In 2012, Gov. Bobby Jindal passed a set of laws called Act 1 that altered the roles and responsibilities of school system leadership. Proponents of Act 1 have long asserted that local school boards are an impediment to growth of student achievement though they fail to provide adequate analysis with which they draw this conclusion. For locally controlled school systems, the real threat is the misuse of broad legislation like Act 1 to discredit local school boards. Communities deserve superintendents and school boards who share a respect for the balance of powers in a school system and work together to sustain and strengthen local democracy.
Consider the battle over our $500 million budget for the 2014-15 school year. The interjection by state Superintendent of Education John White, and the state legislative auditor into the LPSB budgeting process is evidence of the extent with which Baton Rouge is willing to go to shed doubt on the ability of the people of Lafayette Parish to budget its own schools.
White, without investigation or analysis, rendered his opinion of false uncertainty, casting a tall shadow over the summerlong odyssey that was our 2014 budget process. At the request of former Superintendent Pat Cooper, Judge Durwood Conque issued an October ruling that determined that the board-adopted budget was in fact legal.
Regardless of one’s feelings of how money was budgeted across the system, budgeting authority of the $500 million of public money remains squarely in the hands of the Lafayette Parish School Board elected to spend it. I doubt there is a state constitution in the United States that gives spending authority of a multimillion-dollar public budget to a single, unelected individual. The question we must ask ourselves: Is this what Baton Rouge wants?
For those who adhere to the Jindal/White vernacular, Act 1 is one of several tools available designed to weaken local school boards. Predatory charter operators, private school vouchers, curricula and testing companies, and the politicians who do their bidding these are the entities that through their “disruptive innovation” will take our public schools and turn them into bits and pieces we no longer recognize, schools we can no longer access and about which we as a community no longer need to care. Should we accept the notion that teachers, the organizations that represent them and the local school boards that represent all of us do not care about student achievement?
Democracy is not easily won and it is painfully lost. Success for all students demands an engaged citizenry and a strong school board with a superintendent who respects the role of local democracy in public education.
Kathleen Schott Espinoza
senior instructor of geography, University of Louisiana at Lafayette