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The Grand Salaries and Silence of Louisiana’s “Network Leaders”

March 11, 2013

Some LDOE employees are pulling in huge bucks, yet their actual contributions to education in Louisiana are seemingly nonexistent.  I have a spreadsheet of all LDOE employees as of 11-28-12; it was part of a records request. I would like to focus this post on five individuals listed on that spreadsheet as “liason officer.”  Below are their names, annual salaries, and hire dates:

Howard Drake, $160,000.10, 09-10-12

David Simmons, 95,000.10, 03-21-11

Gayle Sloan, 160.000.10, 08-02-10

Melissa Stilley, 135,000.06, 08-06-12

Francis Touchet, 130.000.00, 07-09-12

Combined, these five individuals are paid $680,000.36.

What, exactly, do these high-priced individuals do at LDOE?

According to a Baton Rouge Advocate article dated July 11, 2012, four of the five individuals are “in charge” of COMPASS and Common Core implementation… maybe:

State Superintendent of Education John White announced Monday morning that five education officials will work with local school districts to implement tougher classroom courses and new evaluations for public school teachers.

The five are outgoing Zachary Community School District Superintendent Warren Drake; Kerry Laster, deputy superintendent of literacy; Gayle Sloan, district support officer for the department; Melissa Stilley, chief academic officer for the Tangipahoa Parish School Board; and Francis Touchet, principal of Erath High School.

Salaries were not listed in a prepared statement issued by the department.

White said previously that Drake would be paid about $150,000 per year.

The state superintendent planned to hold a 1 p.m. conference call with reporters.

“We are changing the way we work with districts through tailored support rather than top-down programs,” White said in a prepared statement.

“We can work better and more efficiently by consolidating multiple offices into teams that customize support for school districts,” he said.  [Emphasis added.]

Notice that these individuals are given no title. This has been an issue with White at LDOE.  First there was former TFAer Molly Horstman, who was then was not the Director of Compass (John White actually denies that Horstman was COMPASS director in this email exchange); there is also former TNTP teacher (also with expired teaching certificate) Jessica Tucker Baghian, whose title is either “deputy chief of staff” or “fellow” (the latter is her designation on the LDOE employee release). Furthermore, this email release even has White’s former-TFA Chief of Staff Kunjan Narechania noting that recent LDOE hire and former “water privatizer” with connections to Jeb Bush and Enron, David Lefkowith, needed “something to do”:

There are other curious emails, including one on July 18, 2012 to White from his $145,000-a-year Chief of Staff Kunjan Narechania which touched on a variety of subjects:
“We need to talk about what to do with David,” she wrote in apparent reference to Lefkowith who joined the department two days after that email was written. It would appear from her comment that even though White had decided to bring Lefkowith, who had been working as a contract consultant, onboard full time, he was still unsure in what capacity Lefkowith would serve. [Lefkowith was hired on 07-20-12 for $145,999.88 and has the title “director” on the 11-28-12 LDOE employee listing.]  [Emphasis and explanation added.]

By October 2012, White had decided on titles for a number of LDOE employees drawing handsome salaries; in October 2012 he publicly designated the four of five individuals listed above as “liason officer” the tell-nothing title of “network leader” before the press, though they are nondescriptly designated “liason officer” in the November 2012 LDOE employee listing (keep in mind the employee listing was released a month following the press release).

In the October 2012 article referenced above, White makes the comment, “I had a lot of voices telling me what to do.”

Hmmm…. I know that White is a member of former Florida governor and ALEC associate Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change, which means that he has both Bush and Foundation for Excellence in Education’s Patricia Levesque as “voices.”

And what of those “voices” from New York, where White was before his RSD job.

So, White “listened to the voice” that told him to call these five individuals “network leaders.” But the name is not so important as the positioning of these individuals.  Consider what Mayor Michael Bloomberg did in New York City in 2003: He replaced school districts with “regions,” each headed by a regional superintendent. A business model of streamlined, direct control. No messy school boards. No messy stakeholder input. (There is a reason why Chas Roemer is parroting the idea to dismantle BESE. It is not his idea. It is a business model that offers incredible power to a single individual, be it a state superintendent or mayor.)

And that is one reason why passage of Act 1 would have benefitted John White; in its original state, Act 1 all but physically abolished the local school board.

Almost a decade before Bloomberg changed school districts to regions, Federal Way, WA, businessman-elected-superintendent Tom Vander Ark decided to “restructure” the Federal Way school district into “service areas”:

Superintendent Tom Vander Ark told district principals and administrators Tuesday that he’s restructuring assignments for top administrators so that more-traditional divisions, such as between elementary and secondary education, are superseded by a coordinated approach at all grade levels. He’s also cutting the chain of command so that more managers will report directly to him.

In a main feature of the plan, to go into effect Feb. 1, the 20,000-student district will be divided into three service areas: east, west and central, with three assistant superintendents in charge of all schools in their area.  [Emphasis added.]

Note the streamlining of the chain of command. Note also the power this arrangement gives to the superintendent at the expense of other professionals:

Elementary- and secondary-school principals still will meet among themselves to discuss issues, Vander Ark said, but less frequently. [Emphasis added.]

This arrangement limits communication among professionals and shifts the “communication” to a “top-down” arrangement.

Vander Ark’s “restructuring” resulted in “administrative flight.”

As for the five Louisiana “network leaders,” one should wonder what these highly paid LDOE employees have been doing this year.  It is March, and the press has gone silent regarding them.

Let me begin investigating these “liason/network leaders” with the name most familiar to me: Gayle Sloan. Effective June 30, 2010, Gayle Sloan retired as the St. Tammany Parish superintendent.  Her departure was timely, as it allowed her to draw retirement from her St. Tammany position while also drawing her $160,000.10 from LDOE as a salary effective 08-02-10. Had Sloan retired one day later, she could not have drawn both full retirement and full-time LDOE salary.

What a deal.

Interestingly, there is no news available regarding what exactly Sloan is doing to earn that LDOE $160k.  Not surprisingly, a search on the LDOE revised website offers zero information for Gayle Sloan. Beyond her accepting the LDOE position in July 2012, there are no newspaper interviews, no hint that any “work” is actually being “done.”  In no press releases beyond October 2012 does John White even mention his “network leaders” in any discussion of COMPASS or Common Core.

In the article cited above, there is a misleading statement regarding Sloan’s salary:

Sloan will earn $160,000 a year, which is about $20,000 less than she made as St. Tammany’s superintendent.

It sounds like Sloan has taken a cut in salary.  Not true.  She is being paid full retirement on her former salary of approximately $180,000 PLUS $160.000.

From June to August 2010, Sloan almost doubled her income, and the public has no idea what exactly she is doing to “earn” this money. John White certainly isn’t talking about it.

How about Howard Warren Drake, former Zachary Community Schools superintendent? Interestingly, the June 2012 article announcing Drake’s departure for LDOE in September 2012 uses the term “network leader” to describe Drake’s role at LDOE:

“…Much like the challenge of crafting a new school district, Louisiana’s changing education system and the implementation of new curriculum standards and teacher evaluation methods offer exciting opportunities for innovative thinking,” Drake said. The network leader position is one of five, newly created, to assist districts in implementing the Common Core Curriculum and teacher evaluation system. The network leaders will report directly to State Superintendent of Education John White. [Emphasis added.]

When reading the words, “report directly to John White,” I hope readers will keep in mind New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Federal Way Superintendent Tom Vander Ark.  I know I do.

But what is Drake actually doing to earn his $160k?  In October 2012, he attended a West Feliciana School Board meeting. The resulting news article includes nothing of substance regarding Drake’s duties.

Beyond October 2012, there is no news about Drake’s LDOE duties, contributions, assistance, or influence.

Next on the list is David Simmons, who White seems to have replaced with Kerry Laster according to White’s October 2012 press release; however, the LDOE employment information that I have from the records request is dated one month later, and it includes David Simmons’ name. A search for “David Simmons LDOE” yielded an outdated LDOE employee listing; a search for “David Simmons network leader” produced no results.

And the LDOE website: “David Simmons = 0 search results.”

Here is what I know: According to LDOE employment documents dated 11-28-12, David Simmons is employed at LDOE in the nondescript role of “liason officer,” and his annual salary is $95k.

How about Kerry Laster, David Simmons’ seeming replacement (or is it the other way around…)? According to the 11-28-12 LDOE employment record, Kerry Laster was hired by LDOE on 01-14-08; she holds the title of “executive officer” (another generic) and garners an annual salary of $155,000.04. Laster holds a legitimate Louisiana teaching certificate. The most recent LDOE correspondence mentioning Laster is this November 2012 paper by John White on the Early Childhood Education Act; Laster is mentioned as a member of the Louisiana Early Childhood Advisory Council, her title generically listed as “deputy superintendent.” In her role as “network leader,” a search did produce this crude PDF file as part of the LDOE “teacher toolbox.” The file contains two lists of names; no contact information, and no description of the roles of the individuals listed.  In short, the file looks like the result of a five-minute brainstorming session on, “What could we possibly put on this website so that we have something?”

There is no information available to indicate Kerry Laster’s actual role as a LDOE “network leader.”

When I searched “Melissa Stilley network leader,” I hit on the same crude PDF file above.  The search also yielded several articles like this one announcing Stilley’s accepting the LDOE position; in particular, this article provides details regarding the network leader’s role:

Networks will work closely with the Student Programs Division, which houses various federal and state programs aimed at supporting disadvantaged students, overseen by Stephen Osborn. The Student Programs Division will work directly with networks to improve communication and ensure that compliance efforts aimed at serving special student populations are aligned with instructional priorities. …

Network leaders and teams will facilitate regular meetings with school districts to discuss what is working in classrooms statewide and what processes need further refinement. Network staff will work side by side with district and school level administrators to regularly observe practices at the school level, fostering alignment on quality instructional practices and effective feedback. Their work will include analyzing student and teacher data on which to base feedback and recommendations; providing technical assistance in developing evaluation systems and modifying curriculum; and assisting districts in braiding funds to better support transition to new evaluation systems and the Common Core. [Emphasis added.]

The above-cited article was published eight months ago.  I have never heard of a single meeting initiated by a network leader for St. Tammany parish, much less “regular meetings to discuss what is working in classrooms… and what processes need further refinement.” I have neither seen nor heard of any network leader “regularly observing practices” at my school. There have been no publicized “offers of assistance”; no information made available to me regarding “analyzing student and teacher data.”  I have seen not so much as an email by way of introduction from any “network leader.”  Finally, there has been no mention of network leader presence by John White in his regular email correspondence with all teachers statewide.

One “leader” left: Francis Touchet. An article regarding Touchet’s accepting the network leader position includes the following troubling, corporate-reform-friendly information:

In the last seven years, [Touchet] has elevated Erath High state scores. Erath High ranked as the top public school in the state last year, which caught the attention of Education Superintendent John White.

Touchet said because of the success Erath High has had the last three or four years, is the main reason he was recruited for the job.  [Emphasis added.]

High test scores = success.  How narrow can one be in defining “success”?

The article also offers more details on the “network leader’s” role:

Touchet will be allowed to select 10 people to serve on a network team made up of specialists in literacy, math and special education to assist school districts in adopting new Common Core and Compass standards. His team will work from a satellite office in Lafayette and will be in charge of Acadiana school districts.

Sounds good.  But if these teams exist, why the crude list in the LDOE teacher toolbox?  Why no mention of these people/teams in White’s press releases on COMPASS and Common Core?  Why is it that my search results for “Louisiana COMPASS network leaders” yields an elementary school webpage that happens to have this LDOE download of a map the network regions? As a result of the “Louisiana COMPASS network leader” search, a link directly connected to LDOE is for this outdated COMPASS Power Point (April 2012).

As I close this post, I would like to leave readers with two thoughts. First, when I attended the October 16, 2012, BESE meeting, I heard John White as he was quick to point to these network leaders as evidence that he does not only employ former TFAers.  October 12, 2012, was the date on which he announced the “reorganization of staff” and first publicly used the term “network leader” to describe this group of regional overseers.  Thus, John White appears to be using the presence of these network leaders as a sort of “token evidence” that he employs traditional, seasoned administrators at LDOE, a cloak behind which he can hide the numerous individuals he has hired and who, like White himself, possess embarrassingly limited teaching experience, if any, and who collect salaries that far escape the reaches of seasoned teachers.

Second, I do believe that the silence and seeming floundering regarding the roles of these five network leaders is a front for another purpose; namely, to restructure the state at some time in the future in a fashion similar to what Michael Bloomberg did in New York.  John White started as a deputy superintendent in New York; he worked under Joel Klein, Mayor Bloomberg’s choice for NYC superintendent. Thus, it is not that far-fetched an idea to believe that White intends to recreate Bloomberg’s top-down structure of the state school system in a fashion similar to that in New York. Remember, White is “hearing voices” telling him what to do. Bloomberg and Klien could well be two such voices.

I assure you, I would be happy to be wrong on this last point regarding restructuring. However, I have been practically breathing reform research this past year and especially since I began this blog six weeks ago. Do not be surprised if Jindal and White push for a “network leader” model in an effort to divest local control (i.e., local school boards) during this upcoming legislative session. I want my Louisiana readers to be prepared mentally for such a fight.

  1. Yep. You got it. White announced his newest reorganization of LDoE at the March 8 meeting. He now has three top offices -to simplify as you described – and the District Leaders are one of those three.

    Click to access AF_8-2_LDE_Reorganization_Proposal_Mar2013.pdf

    As for Gayle Sloan – When I saw her at a BESE meeting over a year ago, she approached me as though we were old friends (she did not like my disagreeing with her on occasion as St. Tammany Supt and I spoke before the school board in opposition to RTTT the night she tied to get them to vote for it in 2009 (?).). She said she works four days a week from home and when 4:30 comes she shuts it down. Have never seen her at another BESE meeting or at any education function anywhere since.

  2. THANK YOU for this information. I was about to start a hunt for these M.I.A. people, and I should have figured you were on it! I retired from St. Tammany in January, 2013. Happy to help any way I can!

    • My pleasure, Retired. Gotta keep track of the MIAs. 🙂

      • What’s the latest on Deidre Finn? I read somewhere that her “temporary” contract had a three-year renewal provision, but I’ve not had much success finding her or info about whether the contract was renewed and at what salary.

        Did you already cover this and I missed itthat the Chairman of the Senate Ed Committee-Conrad Appel- spoke at Excellence in Action Conference in November, and is on Foundation for Excellence in Education as a “reformer.” That works well for Bobby and John.

      • I have some info about Deirdre Finn in my “Like Spokes to a Hub: Chiefs for Change in Bush’s Service” (posted today). However, I do not know if she is still collecting money from LDOE. Deirdre Finn is not listed as a salaried LDOE employee on the spreadsheet I have dated 11-28-12.

  3. Anonymous permalink

    Finn was on a 4 month contract and left in December. She’s been replaced by Anna Gatlin, who most recently was a policy advisor for Mitt Romney’s failed presidential campaign. Not someone who actually has experience with public affairs.

    It is well known that Sloan doesn’t come into LDOE on a regular basis. Even before she was titled a “network leader” she and David Simmons were “District Support Officers.” She in the south and he in the north. No one actually knew what the did. Oh, and Simmons is from Texas and I think he lives just across the border from NW Louisiana.

    I’ve been keeping up with the postings on this blog and appreciate the work you’re doing.

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