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BESE Report January 2014

No mandatory salaries in the new MFP

This week the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved an MFP Task Force report that recommends a 2.75 percent increase in the $3.5 billion formula, but does not specify that half of the increase should go to teacher salaries.

That prompted LFT President Steve Monaghan to point out that after five years of frozen salary steps, teacher pay is an issue that needs to be addressed.

Prior to the Jindal administration’s freeze on the MFP, half of an annual 2.75 percent increase was dedicated to salaries. Although school boards can choose to spend some of the MFP increase on salaries, Monaghan said, teachers and school employees have no voice in the decision.

“There is no real negotiation over the use of funds,” Monaghan said. “Those who have the authority will make the choice.”

The lack of step increases “is having an effect on teachers and educators,” Monaghan told the board. “We are going to lose some good people, and we already have.”

The LFT president suggested that collective bargaining agreements between school boards and employees would help ensure that scarce funds are spent wisely in school districts.

The 2.75 percent increase would amount to about $70 million. An MFP formula will be developed by BESE in March and sent to the legislature for approval. Lawmakers may either approve or reject the formula, but may not change it. If it is rejected, BESE can rewrite the formula, or let the previous year’s formula become effective by default.

Course Choice will be problematic in MFP

The controversial Course Choice program will be included in the Minimum Foundation Program if BESE takes the advice of the MFP task force, a step that LFT President Steve Monaghan said could provoke yet another constitutional confrontation.

Course Choice, one of Gov. Jindal’s pet education initiatives, allows non-public providers to create credit courses for public school students. Funding the program through the MFP was declared unconstitutional by the State Supreme Court.

Since that decision, the $3 million Course Choice program has been financed by the Department of Education outside of the MFP.

Supporters believe it will be legal to launder MFP funds for Course Choice offerings if the money is sent to local school systems to subsidize the courses.

At Tuesday’s meeting of BESE’s finance committee, Monaghan said he believes that would still violate the constitutional ban on using MFP funds for non-public schools.

The LFT president pointed out that the state Virtual School, which was abolished in favor of Course Choice, would have provided online courses without violating the constitution.

VAM study to move forward, sort of

BESE will move forward on a study of the effects the Value Added Model of evaluation has on teachers, but that is not quite what the author of the proposal intended.

Across the nation, questions have been raised about the validity of Value Added Methods. Last October BESEMember Lottie Beebe asked for a study of the reliability of the VAM. She suggested that a panel of statisticians and mathematicians look at the formula, and report on its reliability.

Instead, the board authorized Superintendent John White and BESE Executive Director Heather Cope to get a third party to study VAM with a focus on how it impacts teachers.

Their waffling prompted Dr. James Finney, a theoretical mathematician, to ask, “What are you afraid of Superintendent White? Are you afraid that people will finally learn what you already know, this model does not work?”

FBI investigation of charter school raises questions

An FBI raid on a Baton Rouge charter school prompted discussion of a new policy aimed at informing BESEmembers when a school is under investigation. The charter of the Kenilworth Science and Technology Charter School was recently renewed even though Superintendent of Education John White was reportedly aware of an investigation.

BESE Member Lottie Beebe said that members had no knowledge of the investigation into the charter school’s finances, and had received no communication from White about the issue. FBI agents descended on the school in December, just weeks after BESE voted to renew its charter along in a package that included a number of charter renewals.

White said that the department of education will develop a protocol for reporting issues and present it to the board.

Board member under investigation for cheating submits expenses

A BESE member who is under investigation for allegedly double billing the state and his local school board for travel expenses submitted a bill for $3,600 to BESE this month.

DeSoto Parish District Attorney Richard Johnson has said he plans to charge BESE Member Walter Lee with felony theft and malfeasance in office. Lee allegedly billed both BESE and the DeSoto School Board for travel expenses amounting to more than $13,000. Lee is also accused of shenanigans involving a leased school board vehicle that he returned to a dealership, and then bought for far less than its book value.

BESE President Chas Roemer has reportedly told his colleagues that Lee will not be reimbursed for his current ravel expenses until the legal situation is resolved.

Lee did not attend this week’s BESE meetings.