 nor have many of my allies who have exposed White’s corruption been contacted.   I’m not looking for a pat on the back, but to make sure they are equipped with enough info to pry White out of his dank DOE hole.  They don’t have to contact me, but they damn well better be successful in getting rid of him if they don’t.

I would like to offer a word of caution to Edwards’ transition team since they appear disinclined to contact me at this time.  White is covering for a lot of demons and hiding a lot of skeletons at LDOE. Don’t expect his allies to give him up without a fight or for him to go quietly.  Don’t squander this opportunity for real change and transparency.  If you let him stay he will stab you in the ass, just like he did to Jindal, and he’ll enjoy it immensely.  K-12 education may not be your top priority compared to the budget crisis and planned Medicare expansion, but it may be your downfall if you’re not careful.

White always seems to have just the right rabbit to pull out of his hat at just the right moment.

Fortunately I still a few tricks left up my sleeves as well. . .


Beat that, Copperfield.

SPEDGate: How the Louisiana Department of Education is Misappropriating Millions of Dollars a Year from their Federal Special Education Funding for Cronies and Political Favors

What follows is an investigative story about the Special Education program run by the Louisiana Department of Education which reveals how numerous players have profited by funneling Federal IDEA funds to their own pet projects and personnel.

This illegal misappropriation of public money has left many special education students, parents, and district staff without the support those federal funds were mandated to provide.

My story has many twists, turns, and villains, but I will try to lay out the details as clearly as I can.  This story exposes what appears to be criminal behavior and corruption at our highest levels of government.  There is undoubtedly more to the story than I know or will be able to relay here, but I will present what I have and let the public, legislators and law enforcement agencies decide if this matter is worth investigating further using tools beyond my power.

A few months ago I received a letter from a concerned Special Education activist in Louisiana.  This source to whom I have given anonymity provided some internal documents prepared by the Louisiana Department of Education which were distributed to certain Louisiana legislators.  Much of the information provided had been previously relayed to me over several years, but I have been unable to prove those assertions, until now.

The first element that was revealed to me is that LDOE has destroyed the Special Education Department.  Most of the staff who previously dealt with Special Education issues were reassigned or fired,  but LDOE kept the money the federal government was providing specifically to support special education staff.  To justify this, LDOE allocated these funds I to 129 different staff members across the department, many of whom had absolutely nothing to do with Special Education.  I have provided a list of these allocations as attachments labeled “salary” and “salary 2”.  I’m told this documentation was provided to Representative John Schroeder when the department was trying to make a case that they did not have the necessary staff to comply with Act 833. (Act 833 was signed into law in 2014 and requires LDOE to provide alternate graduation requirement guidelines for certain disabled students.)


salary 2

According to guidance documents I have provided, it is acceptable for LDOE to allocate salaries on a pro-rata basis.  However, this basis must be determined by the employee for the amount of time they actually spend solely on Special Education issues.  Employees are required to sign off every week on “Time-and-Effort Certifications” like the one shown below:

Cert schedule




As you can see, employees are supposed to document how much time they spend on actual Special Education focused issues and to then sign this affidavit.  Their supervisors then sign off on this form.  However employees at LDOE do not enter the percentages.  Their supervisors provide documents with these percentages already filled out, or they instruct their employees what numbers they must use based on how they have been allocated for budgeting purposes, not based on any actual work.  Many of the LDOE employees allocated to Special Education couldn’t work on Special Education issues if they tried.  Employees that have tried to refuse committing fraud have been threatened with immediate termination by their supervisors.  One source I interviewed relayed a story I had been told several times before.

“…when one LDOE employee said he/she did not want to sign the verification sheet – because it was untrue – the person was told the alternative was to be fired.”

Some state employees are blackmailed into committing payroll fraud every week.  They cannot reveal this because they cannot prove the supervisor told them they would be fired for not signing the sheet, and if they confess to committing the fraud, the supervisor can claim they were ignorant of the situation and the employee acted on his/her own.  This would result in the employee being fired and then subject to criminal charges.  (This is how many criminal organizations and gangs trap people in cycles of crime.  Once you commit a crime, that crime can be held over you to keep you silent and to blackmail you into additional criminal activity.)  Below is one of the relevant federal directives:

Support for Salaries and Wages of an Employee Working on a Single Cost Objective

The Appendix to 2 C.F.R. Part 225 (formerly OMB Circular A-87, Cost Principles for State, Local, and Indian Tribal Governments) requires an employee whose salary and wages are supported, in whole or in part, with Federal funds to document his/her time spent working on Federal programs in order to ensure that charges to each Federal program reflect an accurate account of the employee’s time and effort devoted to that program.  The Appendix addresses two types of documentation:  semiannual certifications and personnel activity reports.

Personnel activity reports

If an employee works on multiple activities or cost objectives, a distribution of the employee’s salary and wages must be supported by a personnel activity report (PAR) or equivalent documentation.  The Appendix lists instances of multiple activities or cost objectives for which a PAR is required — that is, if an employee works on –

  • • More than one Federal award.
  • • A Federal award and a non-Federal award.
  • • An indirect cost activity and a direct cost activity.
  • • Two or more indirect activities that are allocated using different allocation bases.
  • • An unallowable activity and a direct or indirect cost activity.

A PAR must –

  • • Reflect an after-the-fact distribution of the actual activity of the employee.
  • • Account for the total activity for which each employee is compensated.
  • • Be prepared at least monthly and coincide with one or more pay periods.
  • • Be signed by the employee.

Employees are told what to put on their timesheets and if they refuse to do so and sign off on them, they are threatened with termination.  That is clearly not what the USDOE had in mind when they issued their guidance.

LDOE was asked about their special education resources, alignment and composition in a December 17, 2014, Joint House and Senate Education Committee hearing.  They responded on January 5, 2015, describing how they had reorganized internally to better address Special Education classes concerns that could potentially span across the department.  Here is the question they answered and LDOE’s response:

8. Please identify the Department’s Special Education staff and describe their support of local school systems.

Historically the Department has been organized into a fragmented system of divisions in which various elementary and secondary school sectors have been isolated – not only special education, but also career and technical education, curriculum, educator support, assessments, accountability, federal programs, early childhood education, and more.  This structure did not foster planning or collaboration among divisions, nor did it reflect the real-world environments of public schools where all of these needs must be addressed every day in the same schools, even in the same classrooms.  The isolation of special education staff, in particular, ran contrary to the goals of inclusion for students to be able to participate in and benefit from the total educational experience as their non-disabled peers.

Because special education is a service for student who need it, and because all Department of Education staff and local school system staff are obligated to providing that service, not just “special education” staff, the Department began integrating special education supports throughout the agency:

Network Teams: […]

Program Staff: […]


memo 2

Most of this passage is gobbledygook designed to take up space and bore the reader into dozing off and accepting LDOE’s presumed expertise on the subject.  The section I’ve highlighted is the basis under which LDOE is operating. Their reasoning is not supported by federal laws, regulations or policies, but it does describe the philosophy they are providing to legislators.

In plain speak, what LDOE is saying is:

“Because all school systems have or could have disabled students, and all support staff provide information for all students (which include disabled students), all employees support disabled students.”

This is not just wrong but the opposite of what the federal government has provided this funding for.  LDOE knows this is wrong, but they are willfully ignoring the laws and relevant federal guidance because no one is holding them accountable for following state and federal laws and policies.

LDOE is using earmarked Special Education funding as a way to boost employees’ salaries and employ personnel for the programs they deem more important that Special Education.

As a result:

  • Many initiatives such as 833, an alternative pathway for disabled students to earn a diploma, are faltering.
  • Students are being denied services and corporally punished for their conduct related to their disabilities.
  • Parents are being told to fill out invasive surveys and are required to provide information illegally in order for their children to receive services.
  • Charter schools are not only refusing to provide disabled students services but are being paid money for services they never provided.
  • The state and RSD are being sued on a regular basis because of their handling of Special Education.

Here is one of the of the class action settlements related to violations of special education students’ rights (ironically hosted on the LDOE’s website,

Some of the complaints against RSD and LDOE involved students with disabilities being repeatedly locked in closets or disciplined for minor infractions until they could be expelled.

Leskisher Luckett, whose third-grade son was repeatedly locked in a school closet as a means of punishment, described the effect this discrimination has had on her son. “After being treated like a lost cause for years, Darren has come to believe that about himself. My son, my 9-year old son, is too young to give up on his education.”

Robyn Flanery’s daughter began suffering from profound emotional troubles upon entering the seventh grade. But rather than receive any type of services to address her condition, she was repeatedly punished for minor infractions until she was finally expelled from the school she had attended since kindergarten. Ms. Flanery reported that this led to even greater emotional trauma.

These situations are largely attributed to the fact that special education coordinators across the state are lacking in guidance (have lacked it for years), direction and training on special education issues.  The state is provided millions of dollars annually to employ staff to support school district personnel, but they are shirking these duties.  Taxpayers are not getting what they are paying for.  Instead, taxpayers are now also paying for lawsuits and settlements because disabled children and their parents are suffering abuse, neglect and ignorance as a result of the incompetence and lack of expertise of staff employed by the LDOE.

For this story, numerous parents and other sources involved with Special Education in Louisiana were interviewed and asked to provide their thoughts on LDOE and their handling of Special Education for the state.

Liz Gary, a mother of a student receiving special education services in St Tammany,  and a staunch Special Education rights advocate in Louisiana had this to say about LDOE’s recent changes to how they handle (or don’t handle) Special Education training and oversight:

The state department has offered no training, professional development or oversight in years.  They believe their webinars and newsletter is all that is needed.  Unfortunately, as you know, they have let a lot of experienced people go and replaced them with inexperienced people.  It is not good.  If districts are not doing what they are supposed to do there is no one to monitor them because the state department is not doing it.

Districts are not doing what they are supposed to be doing.  I’ve heard this refrain many times for years. This cry has only gotten louder since State Superintendent John White destroyed the Special Education department in the name of improving coordination and efficiency.

White and his staff dismissed, demoted or drove off most of the qualified and experienced staff members and replaced them with politically driven appointments like the current Special Education Policy Director Jamie Wong.  Jamie spent a few years teaching pre-k and kindergarten in DC as a TNTP teacher.  (TNTP is The New Teacher Project, an organization founded by the now discredited Michelle Rhee, a former Teach for America Alum who is widely believed to have rigged test scores and overlooked or even encouraged cheating during her tenure as the Superintendent of DC public schools.)  Jamie now earns $95,000 a year at LDOE with only a few years of teaching experience.  Not so coincidentally, Jamie Wong is married to Michael Thomas Wong, one of the chief campaign strategists for Senator David Vitter who is widely presumed to be Louisiana’s next governor.  It appears that Michael Wong is paid at least $90,000 to serve as Vitter’s Capital Area Director, and  gubernatorial campaign advisor and strategist.  Michael’s salary for just 6 months of last year was $43,318.54.


Sources have claimed that Jamie’s job is a quid pro quo from John White to David Vitter, who is presumed to be John White’s next boss as the Governor of Louisiana.

Perhaps that is true, or perhaps that was just the icing on the cake, but what I want to know is why no one else in Louisiana or at the Department of Education was considered qualified for her position? I’m having trouble understanding why a recent college graduate living in DC (someone with a few years of teaching experience and a degree in political science from Southern Mississippi) is in charge overseeing all Special Education for the State of Louisiana, or why she was appointed when folks with 30 and 40 years of Special Education teaching and experience and PhDs were cast aside.

Dr. Laureen Mayfield, President of the Louisiana Association of Special Education Administrators (LASEA), had this to say about LDOE’s recent attempt at implementing Act 833:

They are not rolling out the training until August, after school has begun for many of us. The Special Education Directors and Supervisors in the state have clearly communicated to LDOE that they needed advanced training on writing IEPs for students pursuing an alternate pathway to graduation under Act 833. In addition, LASEA members have repeatedly expressed that they do not need “IEP Writing 101” for beginning teachers, but instead, higher level training for experienced teachers who just need guidance on developing thoughtful, effective IEPs for Act 833. The drafts modules that have been shown to a stakeholder group, however, appeared to be basic “what is an IEP and how do you write it” information—which is exactly what LASEA clearly communicated they did not need. We will not know until August if LSU listened to feedback from directors, or if the modules will “have Act 833 embedded in them” by including a slide or two quoting from the legislation.

LDOE has as many as a third to one half of their workforce reportedly dedicated to Special Education issues.  According to LDOE’s own report to the legislature in January, these staff members were imbedded across all areas of the department, particularly curriculum, and yet they had to obtain a quarter million dollar contract with Alan Coulter at the LSU Human Development Center to provide guidance and training for Act 833 which is what the preceding comments are referring to.

However, instead of actually providing that training, the Human Development Center produced a basic “IEP 101” course because LDOE, under John White, with 129 special education staffers, had lost the capacity to do even the most basic Special Education task.

One former attendee of previous professional development sessions hosted by LDOE (in the pre-John White days) reminisced about how LDOE used to tend to Special Education issues:

Pre-White [and former state superintendent Paul Pastorek] the Special Ed Directors from the entire state, including those in charters, met for quarterly meetings in BR with the Special Ed State Director and all the SPED staff. It was a whole day meeting and they updated us on everything–changes to laws, innovative practices, etc.

In addition to that, an Ad Hoc group […] met monthly with Susan Batson and all the SPED staff at the LDOE. We went over everything going on of importance, including vetting and discussing any changes they wanted to make to bulletins. We talked and “argued” professionally until we all came to consensus. They also kept us up to date on all changes we needed to know about, listened to our concerns, and actually addressed them.

I also spoke with former staff members from LDOE to get their take on what had happened. Here is one of the descriptions:

You can point out that every student with disabilities in Louisiana has been affected by the greed and political aspirations of our so-called leaders. Districts have no guidance from LDOE because anyone with any knowledge or experience in special Ed has been run off either by layoffs or out of sheer disgust over the way things are being done. They (districts) are left to figure it out for themselves. The districts with stronger special Ed leaders are surviving; those with weaker leadership – not so much.

One parent from Central had this to say.  Her children were denied Special Education services at Tanglewood elementary because she refused to fill out an offensive questionnaire asking about her elementary children’s sexual experiences and drug use and if anyone might have abused them.

Things are much better homeschooling. Two of my kids were finally able to skip a grade, so now they are working at a level that actually challenges them. My two that needed IEPs are getting one on one and are able to work at their own pace. And I’m NOT accountable to BESE🙂 Maybe they’ll get their act together, and a few of them will get unseated. Maybe John White would be de-throned. Then I would maybe consider public school again. I looked at the website for Tanglewood so I could give you the name of the lady who told me my son could receive “intervention” but no “services” unless I filled out that stupid paper. She’s not on there anymore, so I don’t know what happened with her.

Of course refusing services because a parent refused to complete an illegal questionnaire is illegal, but despite 129 employees being paid at LDOE with Special Education funds, there is literally no one to train these folks, no one to oversee them, no one for parents to complain to and obtain any help.  Parents are forced to either subject themselves to illegal requirements or have their services illegally denied.  Parents are forced to withdraw their kids and homeschool them or simply forced to watch their kids suffer while LDOE and John White doles out SPED funding to vastly unqualified political appointees.

St Tammany and Central are by no means the only school systems suffering from neglect and malfeasance.  Most of our districts are suffering in one way or another but cataloguing all the stories would require several volumes.

This last story clearly illustrates the situation.  I contacted Kathy Edmonston, the Parent Resource Facilitator for the Ascension Parish School System, to get her take on Special Education in Louisiana under LDOE’s guidance. (Kathy is also a District 6 candidate for the upcoming 2015 BESE election.)    She had this to say about how disabled children are faring in her parish school system:

Hey Jason. Thank you for taking time to express concern for our SPED kids.  They are struggling so much with the new standards. My title is Parent Resource Facilitator for Ascension Parish School System.  It looks as if it has been forgotten at DOE as it is difficult for parents to find any one there to talk to when they are experiencing difficulty in their schools. I have not been told so, but it seems that SPED department at state department has been dismantled. We in Ascension have done pretty well moving along with Act 833. It will be more fully implemented this coming school year.  The transition has been difficult as the DOE has given very little guidance.  If there had not been an ACT 833 steering committee established to stay on them, I am not sure if we would have gotten any direction!  Fortunately, we have a very good SPED director in Ascension who didn’t wait, but started digging right away and communicating with other parishes, so at the end of the year, most of our teachers knew what to do.  Since the implementation of the current [Common Core] standards, our SPED students are experiencing lots of stress and difficulty because they are taught and tested on standards that are above their academic functioning level.  It is so sad.  Parents have nowhere to turn, and teachers can’t answer their questions!

When I explained to Kathy many of the things I’d heard from the Ascension Parish leadership and that everything there was peachy keen, she had this to say:

Nothing is going peachy anywhere in the state right now!!!!!!!!!!!!  Ascension is struggling just like all other parishes in the state with the new “transformation” we are experiencing.  Our parents, teachers, but most importantly, our children.

I’d say that about sums things up nicely.

Note: ( Liz Gary was not a member of SEAP.  This piece has been edited to reflect that change.  We apologize for this error.)

LDOE Lays an Egg: Violates FERPA and Their Own MOU Providing Data to CREDO

LDOE Lays an Egg: Violates FERPA and Their Own MOU Providing Data to CREDO

I know its reaching, but I thought I’d give everyone a little Easter reference with this surprise post.  Smile

Before I left LDOE 3 years ago I was asked to help assemble some de-identified data for a research outfit named CREDO.  At the time most of my colleagues didn’t know who CREDO was or what they were all about.  (It turns out they are a pro-charter funded propaganda machine masquerading as legitimate researchers.)   We had a standing policy not to provide this type of data to anyone. . . except a few local research universities like ULL we had established contracts with – to provide analysis services to LODE for specific grants.

Then came John White and CREDO.  We’d been telling CREDO “No” for years because the amount of data they wanted was excessive and the time involved with compiling it was also going to be pretty steep.  John White was not the State Superintendent when he started giving orders through Erin Bendilly, a Jindal appointee.  This request was one of those, and it was coordinated, reviewed, and delivered by Kim Nesmith, the “Data Quality Director” and department’s FERPA enforcer.  (The fact that this request was  being forced through quickly on John White’s behalf was confirmed by both Kim and Devora Davis, head CREDO researcher, in a conference call.)

happy Easter

FERPA tidbit:

US DOE requires State agencies to select a number between 1 and 10 to mask all their student level data to conform to FERPA. Kim actually required the department go one step further.  She insisted we mask by using less than (<) and greater than (>) symbols in the ones digits in most numbers reported.  (We can still derive the specific numbers from the percentages and enrollment numbers but I won’t tell if you won’t)


(You can Download the full report example if you’d like.)

Another provision of FERPA calls for agencies to restrict access to data – keep it private from those that don’t need that access to perform their specific role or function.  While I dealt with the student data of all students, I did not need to have access to their medical records or diagnoses, or their specific Special Education classifications.  This role was handled by the folks that worked directly with this data and these students in our SER system or those folks who produced necessary reports to the Finance department.  For the nine years I worked there, I did not have access to that data.

New Orleans based, Research on Reforms filed a lawsuit to discover just what data LDOE had released to CREDO.  When ROR eventually prevailed I learned what else LDOE had provided to CREDO.  (LDOE first denied the existence of this MOU until I agreed to testify for Research on Reforms.  Then LDOE argued that they could choose whomever they wanted to evaluate their programs and did not need to provide equal access to anyone else to cross examine the claims.  The first judge agreed, but the appeals court overturned this ruling.)

It turns out LDOE violated their own very expansive MOU.  What follows is a description of a few things that should not have been sent.

For instance, it turns out that LDOE sent quite a bit of detailed data on non-public students, their DOB’s, their teachers, their special education conditions, schools, etc.  Non-Public schools were not part of the research project and not part of the MOU.


Here’s a snapshot of some of the NPB (Non-Public School) records.  Hundreds of non-public schools’ data was disclosed – without their knowledge I would imagine.


And here is some of the specific data elements they handed over on nonpublic and public students – some of which is specifically prohibited and some of which should have been because it was outside the scope of the study.  This shows the full Date of birth (not just month and year) as well as any section 504 classifications and also identifies one student as blind and another one as deaf.  (Note: these records are from completely different sections and do not match up to any of the schools shown above.)


Of course if that’s not enough, they also included the specific teacher and the course they took with that teacher for each student. (Note: each snap shot is from different records to prevent identification of students.  Something LDOE might have considered.)


To make sure researchers could identify and use all these codes, LDOE created a decode file with useful tables like this one for Special Education classifications.


You will note in the study, none of this info is necessary, and if you look at the final CREDO reports none of it was used – but it was provided unnecessarily.

LDOE also can’t make the claim they did not know what they were providing or that they were unaware that to provide it was a violation of FERPA.  Most of the files, like the one containing Special Education data, carry a pretty convincing warning.

This report contains personally identifiable information or information that when combined withother reports and/or information a student’s identity might be revealed.  Personally identifiable studentinformation must be kept confidential pursuant to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)codified at 20 U.S.C. 1232g.  Information in this report cannot be disclosed to any other person,except for employees of a student’s school or school system who must have access to that information in order to perform their official duties and for those other persons and entitiesspecified in 20 U.S.C. 1232g.


In this case, LDOE provided this information without any masking for every school in the state (including Non-Publics).  They provided a file that contains the school, school year, grade, age, ethnicity, disabilities, gender.  They provided this information for counts as low as one single student.

You would think a Student Privacy Director and Data Quality Director would know better, wouldn’t you?

According to the MOU, here is the scope of the study:




The dubious nature of the decision to provide all the data they agreed to provide aside, I don’t see any reason to provide private school data, let alone disabled student data.  Do you?

This is an example of why LDOE needs to be fully transparent and properly overseen.  There is no telling how many other data sharing agreements LDOE has entered into that most of us are completely unaware of.  LDOE is apparently incapable of even adhering to their own internal privacy decisions and their own MOU’s.  This is not an example of a rogue department providing data accidentally.  This is an example of LDOE’s top privacy guru, the Student Privacy and Data Quality Director reviewing and assembling the data, personally, before handing it over to strangers in California.


It’s only a combination of chance and persistence that I stumbled across the details of this agreement and am able to share my findings with you.  How many more agreements like this are out there that are unknown to us?  How poorly have they been reviewed?  I can’t actually say.  Someone outside of LDOE needs to review these types of disclosures (All of them)  – before they happen.  It is important for the public to have an accounting of both what was promised, but also what was actually delivered.  Frankly, if LDOE doesn’t understand their own data, they shouldn’t be providing it to others.  I also question whether they should be collecting it all or storing it for decades in the first place.

At a time of deep budget cuts, it is time to cut the Recovery School District (RSD)

Latest John White lie

Bobby Jindal recently released his budget for the 2015 fiscal year.  This budget has some pretty steep cuts for the Louisiana Department of Education.

State Superintendent John White recently claimed Bobby Jindal’s 2015 budget would force him to lay off as many as 100 of his 300 workers.

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s proposed budget would force layoffs of about 100 of the state Department of Education’s roughly 300 workers, state Superintendent of Education John White said Monday morning.

White said he was originally told that the governor’s budget plan could result in 45 agency employees losing their jobs.

Of course this a statement from a John White, a well documented liar, and an article from Will Sentell, who is rumored to be White’s pal outside of working hours, so it doesn’t surprise me that these figures are dishonest and not fact checked – not even a little.

Fortunately I had recently asked for the lists of LDOE and Recovery School District (RSD) employees. RSD is a branch of LDOE and directly overseen by LDOE. The true number of employees I came up with was 447 “DOE State Activities” employees, 117 Special School District Employees, and 108 RSD employees. That comes to 675 employees scattered across several divisions that report to John White, or more than twice the number White quoted to the Advocate – and Will Sentell dutifully reported.

From payroll file 1/23/2015


But what is one more lie?

LDOE employees with multiple offices

RSD no longer directly manages any schools, it just recruits them and “oversees” them. (New Schools for New Orleans is a non-profit that already does that.)  RSD’s employees are actually extensions of the LDOE. Many LDOE employees live in New Orleans and have offices in Baton Rouge and luxury offices in New Orleans. Many of LDOE’s executive employees live in New Orleans and do all their work from the RSD offices across from the Superdome, or from the privacy of their homes – as their exorbitant conference call bills will attest to.

Sources have relayed that a non-exhaustive list of employees operating this way are:

  • · Katherine Westerhold
  • · Hannah Dietsch
  • · Alicja Witkowski
  • · Taina Knox
  • · Rebecca Kockler
  • · Kunjan Narechania

The truth behind LDOE state employee RIF’s (Reductions In Force)

Everyone knows that John White and Bobby Jindal have claimed they have cut back employees in state service, so I decided to verify that claim myself. I asked Civil Service for the payroll of LDOE as of 1/1/2012 and 1/31/2015. A direct comparison would lead one to believe that John White had reduced his employees. John White filed dozens of RIFs, or Reeducations In Force, during his tenure.  However what you can’t tell from these files is that John White simply reclassified all of his IT positions as belonging to DOA instead of LDOE. Many of these folks still work at the Claiborne building where LDOE is housed in their same roles, they just are paid from the DOA budget although they still work for John White and LDOE on LDOE systems.

I asked for listing of these employees, but Civil Service has no way of identifying them. Therefore I excluded all the people from the IT area from my 12/31/2011 file so we could have an apples to apples comparison.  These are the numbers I came up with as of 12/31/2011 excluding IT.


However this was when RSD actually staffed schools with teachers!  Now almost all the RSD employees are unclassified operatives of John White.  Many freely move back and forth between these agencies at will as I will show you later.

What this means is employees John White controls for day to day operations is down to 675 from around 697 – excluding IT and RSD employees.  RSD actually had to run schools three years ago and most of those employees were teachers. Now RSD skims money from grants these schools receive and skims MFP funds to support their lavish lifestyle  – as I will also get into later.

Next I wanted to find out what types of employees are left and how the workforce changed. Instead of support personnel for things like Special Education, most of LDOE was turned into a charter school recruiting office and assessment section. At first blush it would appear the number of unclassified positions decreased, however when you add in RSD unclassified positions you can see a dramatic increase in this type of unrestricted worker.  Below are some distinctions between classified and unclassified employees.  Please refer to this definition from Civil Service.  I have summarized some of the differences below:

Unclassified state employees have no restrictions on salary or raises, can lobby legislators and donate to candidates, do not have need to have any specific qualifications, and are generally supposed to be restricted to just the heads of departments.

Classified state employees cannot engage in any political activity, or even the appearance of political activity. They cannot donate or endorse candidates and cannot even discuss these topics publicly without suffering sanctions or being fired. Raises for classified workers are tightly controlled and limited. Classified positions have specific sets of duties, education requirements, and experience requirements they must meet to qualify for positions.  Classified workers cannot be promoted if they do not meet the requirements of their new position. The vast majority of state workers used to be considered “classified.”

Below are the basic positions defined in Civil Service that are supposed to be classified as unclassified.

  1. Elected officials and person appointed to fill vacancies in elective offices.
  2. The head of each principal executive department appointed by the Governor.
  3. Registrars of voters.
  4. Members of State boards, authorities, and commissions.
  5. One private Secretary to the president of each college or university.
  6. One person holding a confidential position and one principal assistant or deputy to any officer, board, commission or authority mentioned in (1), (2), (3), or (4), above, except the State Department of Civil Service.
  7. Members of the military or naval forces; including those employees in the Military Department of the State of Louisiana who are members of the Louisiana National Guard or Louisiana State Guard, either active or retired.
  8. The teaching and professional staffs, and administrative officers of schools, colleges, and universities of the State, and bona fide students of those institutions employed by any State agency.
  9. Employees, deputies, and officers of the legislature and of the offices of the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General; and of police juries, school boards, and assessors; and of all offices provided for in Constitutional Article V.
  10. Commissioners of elections, watchers, and custodians and deputy custodians of voting machines.
  11. Railroad employees whose working conditions and retirement benefits are regulated by federal agencies in accordance with federal law.
  12. Notaries Public.
  13. All employees of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

Obviously unclassified employees are supposed to be restricted in number and held to a pretty high standard.  Unclassified positions are supposed to be rare.  The vast majority of state employees in Civil Service are supposed to be “classified” to prevent a return to the “spoils” system of governance in Louisiana; when most of the positions in state government we doled out based on who folks supported in elections.  A classified state worker is loyal to the state, not a specific political party, candidate, or appointee.  From information I’ve been given, John White reportedly did not like that arrangement and exploited Civil Service rules to simply drive off hundreds of classified state workers loyal to Louisiana and replace them with unclassified employees (mostly from out of state) loyal to him.

Of 108 positions at RSD today, 107 are unclassified.

What possible harm can come from converting our workforce from classified to unclassified?  (Hint: New taxes!)

In case you were wondering how this arrangement works out in the real world consider this.  RSD and its staff, in conjunction with the charter lobby, successfully PR’d the public in New Orleans last year to pass a tax that contributes 90% of the proceeds to RSD until 2025 (in additional to their state and federal funding and fees they charge charters.)

Shall the Orleans Parish School board (the “School Board”) levy a tax of four and ninety-seven hundredths mills on the dollar of the assessed valuation of property within the City of New Orleans assessed for City Taxation, (an estimated $15,540,000 reasonably expected at this time to be collected from the levy of the tax for an entire year), for a period of ten (10) years, beginning in 2015, for the purpose of preservation, improvement and capital repairs of all existing public school facilities, to be levied and collected in the same manner as is set forth in Article VIII, Section 13(C)(Second) of the Louisiana Constitution of 1974; provided that said tax is to be levied each calendar year at a millage rate not in excess of the difference between 4.97 mills and any millage levied in such calendar year for any outstanding general obligation bonds of the School Board?”

How will property taxes be extended and/or redirected to fund RSD?
OPSB is expected to pay off school facility debt by 2021 using 4.97 mills of property tax previously approved by voters. The tax is expected to end in 2021, and the amount collected from voters will begin to decrease as the debt service decreases. If voters approve the proposition, the mills will be renewed and extended through 2025. The difference that is not applied to the debt service will be set aside for facility preservation, and RSD can begin to access the funds as early as 2016. The mills currently collect approximately $15.5 million each year. (Source: OPSB FAQ on Tax Proposition. )

In full effect and after OPSB has fulfilled its debt obligations, the non-elected RSD would receive 90% of the funding ($13,986,000) of property tax revenue. OPSB would receive the remaining portion of approximately $1,554,000.

What does RSD do with all their money?

What does RSD do with all its money you ask?  Well for one thing, they like to rent luxury office space in downtown New Orleans across from the Superdome.

RSD takes up the entire 14th floor at 1615 Poydras street. Here is the floor plan of the suite right above them


Here are some of the images of the building and the amenities:

Encompassing 508,741 rentable square feet, the Class A Property is 85% leased and serves as the corporate headquarters for McMoRan Oil & Gas.


The property’s rent rolls are dominated by high profile, local, national and international corporations including Freeport-McMoRan, ANKOR Energy, U.S. Coast Guard, Gillis Ellis & Baker, Kuchler Polk Schell Weiner & Richeson, Usry Weeks & Matthews, Duplantier Hrapmann Hogan & Maher, First NBC Bank and Regus.


1615 Poydras accommodates an on-site restaurant, a barbershop and dry cleaning pick-up & delivery services.  Our location in the Central Business District (CBD) directly across from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, provides easy access to City Hall, hotels, Canal Street shopping and the historic French Quarter.  Tenants enjoy easy walking distance to the NFL Saints Champion Square and the world-class Mercedes-Benz Superdome directly across the street.


Man, who wouldn’t want a drycleaners with pickup and delivery service and a barbershop in their office building?

Check out the gorgeous marble and mahogany floors and enormous meeting rooms overlooking the city.

Who knew being a state worker could be such a sweet deal, especially amidst a 1.6 billion dollar deficit?

But maybe there was a logistical reason for locating so close to the superdome in a luxury office building?

RSD claims this move makes them more accessible to families and parents.

Recovery School District

The Recovery School District is a special district of the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) charged with transforming chronically underperforming schools in Louisiana. The organization’s mission is to ensure that all students graduate high school on-time and be college and career ready.  Their move to 1615 Poydras provides a more centrally-located site in the Central Business District – closer to business and community partners [true] and more accessible for families and parents [not true].  Recovery School District also maintains three Parent Centers at various locations throughout the city.

But let’s be honest. This is move to put them closer to the Saints, not students. Right across the street in fact!  RSD used to be located in a warehouse before John White came to town, where many of the parents actually lived.

Let’s compare.

RSD Pre-John White at 1641 Poland Avenue.  Note the graffiti on neighboring buildings and less than august surroundings. . . but I bet the rent wasn’t too steep.


RSD – Post John White at 1616 Poydras street on the 14th floor across from the Mercedes Superdome.  Who knew School Reforming could be so good?


So what if RSD is ripping us off. . . at least I get choices!?!?

Now when parents have problems they can’t actually reach anyone at RSD. RSD makes thousands of parents with enrollment problems line up all day in the hot sun every year while they try to fix the choices the One AP enrollment system selected for them.


Last year some parents waited in line all day only to be turned away and told to come back tomorrow.


RSD Choice. We choose for you.

In my district, East Baton Rouge Parish, I actually have choices and can apply to numerous schools and programs.  I can choose to send my kids from among the schools I get into. In public schools I have the choice to send my kids to a Montessori program, magnet school, language immersion school, Arts integrated or Math Sciences and Arts school, a trade focused school, a charter school or just send my kids to the school down the street. I can apply to all of those choices and select the one I want based on the ones I can get approved for. In New Orleans you put your top 3 choices in, and maybe the computer selects one for you. If you don’t like the selection, or the selection scatters your kids all across town, you and thousands of other parents must queue in line all day to try and find a new school for your kids to attend.

That type of “choice” is more like Communism, than Capitalism folks. You know, where the state assigns you to a school and you line up for days to make simple changes to anything (and that’s on a good day.)

The free enterprise system charter supporters often tout as the cure-all for the ails of the public education system can’t work because bad or undesirable charters can stay in business when the few desirable schools run out of spots.

RSD and New Schools for New Orleans claim that RSD and the New Orleans Experiment has solved the problem of kids being limited by their Zip code. In actuality, they have just made it worse.

These groups claim to provide choice, but the choice belongs to RSD, to the state, not to the parents.

This is the future that awaits us as this “public/private” partnership proceeds.

Wow. Can RSD do anything right?  Uh. . .

But that’s not the only form of waste at RSD.

RSD’s 100+ strong workforce loses more property and equipment each year than the rest of the state put together.  About a million dollars a year at last tally. Here is a statement from the legislative auditor:

Statement: The Recovery School District reported more than 28 percent of its movable property missing in its 2014 inventory. Because of the large volume of missing inventory, [the Louisiana Property Assistance Agency] disapproved the agency’s property certification and completed an internal investigation on the losses. We have since reported our findings on the issue to the Attorney General and Legislative Auditor for further review

The full report is here:$FILE/RSD%202014%20Release.pdf

You can also see how RSD’s losses compare to the rest of the state in Lee Zurik’s report:

RSD and LDOE employees switch jobs fluidly because they are really the same agency now.

To see this in action let’s look at the curious case of Kunjan Narechania, who came to Louisiana and RSD with John White as his chief of staff. Then she went with John White to LDOE, and now is back at RSD but is paid from LDOE’s budget.

From payroll file as of 1/23/15


From article as of 2/2/15.

Recovery chief of staff Kunjan Narechania said the department has held off on finalizing the Dunbar agreement pending the John Mac and Livingston decisions; if Believe moves into John Mac, it would be moot. She added that the Recovery system does not typically have written agreements with charter programs about which buildings they will get, though “the process has been fairly inconsistent.”

Gotta’ love that freedom.

As you can see, RSD and LDOE employees are fluid and all report to John White.  They certainly don’t oversee any schools, and I sure hope they aren’t trying very hard to look after property that is disappearing at a burn rate of a million dollars per year.  So do we really need them to recruit charter schools in a 100% charter district?

Is RSD the future we want for Louisiana: a giant, unaccountable, exceptionally wasteful, state level agency who’s employees can lobby and donate to local and state officials for increases to its budget and power and which oversees all the schools in the state – instead of local school boards?

Is there a conclusion in here somewhere?

It is clear that RSD is not working. . . for parents or students. At a time of great financial crisis in our state, RSD is providing multiple luxury offices to its staff members so they don’t have the inconvenience of driving into Baton Rouge – where they really are supposed to work.

Louisiana is facing a 1.6 billion dollar shortfall this year, while some state DOE employees are assigned multiple offices (luxury offices).  Based on my calculations, Bobby Jindal is probably right to recommend 100 employees be reduced at the department of education. John White has actually maintained his staffing level at LDOE via RSD over the last 3 years (while increasing his overall payroll by eliminating classified positions and replacing them with unclassified positions.) The payroll at RSD alone is 1/4th of the entire payroll at LDOE for 1/5th of the employees. Many of John White’s employees swap back and forth for budgeting reasons but, they all ultimately report to White.

RSD is the past, and it needs to be left in the past, and now is the time to do it.

John White claims he needs to start discussions and meetings to determine where to make layoffs. I actually have 108 employees to recommend eliminating right now (or maybe 109 depending on where Kunjan actually works).  It’s time to eliminate the RSD.

That is a real choice that would be good for just about everybody.

Background On the High Stakes Testing Opt Out Movement in Louisiana

Unless you are already opting your kids out of testing this spring, most folks have probably only heard about this movement to “opt out” (parents refusing to permit children to take) of high stakes tests in Louisiana in the past couple weeks.  Here are some recent stories:

The opt out movement has been building momentum in this state and throughout the country for the past few years.  I have been consulted numerous times by various organizers of this movement to promote it or provide information about possible consequences and implications.  I actually don’t have a firm stand one way or the other on the “opt out issue” but I have been linking people up with individuals that do for the past year or so.  A few of the opt out information providers in our state are Ann Burruss from Lafayette and Lee Barrios from St Tammany.  You can generally find them on Facebook if you have any questions and want to keep up with the latest developments.  This post is not going to delve too deeply into whether parents should or should not do this.  I will leave this for them to decide. What I did want to do is provide some background on this issue.  I found the background on this situation to be lacking in most mainstream outlets.

First let’s define what High Stakes Testing means.  This is a term that has come to mean annual tests that are tied to consequences for teachers, students, schools and districts.  Low scores on these tests can mean teachers are fired, students are retained, schools are closed, districts are seized by the state.  For a pro side you can review this edreform site that describes what education Reformers are hoping to accomplish.  For the argument against High Stakes testing you might try looking through and this link:

High Stakes testing became all the vogue in 2001 with the passage of NCLB (No Child Left Behind act).  NCLB is actually being debated and right now in Congress and even Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is telling Congress that standardized testing has gone too far and needs to be scaled back.  (The original was co-authored by John Boehner and Edward Kennedy so you know it has to be good, right?)

Today some school systems may spend a third of their class time taking standardized tests or preparing for them.  I’ve spoken with parents in districts in Louisiana that claim test prep booklets sample tests start getting sent home in January for the high stakes tests we give in April each year.  Parents are outraged about how much time is consumed in taking and preparing for tests, and I don’t blame them.  I send my kids to school to learn, not to take or prepare for tests endlessly.

A new wrinkle for this year is that no one outside of Louisiana State Superintendent John White and his close circle know what test kids will be taking.  White has claimed at different times our children will be taking a PARCC or PARCC-like test.  (PARCC is one of two major testing Consortiums tapped and funded by US DOE to develop Common Core tests for the States.)  However Governor Bobby Jindal and his DOA intervened in a contract dispute and declared the way it was approved invalid and have asserted they will not pay for PARCC with State funds.  This has led to several lawsuits brought by education Reform proponents and parents groups as well as the Governor’s office and BESE.  I honestly have no idea where any of that stands right now.  One judge has ruled the state can’t block White from procuring the tests.  Jindal has vowed to seek repayment of any funds spent that way.  Lawsuits are still pending. I’m not sure anyone else can tell you how this will ultimately play out with any degree of certainty either.

Still, John White has made it clear Louisiana will be giving the PARCC exam this Spring and districts need to be prepared for it.  According to previous statements and decisions by White and BESE, no students will be held back based on this exam, whatever it is.  No teachers should be penalized based on the scores their students get for this year either.  However (SPS) School Performance Scores will still be based on these test results.  Schools and districts that do poorly on these mystery exams could be subject to seizure by the State Recovery School District (RSD) and handed over to charter operators.  Students that “opt out” will be assigned a zero on the exam.  If schools end up with a lot of zeros it could severely impact their SPS score and make takeover very likely if the school is already in a borderline achievement category and has been for several years.

Louisiana has not defined a formal way to “opt out” of testing.  Currently tests are mandatory.  Some parents are writing letters to their principals that they wish to opt out of testing.  It’s unclear whether any principals will honor these requests. My guess is students that get sent to school will be given tests regardless of any letters.  To prevent this from happening parents are considering keeping their kids home on testing days and makeup test days or bringing them to school late.  These would be considered unexcused absences.  I would caution parents that do this that they could run afoul of LRS 17:221 and LRS 14:92.2 that outlines possible fines and jail time for parents of kids who are habitually absent or tardy (truant). Enforcing those laws would probably be worse case scenarios but some districts might play hardball with parents trying to keep their kids home during testing. Some parents have taken a third route.  They have instructed their kids to bubble in all the same answer or to make “pretty pictures” on their scantron answer sheets if they have given tests against their parent’s permission.

I’m not very clear on what the value of these tests could possibly be.  Unless John White made a secret deal with PARCC to get the assessments for free (he is still a PARCC Governing board member so I wouldn’t rule that out) or PARCC has accepted the risk of contentious legal battles over any payments made, they are not true PARCC assessments.  They will not be comparable to last year.  They will not be comparable to next year. They may be rigged to be similar to PARCC using combinations of last year’s test and new items the state may have used micro contracts to generate.

What I can tell you is this.  These test booklets have already been printed or are in the process of being printed by DRC, the State’s longtime testing vendor.  When I worked at LDOE 3 years ago it took months to print the hundreds of thousands of test booklets they have to prepare each year.  DRC needed enrollment data from us in November or December to “precode” (pre-fill site code, name, DOB, grade level, etc) the majority of the test booklets give to students.  Someone should be able to require John White turn over a sample test booklet to see how they are portraying the test they will be giving in a few months.  Will they be calling it PARCC, iLeap, iPARCC, ParccLEAP?  Who knows?  What I am sure of is I’m glad I don’t have to make a decision on this till at least next year.

Would you like to see a sample/practice PARCC test?

I was recently told by a parent that they tried the 7th grade math portion with their child and failed miserably.  Common Core, which these tests are based on, was not phased in.  That means many kids in higher grades will not be able to pass these tests because they were never taught the material.  Because these tests are designed for kids to fail initially in the higher, unprepared grades as has happened in States like New York that gave these exams last year, parents are concerned this will lead to school takeovers anyways, as well as some mental anguish for their children.  In some schools these tests are emphasized a great deal and a lot of stress is put on kids to perform.  Some kids can shrug it off, and others can take this type of failure pretty hard and it can damage their self-esteem.

I know from experience I hate this type of situation.  I’ve had teachers that tested us on subject material we were not taught or even assigned and it did impact my attitude towards school and my teachers in very negative ways.  I lost respect for those teachers, lost respect for the subject material, and tuned out.  It did not inspire me to “try harder”.  It just made me think tests and schools were stupid.  Perhaps now I would handle that differently?  It’s hard to say, but children are not little adults.  Scholastic achievement might be tied to their self-esteem and identity, and they may not have other experience or achievements to anchor themselves.  If I had this concern, if I thought my children would be impacted like I was, I can guarantee I would consider opting my children out.