Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Penny Dastugue's bag of bromides

Newly-elected Board of Elementary and Secondary Education President Penny Dastugue dug deep into the right-wing bag of bromides for her appearance before the Press Club of Baton Rouge on Monday.

Reporter Will Sentell of The Advocate picked up on her desire for radical change in this article, but did not go into the details of her agenda.

For teachers and school employees who may be curious about what the Dastugue era will mean for public education, here are a few clues.

As far as the budget is concerned Dastugue said she wants to "tackle inefficiencies and impose fiscal discipline" on our schools. She warned against allowing local school systems to do the discipline, however, noting that districts "do more harm than good" when left to their own cost-cutting devices.

Dastugue said she's fairly sure that once again there will be no increase in the Minimum Foundation Program formula, but was vague about whether or not Gov. Jindal will impose cuts on the school formula (as one of Jindal's three appointees to the board, will she buck cuts if they come?).

As far as "reform" is concerned, she stuck to the predictable conservative formula. That means we can look forward to attacks on teacher tenure, battery pay, extended sick leave, retirement benefits and salary increments for advanced degrees and experience in the classroom - at least those are the ones she mentioned by name.

She followed the strict conservative line in calling for "student based budgeting," which is thought by true believers to empower individual schools by giving principals almost complete control over the budget.

Dastugue's timing was unfortunate, however, coming just a few days after every principal in Livingston Parish - no liberal bastion, that - signed a letter opposing student based budgeting.

As Advocate reporter Faimon A. Roberts tells it here, the principals believe the scheme "would divert the current predominant focus on classroom instruction and put it on school finances instead."

According to the article, school leaders in Livingston Parish believe that "giving principals the responsibility of determining salaries and making other financial arrangements would harm the quality of the education at their respective schools."

On Monday, Dastugue made it obvious that lines are being drawn. She represents the pro-Jindal faction on BESE, which has been balanced by a succession of presidents who did not always kowtow to the governor. Pundits will be watching closely to see how far to the right her election tips that scale.

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