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House kills misnamed “reform” bill

Bill would have negated board checks-and-balances

(Baton Rouge – June 3, 2009) By a five vote margin, the House of Representatives on Tuesday turned down a bill that, while touted as school board reform, was widely opposed by educators because it would have eroded a system of checks-and-balances between school boards and school superintendents.
HB 851 by Rep. Steve Carter (R-Baton Rouge) was heavily supported by State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek, Governor Bobby Jindal, the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry and the Council for a Better Louisiana. Its main opposition came from a consortium that included the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, Louisiana School Boards Association and Louisiana Association of Educators.
Despite a flurry of floor amendments aimed at making the bill more palatable, and an eleventh-hour intervention on its behalf by Senator Mary Landrieu, the bill failed by a vote of 46 “yeas” and 51 “nays.”
The bill would have given local superintendents all authority over hiring and firing of teachers and school employees and the negotiation of most school contracts. It would have required two-thirds majority votes by board members to terminate superintendents.
Opponents said that would negate the checks-and-balances on the powers of boards and superintendents, and would have reduced the influence of board members elected by voters.
Sponsors of the bill had claimed that it would end micromanagement of day-to-day operations of local school systems by elected board members. They argued, without ever showing any evidence, that such interference is a cause of low student achievement.
Educators fought the bill because, as originally written, it eliminated important due process rights, such as the right to a hearing before the board as part of the grievance process. Language in the bill could have eroded confidentiality protections and allowed employee personnel files to be made public.
Outraged at those aspects of the bill, teachers and school employees sent thousands of messages to lawmakers, asking them to vote against it.
As the bill was being heard on the floor Tuesday, supporters brought amendments that would have guaranteed the privacy of employee files, maintained the right to board-level grievance hearings, and eliminated the supermajority rule to fire superintendents. A letter from Senator Mary Landrieu was introduced, urging representatives to vote for the bill.
By that time, though, opposition to the bill had solidified.
During debate on the bill, supporters and opponents alike agreed that the proper role of school boards and board members ought to be discussed.
“Sponsors of the bill had good intentions,” said LFT President Steve Monaghan. “It died for the reasons that it was opposed by the Federation. It was rife with unintended consequences, including the restriction of governmental transparency and the diminution of the responsibility and accountability of elected school boards.”