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Hear the Echoes #14 - Thursday, April 21, 2011

Hear the Echoes # 14



The Voice of a Leader?



          The self-styled White Knight of Louisiana education reform accuses the newly formed Coalition of Public Education stakeholders of presenting nothing new except for seeking more money. 


          Apparently he fails to look into the mirror at his own greedy grasping for money for his favored schools, the RSD.  The Recovery School District has been spending at least 30 percent more per student than the average locally-run school system in Louisiana.  Over the past five years RSD students have been funded by a combination of special federal grants, the state department of education providing free property insurance and free use of buildings built by the Orleans Parish School Board, and the largess of national foundations.  While RSD per pupil funding has trended downward from in excess of $20,000 per student per year in the early days, to its current level of more than $13,000, RSD funding is still lavish by comparison.


          Pastorek preaches that local education stakeholders’ pleas for equitable funding flies in the face of "a nearly $2 billion budget deficit.”  It doesn’t take a CPA to challenge his distorted deficit claim.  His boss, Gov. Bobby Jindal doesn’t see the same number.  It is not likely that the Louisiana legislature will deal with such a number either.  He continues to close his eyes to the fact that state revenue collections are increasing above state estimates and that the error rate of those state estimates historically underestimate state income by hundreds of millions.


          Pastorek habitually tends to over-react and to throw numbers largely unconnected to reality into his pronouncements.  For instance, he still claims the RSD has made "unprecedented gains in student achievement.” However, his own web site reveals that the RSD schools remain the lowest performing in the state.  His own statistics reveal that the few RSD schools that seem to be progressing are really special cases whose core student data has been allowed to be manipulated to make their performance look better than is factual.


          The non-educator Superintendent apparently can’t recognize an educator when he sees one.  He asserts that the burgeoning coalition of public education stakeholders is only "made up of staff and board members from these various groups”.  Does he really assume that leaders of the superintendents association, the school boards association, the teachers and principals associations, and the parent teachers associations are so bold as to take a coalition public without broad based support and authorization from their members?


          It is, perhaps, not so widely recognized that Paul Pastorek often acts first and then tells his hiring directors at the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.  His most recent was a totally undercover recruitment of a new RSD superintendent.  BESE members openly expressed disappointment that they had to come to Baton Rouge only to find the search completed.  No mention was made…even now…about his pay grade.  One thing is certain it will likely make his new man the second highest paid staffer among the already 45 DOE staff members earning in excess of $100,000 per year.  Many of those high pay rates were also set by Pastorek before BESE was informed.


          The "extraordinary things taking place in K-12 public education” to which Pastorek refers in his news release are most often taking place because of the efforts of people represented in the new coalition.  The growing list of national Blue Ribbon schools in Louisiana are those which are largely governed by these local school superintendents and school boards supported by dedicated parents.   When Pastorek brags about the accelerated growth of high-performing/high-poverty schools showing outstanding growth in student achievement, he never acknowledges that none of those schools are RSD operated schools.


          With increased funding alloted to pay for extended day, extended week, and extended year schedules, Pastorek’s RSD still is incapable of breaking them from the bottom of the list of school performance scores.  Yet he challenges the 69 local districts’ right to demand equality of spending for their underperforming schools. 


          The Superintendent apparently believes that only he and a small cohort of highly-paid associates is motivated to "continue doing the right thing for kids.”  His vision of the right thing includes bringing in a host of private companies to manage schools and to provide a varied menu of professional services that have one thing in common:  They pull money out of the classroom.


          The multi-millions in DOE contracts that caused State Treasurer John Kennedy to stump the state were largely after-the-fact approvals by the whole of BESE.  An elite group, composed of the BESE president, finance chairman, and Pastorek, substitute for transparent contract evaluation.  But when one looks at contracts for operation of RSD charter schools, one finds that most skim 12.5 percent from all school funds into corporate profits and away from classroom use.


          Contrived criticism, in Pastorek’s mind, seems to be that which questions his version of "truth.”  His claims of progress in the RSD have been clearly challenged by education researchers.  Even the Stanford CREDO findings that New Orleans charters did relatively better than charters nationwide was based upon two characteristics that Pastorek does not want discussed:  1. The CREDO results lumped RSD and Orleans Public School Board operated charters together and nine of the OPSB charters are far superior; and 2. The charters in New Orleans are largely enrollment choice schools that select students rather than welcome all.


          One thing that Pastorek can rationally expect is that the new coalition is sending a message:  "You haven’t seen anything yet!”


Don Whittinghill

LSBA Consultant


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