Electioneering note reminds educrats need supervision
Passing reform legislation is one thing. Getting it implemented when those who have benefitted from the previous system are part of that equation is another thing, as a recent incident reminds.
About the time Gov. Bobby Jindal was readying himself to sign Act 1 and Act 2 of the 2012 regular legislative session, which among other things would reduce school board influence over certain decisions made by school superintendents, Livingston Parish School District Superintendent Bill Spear stood up before the local Chamber of Commerce and lied about activities of the Jindal Administration, making the fantastic claim that, according to the Livingston Parish News, it “already made a public records request for e-mails sent out to Livingston Parish school employees concerning proposed changes.”
Apparently, the reporter lacked any critical perspective on the matter and accepted the charge at face value (nor did she show much accurate knowledge about the whole issue, such as claiming charter schools “are public schools run by private businesses” when in fact most in the state are run by nonprofit organizations). More on the ball were Gannett News Service reporters Mike Hasten and Barbara Leader, who actually investigated the claim and found it, if not outright fabricated, badly distorted. Instead, they learned the request had been about electioneering activities by Spear in the fall elections and from a law partner of a state Republican Party official.
The communications, sent by Spear to district employees read “there is a groundswell of deep concern among Louisiana education about the future of education if Bobby Jindal continues on his current path of destruction. With the election looming, the public must be informed of the behind the scenes tactics of the Governor's office.” He also attached a message from an anti-reform group who had opposed many of the eventual winning candidates for the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education critical of proposals being discussed by these candidates that eventually would become the backbone of Acts 1 and 2. Later messages to them and others, while not so blatantly advocating a voting preference, did include a link to a leftist website article slanted against the fortunes of the district’s incumbent and eventually reelected member, Chas Roemer.
At the very least, an investigation by the Louisiana Board of Ethics ought to be undertaken of Spear, whose activities in this regard might well be in violation of the prohibition stated in R.S. 42:1116 that “[n]o public servant shall use the authority of his office or position, directly or indirectly, in a manner intended to compel or coerce any person or other public servant to engage in … an effort to support or oppose the election of a candidate for political office in an election.” Knowing that the superintendent holds sway over many potential personnel actions that may affect a school district employee, such as tenure approval, placement, summer work, etc., is enough for employees to feel adverse action could be taken against them if they went against what Spear apparently was telling them in terms of whom to support.
Spear may have felt he could abuse his office in this manner because he has announced his retirement at the end of the year. But in all likelihood other rogue superintendents and district officials who opposed the reforms plan on sticking around for some time. And this points out that reformers’ work only has begun, for bureaucracy provides ample opportunity to sabotage measures that bureaucrats don’t like, and it is safe to say being that the current system faces significant modifications a number of those in it likely are sufficiently invested in it to resist beneficial change of it.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 13:35