Monday, January 31, 2011

Lawyer says Filipino recruiter will appeal fine

The attorney for a recruiter charged with victimizing Filipino teachers in Louisiana says he will appeal an order demanding repayment of $1.8 million in improperly collected fees, according to this article by Advocate reporter Joe Gyan, Jr.

Last spring, Administrative law Judge Shelly Dick ruled that Universal Placement International and its owner, Lourdes "Lulu" Navarro illegally collected fees from about 360 Filipino teachers hired to work in Louisiana schools. That decision was part of a much larger investigation into Navarro's practices, which the teachers' union representatives likened to human trafficking. The Filipino teachers are represented by the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers in the action.

Navarro has a history of violating the law - she has been convicted of defrauding a government agency in California and of money laundering in New Jersey.

Navarro's attorney, Murphy Foster I, appealed Judge Dick's decision. On December 30, District Judge Janice Clark of Baton Rouge upheld the original ruling. In a move already expected by Federation attorneys, Foster says he intends to appeal Judge Clark's ruling to the State Court of Appeal.

Your LFT Connection: February 2011

Dear colleague,

Just before Thanksgiving, delegates to the LFT’s annual convention heard news that offered some hope in a year that thus far had been dominated by gloomy reports about budget cuts that threaten our colleges, universities and K-12 schools.

Presentations from two experts gave us a new outlook on Louisiana’s budget crisis. They explained the root causes of the mess we are in, and offered suggestions for restoring fiscal sanity to the state.
Read more of the new Your LFT Connection from LFT President Steve Monaghan- please click here.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Testy exchanges over seized schools' performance

Schools that have been seized by the state are not performing up to expectations, and lawmakers want to know why.

That's the gist of the action at Wednesday's meeting of the joint House and Senate Education Committees, reported here by The Advocate's Will Sentell.

They got few answers from Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek and Board of Elementary and Secondary Education President Penny Dastugue.

Both said that the schools taken by the state had been failing their obligations to students for years, but that wasn't what the senators and representatives were asking. They wanted to know why many schools, some operated by independent charters and some by the state Recovery School District, aren't faring any better under the new management.

In testy exchanges, Pastorek said that "dozens" of the 180-plus schools seized by the state have shown major improvements.

But with some 200 schools under consideration for seizure, lawmakers were seeking assurance that the department of education can guarantee improvement. They got no guarantees.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Misplaced optimism

While Gov. Jindal maintains that coming cuts to higher education will be lower than expected - in the 10% range, according to this article by Gannett reporter Mike Hasten - the effects of budget cuts on colleges and universities cannot be trivialized.

LSU Provost Jack Hamilton made that clear in a theatrical gesture at Monday's meeting of the Baton Rouge Press Club, standing next to 140 empty chairs. That's the number of faculty positions lost at the state's flagship university over the past two years.

As The Advocate's editorialist wrote:

The 140 faculty positions lost to the cuts represent more than 10 percent
of the university’s 1,200-member faculty. LSU’s foreign languages programs have been dramatically scaled back, making the campus much less competitive with its peers in the region. The LSU School of Music’s ability to offer scholarships
is also greatly diminished, hampering the school’s ability to attract the best
and the brightest.

More bad news came on Wednesday, when the Board of Regents announced that almost 460 college degree programs across Louisiana are about to be axed because of the budget crunch. Advocate reporter Jordan Blum covered the Regents' meeting for this story.

Yet the governor still refuses to consider any new revenues, maintaining that he is "optimistic that we can keep higher ed cuts below 10%."

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Not letting a good tragedy go to waste

Despite the fact that there's no evidence charter schools really do a better job of educating children, and despite the fact that Recovery District schools in New Orleans are much more expensive without providing a better educational product, State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek allows the right-wing Reason Institute to regurgitate the "silver lining" calumny about Hurricane Katrina and public education in the Crescent City.

Injured teachers get school board attention

Thanks to the Calcasieu Federation of Teachers, educators in that parish may have less to fear from abusive students, according to this article by Sulphur Daily News reporter Vickie Peoples.

Federation President Jean Johnson and colleague Rick Kuykendall gave school board members the results of a survey showing that the system's Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports program doesn't always protect teachers and school employees from student attacks.

The survey documented cases in which educators were injured by students who did not suffer immediate consequences from the school system. In one case, a student struck a teacher in the head with a rock. The teacher pressed charges and the student was arrested, but has not been expelled from school.

School board members said the survey revealed a "huge, alarming and shocking problem," and demanded that the superintendent and staff reformulate district discipline policies.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

"Red Tape Act" amounts to an attack on teacher tenure

Officials of the state department of education let slip one of the real motives behind Gov. Jindal's Red Tape Reduction and Local Waiver Empowerment Act at Wednesday's meeting of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

As Advocate reporter Will Sentell writes for this article, BESE was discussing the governor's signature legislation from the last session, trying to figure out why no local school district has yet applied for a waiver of state law or policy.

Among the so-called "burdensome rules and laws" that "stifle student gain" are teacher tenure, class size, instructional time and curriculum.

As EdLog reported yesterday, the attack on teacher tenure is part of an an orchestrated, nationwide effort. We can add Louisiana to the list of states that have targeted teacher rights.

As noted in The Advocate's article, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers has filed suit to halt the Red Tape act. LFT strongly believes that the legislature has no constitutional right to cede its legislative obligations to bodies like BESE.

Jindal vows to protect TOPS

Gov. Jindal announced that he will seek a constitutional amendment to protect the very popular TOPS program, according to this article by Jordan Blum in The Advocate.

TOPS, the brainchild of the late oil magnate Patrick Taylor, is one of the most progressive education programs in the nation, promising free tuition at state colleges and universities to any student with slightly above average grades. The scholarship can also be applied at private schools, but is capped at the level of a state college.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

States look to abolish teacher tenure

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie

Efforts are underway in several states to eliminate teacher tenure. According to this article in the Christian Science Monitor, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is leading a pack of governors who want to abolish due process rights for teachers.

Other states mentioned in the article are Florida, Idaho, Illinois and Wyoming.

Opponents of teacher tenure say that it it too difficult to get rid of "bad teachers," and can find some extreme examples that they say prove their point.

But tenure serves two vital purposes in our schools, and those who want to abolish it just don't understand how crucial those purposes are.

To begin with, tenure guarantees a teacher's academic freedom. Without it, teachers can too easily fall victim to the political correctness of the day. There are just too many folks out there who would gladly yank a teacher's credentials for recommending the "wrong" reading material. It is a protection that serves without bias - those with small minds on the left, right or anywhere in between would love to restrict what teachers are allowed to say.

But even more importantly, tenure guarantees that teachers can't lose their livelihoods without just cause. Sometimes teachers are victims of administrative favoritism or unfair accusations, and they deserve a fair hearing. Our entire legal system is based on the concept of innocent until proven guilty. Does a teacher deserve less than that?

Opponents of tenure falsely claim that teachers in Louisiana "automatically" earn tenure after just three years. That discounts the facts that teachers must first obtain a degree, pass a difficult examination, earn certification and undergo three years of supervision. During that time, they may be dismissed for virtually any reason. The process is rigorous enough that about half of all teachers leave the profession in their first five years.

If, after all that, an unqualified person becomes tenured, it is the fault of administrators who did not perform their duties. And that is a mistake that can be corrected through a tenure hearing.

Jindal: Merge SUNO and UNO

WWL-AM in New Orleans reports that Gov. Bobby Jindal is recommending the merger of Southern University of New Orleans and the University of New Orleans.

The governor reportedly also suggests that the merged institution be removed from oversight by the Southern and LSU systems, and become part of the University of Louisiana system.

The state's Board of Regents is expected to come up with its own recommendation about the merger by March 1.

A comment in the WWL article by LSU System President John Lombardi suggests that LSU won't let go easily: "The LSU System remains firmly engaged in the support of UNO's mission, and will work closely with UNO, its many constituencies, and the Board of Regents on any proposals to strengthen and enhance the effectiveness of this fine institution."

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Jindal says he will propose company schools

Governor Jindal's legislative agenda will include an expansion of charter schools, one which will allow an unprecedented intrusion of the business community into the charter school movement, according to this article by Times-Picayune reporter Ed Anderson.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, the governor said he wants a new law allowing businesses to house charter schools on their property, to stack charter school boards with representatives of the businesses, and to give preferred attendance to children of the business' employees.

Lawmakers attending the meeting said they had no advance notice of the plan, and thus far no one has seen the actual language that will be proposed by the governor.

It is difficult to take a position on the plan before a specific bill, with details, is introduced. Just a year ago, Gov. Jindal said that his signature legislation for 2010 would be a Red Tape Reduction Act, aimed at easing the paperwork burden on teachers. But when the actual bill was introduced, it dealt with allowing school boards to opt out of state education law and policy, with no mention of teachers and paperwork.

The 2011 legislative session is supposed to be dedicated to fiscal issues, but each lawmaker is allowed to introduce up to five non-fiscal bills. The governor has no lack of allies who will be willing to bring his plan before the session.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

LFT representatives on retirement board

From left, TRSL College Representative Bob Lawyer, Director Maureen Westgard, Board Chair Anne H. Baker, District 1 Representative Joe Potts.

At its first meeting of the New Year, the Louisiana Teachers Retirement System Board of Supervisors welcomed two new members with strong ties to the Louisiana Federation of Teachers.

Joe Potts, president emeritus of the Jefferson Federation of Teachers and executive vice president of LFT, took his oath of office as the representative of District 1, which comprises Ascension, Jefferson, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. James, and St. John parishes.

Robert Lawyer, a professor at Delgado College and treasurer of the United Federation of College Teachers, was sworn in as the elected representative of higher education members of the retirement system.

Both Lawyer and Potts were elected last fall. Their terms run until December 31, 2014. The two men are a welcome addition to the board. Attacks on teacher retirement have emerged in recent legislative sessions, and are expected to surface again when lawmakers return to Baton Rouge in April. Both Potts and Lawyer will be reliable allies in the fight to preserve the rights and benefits of retired teachers and school employees.

Columnist: our schools are better than their perception

Washington Post columnist Robert J. Samuelson is no left-winger, and is not pro-teacher union. Which is why this column is so important.

While liberals, who formerly could be counted on to support public education, are indulging in an orgy of school bashing (witness documentaries like "Waiting for Superman" and "The Lottery"), Samuelson points out that schools alone can't be blamed or lauded for a society's flaws and successes.

"(E)conomic competitiveness depends on more than good schools, which are important but not decisive," he writes. "To take an obvious example: The Japanese have high test scores, but Japan's economy languishes."

Samuelson then goes all heretical, confounding the conventional wisdom by stating that our public schools are better than they are perceived to be. And he backs it up with research.

"American schools are better than they're commonly portrayed," writes Samuelson. "We now have a massive study of the reading abilities of 15-year-olds (roughly 10th-graders) in 65 systems worldwide showing that U.S. schools compare favorably with their foreign counterparts.

"U.S. schools do about as well as the best systems elsewhere in educating similar students," he concludes.

Not that our schools can't be improved, or that we too often fail those who would best profit by a good education. But Samuelson's column is a bracing reminder that we in public education cannot be blamed for all of society's ills, nor can we be expected to correct all of them.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

LFT staffers attend planning meeting

AFT President Randi Weingarten

Braving bitter cold and dodging snow-challenged airports, members of the LFT staff are in Washington, D.C. this weekend, making plans to deal with attacks on public education that are cropping up across the United States.

In an opening session to the three-day meeting, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten laid out the challenges faced by teachers and their unions.

"We're not giving up," Weingarten told some 200 union activists from around the country. "We need to engage in constructive problem solving using all the means and power at our disposal."

The problems, she said, are big and very real. Attacks are mounting on teacher and school employee pensions and benefits, tenure and salary schedules. Especially after the last elections, conservative politicians are trying to privatize, voucherize and charterize schools in numerous states.

Louisiana has seen its share of attacks on public schools and the professionals who dedicate their lives to our children, LFT President Steve Monaghan said.

Monaghan is attending the conference, along with Legislative Director Alison Ocmand, Senior Organizer Mona Icamena, Paraprofessional and School Related Personnel coordinator Chrisandra Lee and Public Relations Director Les Landon.

Monaghan said the focus of the meeting is on forging coalitions that can build support for our schools in a political climate that is often unfriendly to public education.

Monaghan said teachers and school employees spend their professional careers building a better future for our children, and that we owe it to them to make sure they have decent salaries, adequate benefits and a pension that allows them to have a comfortable retirement after a lifetime of service.

Louisiana's 2011 regular legislative session will begin on April 25, and will close on June 23.

LFT Legislative Director Alison Ocmand, left, LFT President Steve Monaghan and AFT President Randi Weingarten.

LFT Legislative Director Alison Ocmand, left, President Steve Monaghan, PSRP Coordinator Chrisandra Lee and Senior Organizer Mona Icamena.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

New board will decide Jefferson contract’s fate

Because the outgoing Jefferson Parish School Board could not convene a quorum before the end of 2010, the fate of a collective bargaining agreement with the parish’s 3,000 school support staff rests with a newly elected board. The issue could be decided at a meeting scheduled for January 6 at 5:00 P.M.

Employee hopes ran high in early December, when Board President Gene Katsanis and Member Cedric Floyd led an effort to award collective bargaining rights to unions representing the employees. Despite opposition and legal challenges from some in the business community, the board voted to allow bargaining with the employees.

The Jefferson Federation of Teachers and Service Employees International Union Local 21 negotiated contracts on behalf of employees, who then ratified the contracts. The former board missed its opportunity to ratify in the week between Christmas and New Years, however, leaving the issue for the new board to decide.

Katsanis was one of five board members defeated for re-election in November; Floyd will retain his seat.

JFT President Meladie Munch said that she intends to pursue ratification with the new board.
“Everything is in place for employees to have a contract,” Munch said. “We are waiting for the new board to place the item on the meeting agenda. We hope the board will agree to this contract, which has already been ratified by employees.

“It is truly an issue of respect and dignity for these members of the education family,” Munch said. “Jefferson Parish support employees have the lowest salaries in the New Orleans area, and are $2,000 below the state average."