On December 9th, the Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), of which I am a member, will vote on State Superintendent of Education, Paul Pastorek's plan to transition academically successful schools out of the Recovery School District and back to local governing boards. First, let me state the obvious. The plan has always been to return the schools to their local bodies. In theory, and might I add, according to the law, the process should be fairly straightforward, based on pre-determined academic criteria established by the RSD. But, Mr. Pastorek's proposal which would allow schools the choice of whether to return to the local governing body or remain with the RSD, is not in line with the letter or the original intent of the legislation.
In 2005, House Bill No. 121, enrolled as Act 35, which created the Recovery School District states that, "The School District shall be considered an intermediate educational unit," the operative word being intermediate, temporary, a step toward an intended and successful outcome. It goes on to state that the RSD shall retain jurisdiction over transferred schools for not less than five years, at the end of which time the RSD shall report to the state board on the status of the school and whether the school should be, 1. Continued in the RSD based on its status; 2. Continued in the RSD with a change in operation status; 3. Closed; or, 4. Returned to the administration of the transferring system. There is nothing in the legislation that makes room for any contingencies, compromises or alterations to the original letter or intent of the law. The RSD was created to take failing schools, fix them and return them to their original governing bodies.
My intent is not to advocate for one body over the other, but simply to address the legality of Mr. Pastorek's recommendation. In the face of explicit legislation on the return of schools, what authority does he site in offering a proposal that is in opposition to established law; and one that unnecessarily clouds a process that should be relatively straightforward?
I think we can all agree that education has changed. Alternative and Charter schools are a reality, and are here to stay. In fact, a very public discussion on school governance has already begun that may further transform the educational system in Orleans Parish.
Local school systems around the state are in various stages of readiness regarding the return of their schools; and yes, there is risk in transferring schools too quickly to systems that are still rebuilding. But the reality is that the law was written and criteria was established to address the readiness of the returning schools, not the readiness of the system to receive them. The many dedicated principals, teachers, parents and students have worked diligently to bring their systems up to successful standards; and, when ready, they have the right to see their schools returned. I submit, however, that in addition to these efforts, they should not have to fight this current battle — a battle manufactured, at the very least, by an errant interpretation of the law; or at worst, by ignoring it.
Louella Givens is a contributing columnist with New Orleans Agenda.com, the leading local alternative for information on News, Arts, Culture & Entertainment in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast Region. Givens is also a board member of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE). She may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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