Two influential public school groups are pushing a bill that would undo a key part of former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s education overhaul.
The umbrella organizations for 69 district superintendents and 643 school board members want the Legislature to scrap a section of state law touted as a way to improve schools rated C, D or F. The law requires local boards in those districts to include performance goals in contracts with local superintendents covering student achievement, graduation rates and teacher effectiveness.
Backers of the bill say hammering out details of contracts with superintendents should be a local issue.
“How can someone in Baton Rouge really decide and make those decisions to help improve a school system in north Louisiana?” asked Hollis Milton, president of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents.
On the other side, former Senate Education Committee Chairman Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, sponsor of the 2012 law under scrutiny, said without the law, local boards would be all over the place in terms of any performance requirements in troubled districts.
“To repeal a section as important as that would be a bad thing,” said Appel, now a rank-and-file member of the committee.
The contract rules are part of Act 1, which the Legislature approved in 2012 as part of Jindal’s push to overhaul public schools. The same law made it harder for teachers to earn and retain a form of job protection called tenure, and that got most of the attention in heated legislative debates.
However, state Rep. J. Rogers Pope, R-Denham Springs, sponsor of the bill, said the rules of superintendent contracts are causing multiple problems.
“Let the local people that do the hiring and firing put together their objectives of what needs to be in the contract,” said Pope, who was superintendent of the Livingston Parish school district from 1987-2001.
“They are the ones that have to answer to the public,” Pope said.
“I don’t think it would be a watering down by an means,” he said of the proposed legislation. “That is not the intent at all.”
Brigitte Nieland, who follows public school issues for the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, disagreed.
“We are going to oppose it because it is going to be an unwinding of Act 1,” said Nieland.
LABI was a top backer of the 2012 law, which Pope opposed.
Nieland said that if crafting superintendent performance goals are left to local school boards, “some will and some won’t.”
The requirement stemmed in part from the view that local school boards are often laden with long-serving members who have little interest in shaking up even troubled public school systems.
Scott Richard, executive director of the 643-member Louisiana School Boards Association, said it is a mistake to link contract goals to a state accountability system that is often in flux, especially in the past three years.
“That is a decision that we feel should be left up to the local level, as Hollis and Rogers have said,” Richard said. “The state should not manage local affairs.”
The state has 29 school districts rated C, D or F.
The 2012 law requires all local districts to send copies of contracts to the state superintendent of education and to notify that official when a local superintendent is fired.
Failure to do so makes the contract null and void.
Pope said state Superintendent of Education John White has raised no objections about shelving that rule.
“He just puts them in a drawer,” Pope said of local superintendent contracts.
Milton, who is superintendent of the highly-rated West Feliciana Parish school district, said the state has not had a lot of success taking over and improving troubled public schools.
“So what would give us any indication that what comes from Baton Rouge will ever make a local district more successful?” he asked.
Appel said local boards need state guidance because they have sometimes strayed from their key mission, and tried to micromanage daily school operations.
“Any effort to go back to the old days I would have to be strongly opposed to,” he said.
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