Backers of Common Core, other changes make clean sweep in BESE contests _lowres

Jim Garvey

The St. Tammany Parish School Board is calling on Jim Garvey to resign from the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education over comments he made denigrating the state's letter grade system for ranking schools. It said that as recently as last year, he had touted the system's success.

Garvey's district includes St. Tammany, Jefferson Parish and a small part of Orleans Parish.

In a resolution adopted Thursday, the School Board lambasted Garvey for saying BESE was "lying to parents" during discussion at a March 29 meeting about changes to the grading system.

BESE voted at that meeting to do away with the curved grading system, which had required the distribution of A's, B's, C's, D's and F's among schools statewide to remain the same from year to year.

Garvey, who supported that decision, said BESE had been "lying to parents" about the value of schools' letter grades. He said an A-rated school in Louisiana likely would be a B or a C school in other states and that the parish School Board has consistently opposed his efforts to raise accountability standards.

"I know that other states have more rigorous accountability systems," he said at the BESE meeting. "Yet we put these false grading systems out there."

The St. Tammany Parish board took exception to his comments, adopting a resolution that called on him to step down and to explain at a public forum his long support for a flawed system.

"This is not about letter grades but rather about our ability to trust our elected officials," said School Board member Michael Nation, who authored the resolution. "I am confused and at a total loss at Mr. Garvey’s comments," he said.

Garvey attributed the School Board's statement to political unease over what a more accurate assessment of local schools' performance would show.

He said Friday he would happily come to a meeting but would be armed with a presentation showing that the St. Tammany Parish public school system, which once led the state, has been slipping.

He said he also would produce evidence that the School Board has "fought me every time I try to correct the misinformation that has been given to parents."

The board's resolution took aim at Garvey and BESE, saying state Education Superintendent John White had developed the accountability system that Garvey is publicly labeling a lie and that Garvey and other BESE members were responsible for appointing him.

"Mr. Garvey voted for and has actively promoted this accountability system as late as 2016 when he touted its successes in his bid to be re-elected to BESE," the resolution said.

The resolution cited an "irreparable breach of trust" between Garvey and the St. Tammany board, as well as other school boards and educators.

"If Mr. Garvey truly stands behind his statement that the current Louisiana accountability system, that he has supported for several years, is a 'lie to parents,' then this board believes Mr. Garvey should take responsibility for these actions by resigning his BESE position," the resolution said, calling on others who have championed the system to do the same.

The School Board also took a shot at the new Louisiana plan, the Every Student Succeeds Act, saying that it also was developed by White and rushed for approval by BESE members, including Garvey, despite widespread requests for delay from education professionals, local school boards and statewide associations of schools boards, principals and superintendents.

The St. Tammany Parish School Board's resolution was adopted 11-0, with member Elizabeth Heinz abstaining and Jack Loup, Charles Harrell and Rickey Hursey absent.

The St. Tammany Federation of Teachers also went on record supporting the resolution.

Garvey said opposition to him from the St. Tammany Parish School Board is not new.

"Over the last nine years, at every chance I've had to support efforts to get more information to the parents of St. Tammany and parents of Louisiana about how their schools are doing, at every turn, I've faced a fight with the St. Tammany Parish School Board resisting those efforts," he said.

Garvey said BESE has tried to raise the state's accountability standards, which he described as some of the lowest in the country, five or six times during the nine years he has been on office.

"I've supported each of those efforts, trying to correct the lies that we've been telling parents about how our schools are doing. And that has made it harder for the local School Board politicians to get re-elected," he said.

"Every time I try to get more information to parents, the School Board members see it as an attack on their re-elections, and I guess that is why they keep fighting me on this issue."

John H. Walker, of The St. Tammany Farmer, contributed to this story.

Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.