Thursday, March 12, 2009

BESE asserts independence, rejects legislative agenda

The big showdown that political junkies awaited with breathless anticipation did not materialize at yesterday's meeting of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education's legislative committee.

The elements were all in place. Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek had his legislative agenda ready to roll, and it included a change in state law that would restrict teachers' due process rights and effectively end tenure. LFT was geared up to defend those rights.

School board members were lined up ready to oppose the plan because it eliminated their salaries, imposed term limits and stripped much of their authority. On the other side, the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry and the Council for a Better Louisiana prepared to weigh in on behalf of the plan.

As the meeting began, word arrived that Gov. Bobby Jindal is making the agenda his own.

Then a curious thing happened. As recorded here by Associated Press reporter Melinda DesLatte and here by Times Picayune reporter Ed Anderson, BESE members - even those appointed by the governor - gently asserted their independence.

Instead of approving the plan, they asked for a task force to compare Louisiana's school boards to those in the rest of the nation, and to suggest changes that might be beneficial. Members pointed out that BESE's proper role is to make state education policy, not to dictate the rules for school boards. The substitute motion meant here would be no debate, no fight, no blood on the floor.

BESE's decision will mean little in the long run. State Rep. Steve Carter (R-Baton Rouge) is introducing the bills, with the blessing and support of Jindal and Pastorek. The fight will still be conducted in the halls of the legislature.

But there will be a big gap in the grand coalition that sponsors had hoped for. BESE will not be in the house (or the senate).

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