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Louisiana School Board Association

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When Teachers Wake UP - Monday, October 31, 2011

Listen UP!


When Teachers Wake UP


            When the Algiers Charter Schools Association let its teachers know that it was withdrawing from the Teacher Retirement System of Louisiana (TRSL) there was a minor earthquake among the retirement system members who saw the withdrawal as a serious undermining of the TRSLís ability to meet retirement obligations.


            Teachers in the Algiers Charter system of five schools rallied against pulling them out of the TRSL with hundreds showing up to a meeting at O. Perry Walker High and the Association trustees, responding to the protest, opted to reenroll in the retirement system.


            The trustees told the assembled teachers that they had not taken the deliberate steps they believed state regulations required to leave the system.  However, the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education were advised, at its October meeting, of the withdrawal.


            The trustees said their move was in anticipation of loss of a major grant.  The situation is perhaps the first sign of things to come.  The Cowen Institute of Tulane University, in a report earlier this year observed that RSD charter schools finances were unprepared for a time when grant support would disappear, and that strategies were needed.


            The Algiers association lost 181 students this year, and its property insurance premium increased as the legislature reduced its special appropriation for that purpose requiring the RSD to dip into its MFP  as do all other districts.


            Teachers spoke about the lack of information provided them by the association leadership, and the loss of trust engendered by what was termed something dark in the management of the schools.


            Some teachers reported seeing their paycheck stubs on line with an itemization of Social Security withholding.  The Association admitted that the association was simply holding their money pending a final decision.  The report to BESE was that the Association had not paid retirement into the TRSL at all this year. 


            Proponents of the RSD and charter schools frequently evade the issue of governance.  Last year researchers requesting names and contact information, and an advanced notice of meeting dates and places, were denied such public records information. 


            Lack of governance transparency and BESE unwillingness to enforce its own contracts with the charters continues.  In December, BESE defied Paul Pastorekís recommendation and approved by a 6-5 vote the extension of 12 charter contracts.  It was revealed that none had met academic requirements of their contracts and 11 had failed to timely file fiscal reports.


            Charges that management of Abramson failed to notify authorities of abuse and of other irregularities forced the State Department of Education to cancel the Pelican Foundation charter.


            Parents attending BESE meetings have routinely complained about the lack of a venue for registering numerous complaints about charter operations.  However, the BESE committee, chaired  by Chas Roemer, rarely provides more than a cursory hearing of such complaints.


            Roemer, who was forced into a runoff election, chairs the committee that serves as the RSDís school board in spite of a Louisiana Ethics opinion that warns his sisterís service as executive director of the state charter school association suggests potential conflicts of interest.


            It was Roemer who insisted on the motion to approve the 12 charter extensions even though the DOE recommended deferral.  Charters pay membership dues into the state association run by Roemerís sister Caroline Roemer Shirley.


            The Algiers retirement uproar should serve as a storm warning to all teachers that if they are not aware and personally involved in oversight of their school system operations and in electing policy makers, they will be subject to even worse shocks.


            Gov. Jindal has already announced that his new administration will force changes in the state teacher tenure laws.  Given a supermajority on BESE, he will have no obstacle to forcing BESE to elect a state superintendent who is pledged to do his bidding.  Three BESE district elections will take place in November and Gov. Jindal and large out of state campaign contributors are supporting Roemer and Kira Orange-Jones.  This pair has been strongly identified with the charter movement and is pledged to support Gov. Jindal.


            Louisiana Association of Business and Industryís four political action committees have donated the maximum allowable to these candidates as have several large out-of-state contributors including New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  The Mayorís political arm gave $100,000 to help elect Roemer and Orange-Jones.