When Gov. Bobby Jindal promotes his push for sweeping education change in Louisiana, he need look no farther than the East Baton Rouge public school system to make the point that the current system isn’t working.
Jindal plans to ask lawmakers to expand the state’s voucher program — he calls it a scholarship program — that will allow parents of many students in poorly performing schools to get state funds that will allow the students to move to private or parochial schools.
Jindal wants to make the “scholarships” available to students in schools that get a C, D or F as a state performance score.
The latest performance scores posted on the state Department of Education website show that 65 of the 76 East Baton Rouge Parish school system schools listed fall in that category — 12 graded C, 41 graded D and 12 graded F.
A lot of local public school students will qualify for vouchers if the Jindal plan is enacted.
It would be another blow for the long-troubled local public school system.
Last fall, the school system released a poll that indicated about half of the adults locally wouldn’t consider public schools for their children,with many of them saying the quality of the schools is poor.
The poll results are hardly surprising for a public school system that has seen three communities pull out and form their own school districts in a little over a decade.
Against that backdrop, the East Baton Rouge School Board is conducting a search to replace outgoing Superintendent John Dilworth, who on Friday moved up his retirement plans from June to later this month.
The search has been problematic from the outset.
The School Board handed off to a search firm much of the responsibility for finding Dilworth’s successor.
The board hired PROACT, an Illinois-based headhunter company, to solicit candidates, review applications and recommend a relative handful of possible contenders.
Early in the process, PROACT officials talked of hundreds of candidates, but the search yielded a little more than 40 applicants, with PROACT recommending 15 as serious contenders.
School Board members were not impressed with the quality of the pool put forward by PROACT, and several were open in sharing their disappointment. PROACT has refused to release the names of any of the potential candidates who did not complete the official application process — a semantic game that plays on the letter of the state’s Public Records Law, but prevents both the School Board and the public from digging deeper into why the system couldn’t attract any stellar applicants.
The most-recent problem with the search was a little more than a week ago when the School Board spent three hours in executive session, ostensibly to talk about six semifinalists for the post.
The board then voted on individual candidates in an effort to come up with a short list to call back for further interviews.
Only one of the candidates — Rockdale County (Ga). school superintendent Samuel King — made the short list. He got 10 votes. None of the others could muster the six votes needed to make the cut.
Although he advanced to whatever the next step might be, if King ends up as the next superintendent, it looks from here like the job will be his more by default than because the board is enthused about him.
In an understatement, School Board President Barbara Freiberg said later that board members clearly are very divided on the type of person they want as the next school superintendent.
This public school system has had a lot of problems for a very long time, so no one should be surprised at how the superintendent search is playing out.
It will be interesting to see if Jindal trades on the local system’s dysfunctions as he pushes his plan to let more people take their children out of public schools.
Carl Redman is executive editor
of The Advocate. His email
address is firstname.lastname@example.org.