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Central schools superintendent Michael Faulk

More fault lines surfaced Thursday in the rancorous debate on how to overhaul Louisiana's public schools, with some superintendents predicting major problems for classrooms if the new rules take effect in August.

The sometimes heated arguments took place during a three-hour meeting of the influential Superintendents' Advisory Council, which advises Louisiana's top school board.

The gathering pointed up rising tensions over the merits of a plan by state Superintendent of Education John White, which he wants the state to submit to the U.S. Department of Education by April 3.

Doing so, White has long said, would allow public school letter grade changes and a host of other revisions to be in place for the start of the 2017-18 year, not take effect in the middle of the academic calendar .

Michael Faulk, superintendent of the Central school system, led the criticism of the timeline, and others said the state will risk Common Core-style upheaval if the overhaul is in place by August.

Faulk said superintendents and others need more time to analyze the switch, which is being prompted by a federal law called the Every Student Succeeds Act.

St. Helena Parish School District Superintendent Kelli Joseph voiced similar concerns.

"There are still a lot of questions out there," Joseph told colleagues. "We don't know where we are going."

Scott Richard, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association, was more emphatic in comments to the 22-member group.

Richard noted that 30 states plan to submit their proposals in September. 

He said the overhaul could spark a rerun of months of controversy similar to the bickering that erupted when the Common Core math and English benchmarks were started.

"Do you want to  jump on the horse while it is running or jump on the horse the normal way?" Richard asked. "A September date certainly makes more sense."

Richard also said a delay is needed to build consensus rather than "running the risk of a state plan that has tremendous opposition."

White noted that the federal law was passed in December, 2015, has been discussed around the state for nearly one year and that remaining differences can be aired out in the next two months.

State officials plan to visit school districts in March to spell out the state's proposal.

The controversy was the second in two days over White's plan.

On Wednesday nine education and business groups, including some traditional allies of White, issued a statement that criticized plans to revamp the way public school letter grades are calculated.

White wants 25 percent of school performance scores to stem from annual academic growth, which critics say would distort letter grades that are linked to the scores.

The plan also revamps tests schedules, charts new ways to help struggling public schools and spells out steps to help teachers.

The federal law requires states to show how they plan to measure academic skills, report those results to parents and other taxpayers and how they plan to spend the federal aid.

Aside from disputes in the past two days, there are major differences between White's proposal and changes recommended by a panel named by Gov. John Bel Edwards.

That group wants to end annual science exams in grades three through eight, among other suggestions.

Faulk offered a motion to delay submission of the state's proposal until September.

Superintendents later opted to delay any vote, in part because of the sharp divisions.

Hollis Milton, chairman of the council and superintendent of the West Feliciana Parish School District, said there are clearly tensions surrounding the issue.

Comments by Ed Cancienne, superintendent of the St. James Parish school system, pointed up some of those hard feelings.

Cancienne, who is not on the council, told the group the federal law was supposed to allow for flexibility, and be simpler than the No Child Left Behind law that it replaced.

He also blasted White.

"I know you have done a good job of dividing and conquering superintendents in this state," said Cancienne, former superintendent of the Iberville Parish School District.


Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell.