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John White’s Great Out-of-State Contract Giveaway

April 6, 2013

Former TFAer and current Louisiana State Superintendent John White was in the hot seat this week as he had to answer to the Louisiana House Appropriations Committee for his and BESE’s (the state education board) budgeting decisions, both for the upcoming year as well as past decisions. One area of concern is altering of language in the Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) funding. It is not lost on the lawmakers present in this Wednesday, April 3, meeting that White’s /BESE’s goal is to make the MFP monies available for vouchers to private schools, an issue declared unconstitutional by a Baton Rouge judge on November 30, 2012, and currently under appeal to the Louisiana Supreme Court.

A second concern that the House Appropriations Committee expressed is the “consistent budget surpluses” that LDOE seems to have, and that despite the “tough economic times” requiring the freezing of the state contribution to teachers’ salaries for the past four years. John White insists the LDOE “plays by the rules”; however, the chair of House Appropriations, Jim Fannin, isn’t buying it:

Fannin also accused the Department of Education of purposely overestimating costs in an attempt to circumvent oversight by the appropriations committee. He said the department, as it is currently stands, has too much budget authority.  

The department has exhibited consistent budget surpluses, last year overestimating costs by $400 million.

“I can tell you and give you every assurance we have no intent to circumvent presenting to (the) joint budget (committee),” White said. He said the budget surplus last year was due to several construction projects in Orleans Parish that were completed under cost.

Fannin brushed off his explanation: “You are over-appropriating your budget,” he said. “I’m troubled by it.”

In response, White said, “I reject that critique. I respect your viewpoint in this, of course.” He added his department plays by the rules set up by the Legislature “no matter the judgment you create.” [Emphasis added.]

So much unfettered, unaccounted-for money left over. Consistently. Not just once. Over and over.  And John White says it “just happens.”

Then there is the issue of White and BESE approving and spending millions on out-of-state contracts.  Fannin sees such as a waste of money sent out-of-state for work that could otherwise be done in Louisiana. Moreover, there is the question of whether such contracts are even appropriately investigated and monitored:

A Louisiana legislative leader and top state educators disagreed Wednesday on whether contracts used by the state Department of Education are getting enough scrutiny.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro, said the state’s top school board is supposed to oversee details of department-approved contracts. “I’m not sure that difference is there,” Fannin said, a reference to what he called questionable reviews by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

White said 63 percent of the $41 million of such agreements this year rely on federal funds and 16 percent involve inter-agency transfers. About 20 percent of the total involve state general revenue and other sources, he said.

However, Fannin said BESE members have told him that “there is no way we can look at them in the time frame” allowed. He remains convinced that the department is relying on contracts for work that could be handled in-house, he said.

Fannin said such spending is especially frustrating when it involves work that used to be handled by employees the Legislature has eliminated. [Emphasis added.]

What you are seeing, folks, are the Jindal machinations in action: Get the in-your-pocket legislature to cut, cut, cut to the degree that out-of-state contracts are a must– this is good for the corporate interests behind the privatization movement. Who cares about “monitoring contracts”? What’s important is that the deal has been made and the public money paid to the private outfits.

John White insists that he and BESE “play by the rules.”  What “rules,” are those, exactly? Brother of Executive Director of Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools Caroline Roemer Shirley (read about that conflict of interest here) and BESE President Chas Roemer insists that those out-of-state contracts are monitored:

…BESE President Chas Roemer, who lives in Baton Rouge, said he reviews virtually all of the contracts and others take part, too. “The idea that there is not scrutiny is not a fair characterization of it,” Roemer told the [House Appropriations] panel. [Emphasis added.]

Let those words ring in your ears (“the idea that there is not scrutiny… is not… fair…”) as I show you something. This file includes four out-of-state contracts between companies in Virginia, Hew Hampshire, California, and New York, and LDOE/BESE.

It is the last that has my attention from this series. This contract is with Michelle Rhee’s The New Teacher Project (TNTP) for professional development on the COMPASS rubrics. Now, let us first consider LDOE conflicts of interest in contracting with TNTP for $2.4 million dollars:

TNTP is an outfit like TFA (Teach for America) known for “training” temporary teachers. Hannah Dietsch, the LDOE employee whose name is listed on the TNTP contract with LDOE, and now the Louisiana “deputy superintendent” in charge of COMPASS, was a partner with TNTP before coming to Louisiana. Dietsch was also affiliated with TNTP “cousin,” TFA, as was John White.  Another “deputy,” this time “deputy chief of staff” Jessica Tucker Baghian, has all of her two years of “teaching experience” via TNTP, and her Louisiana teaching certificate expired because she lacked the assessment necessary for renewal (true also of Molly Horstman, the “Dietsch stand-in”“Dietsch stand-in” for COMPASS director until her expired teaching certificate and her two years as a TNTP teacher were publicized.

So. Conflict of interest in offering this $2.4 million contract to TNTP? I think so.  Especially since (and here is my second point) it’s complete foolishness to rely upon an organization whose “teachers” quit teaching even before a formal assessment of their teaching is necessary, to advise seasoned, career classroom teachers on the newest assessment. AND its founder is Michelle Rhee– Michelle Rhee, formerly also of TFA, who taped children’s mouths shut and made 35 children bleed AND who still tells this story because she thinks its funny. Michelle Rhee, who continues to be at the center of questionable practices in her former role as DC chancellor.

What other than “I want to pay lots of public money to my corporate reform buddies at TNTP” could have prompted this LDOE contract?

Now, here is the clincher:  I have neither heard nor seen any evidence that TNTP actually offered the services they were contracted to render.  How about that “instructional resource library”? Does it exist? Is it worth $2.4 million?

For $2.4 million, should I, a Louisiana public school teacher, have to ask if this “resource” exists one year and nine months (almost Jessica’s and Molly’s entire time in the classroom) after the contract was signed, and just five months prior to the expiration of said contract?

How about that “consultation on rater certification strategy”? Who received such services? And how about those “comprehensive training resources”? Where are such resources?

Services that cost Louisiana taxpayers $2.4 million should be more obvious.

What is obvious is that LDOE needs a performance audit. I have requested as much of Louisiana Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera months ago.

What would it take to get Purpera off of his keester?

Maybe if Purpera heard from more people, we could get that performance audit of LDOE and BESE:

Daryl G. Purpera, CPA, CFE
Legislative Auditor
Phone: (225) 339-3839
Fax: (225) 339-3870
Email: dpurpera@lla.la.gov

Louisiana readers, please consider writing.  The time is ripe for pressure on LDOE and BESE.

Readers from other states: Know that your state has a legislative auditor and that his/her job is to investigate fiscal soundness in state agencies.  Perhaps you might request and investigation into the spending practices of your DOE and state board of ed.

One Comment
  1. Stephanie permalink

    Hello, Dr. Schneider. Do you happen to have a follow-up on this? Thanks.

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