Despite conventional wisdom that he will quit or be replaced, state Superintendent of Education John White says he hopes to keep his job when a new governor and state school board take office in January.
“This has been the greatest job I have ever had,” White said in an interview last week. “And I don’t intend to stop doing it so long as I have the privilege to do it.”
White, 39, has held the $275,000-per-year job for 3 1/2 years.
The superintendent recommends and carries out policies for about 720,000 public school students statewide.
He landed the post largely because Gov. Bobby Jindal, then an ally, spent eight months lining up votes so White would be hired by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
But White and Jindal then had a high-profile falling out over Common Core, with White backing the overhaul of educational goals and tests and Jindal opposing it.
During the height of the spat, educators on both sides of the battle questioned whether White would quit his post for a less-pressurized job elsewhere.
“Didn’t ever cross my mind,” he said when asked if he considered doing so.
Earlier this month, White got his third favorable job review from BESE, and he can usually rely on seven allies on the 11-member board on key issues.
Three BESE board members are named by the governor, and two of them — Connie Bradford, of Ruston, and Judith Miranti, of New Orleans — generally back White.
However, his future also is linked to the outcome of eight BESE contests that voters will decide this fall, starting with the Oct. 24 primary.
Of the eight elected members on the board now, White has five allies: Chas Roemer, of Baton Rouge; Jay Guillot, of Ruston; Jim Garvey, of Metairie; Holly Boffy, of Youngsville; and Kira Orange Jones, of New Orleans.
Roemer has said he is undecided on whether to seek re-election. Guillot has said he will not.
Garvey, a Common Core backer, faces opposition from anti-Common Core forces. Boffy also has an opponent.
Three other members who will be on the ballot — Lottie Beebe, of Breaux Bridge; Mary Harris, of Shreveport; and Carolyn Hill, of Baton Rouge — are often at odds with White.
Jane Smith, of Bossier City, the other gubernatorial appointee, has clashed with White on Common Core.
That means the turnover of a few elected seats on BESE, combined with three appointees by the next governor, could radically change the board’s attitude toward White, Common Core and other issues.
It takes eight BESE members to name a superintendent.
White grew up in Washington, D.C. He was previously superintendent of the Recovery School District. Before that, he was deputy chancellor of the New York City Department of Education.
White said he has not had talks about his future with the camps of the four contenders for governors — Republicans David Vitter, Jay Dardenne and Scott Angelle and Democrat John Bel Edwards.
“It is not about a Republican winning or a Democrat winning,” he said.
“It is just if there is a coalition that is interested in continuing to move things forward,” he said. “If that exists, I can’t imagine me walking away from this.”
White’s tenure has corresponded with sweeping changes in public schools, including Jindal’s 2012 education overhaul that he is touting in his bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
That included expanding Louisiana’s voucher program statewide, making it harder for public school teachers to earn and retain the form of job security called tenure, and a remake of the state’s early childhood education system.
But the push to rework the state’s public schools also has put White in the line of fire.
Jindal administration officials have repeatedly accused him of mishandling Common Core test contracts.
White often clashes with teachers union leaders on job evaluation methods and other issues.
Traditional public school advocates say White spends too much time promoting Jindal’s “choice” agenda, including vouchers, charter schools and non-traditional course options.
Others say he has been autocratic.
“John has come to the realization that he is not a one-man show, that you have to work with the stakeholders,” said Scott Richard, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association.
Hollis Milton, president of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, made a similar point.
“I think that he really values the superintendents more now,” said Milton, who is superintendent of the highly rated West Feliciana Parish school system.
“He has come to recognize that in a lot of ways we just want to be at the table,” he said.
Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell. For more coverage of Louisiana government and politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.