La. Gov.-Elect John Bel Edwards Wants a New State Superintendent.
One of Governor-Elect John Bel Edwards’ desires is to rid Louisiana of education superintendent John White.
Even though Governor Bobby Jindal promoted and endorsed White as state superintendent, technically it is the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) that hires the superintendent and the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee that confirms BESE’s hire.
And technically, it is BESE that would vote to fire him– which some see as an impossibility since most of those seated on the incoming BESE appear to be on White’s side.
However, there are ways to rid Louisiana of John White, ways that go beyond mere BESE configuration. As governor, John Bel Edwards is well leveraged to pressure White to either resign or to prompt BESE to vote him out.
On November 22, 2015, I spoke with Louisiana Representative Brett Geymann (Lake Charles) regarding the leverage that Edwards has in fulfilling his preference for a new state superintendent.
“Two things,” Geymann began. “First is the BESE ethics bill. There are two versions, one sponsored by me [in 2014], and the other, by Bob Hensgens [in 2015]. It had the support of the House to move two years ago and died by the Jindal administration in the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.” Geymann explained that in negotiations for the Common Core Compromise bill that passed, no other anti-Common Core legislation could be promoted. I asked him if the BESE ethics bill was considered “anti-CC legislation,” and he said yes. [It includes language prohibiting “nongovernmental organization” membership if such membership “requires adherence to or adoption of educational standards.”]
Geymann also observed that the terms of these BESE ethics bills “would have made Boffy, Orange-Jones, and Roemer resign.”
So, Geymann’s first point was that Edwards could promote revival of the BESE Ethics Bill as a means of both altering the current configuration of BESE (Boffy and Orange-Jones still hold BESE seats) as well as preventing other current, and future, BESE reps from also having questionable involvements that are arguable conflicts of interest.
However, as our conversation continued, Geymann noted that his second point was the more salient, for it concerns money: “John Bel Edwards has tremendous influence and control over LDOE contracts via the Division of Administration (DOA). He can make BESE and John White’s life very miserable.”
As governor, Edwards will appoint the next commissioner of administration– the person who is able to scrutinize any contracts John White sends DOA’s way. And all major contracts must have DOA approval.
Regarding control over LDOE contracts through DOA, Geymann added, “Even though John Bel Edwards does not have support from the BESE board [regarding White’s exit], in the end, John Bel Edwards wins.”
As concerns Geymann’s second point about money, there’s more:
The governor controls the executive budget– even the money BESE has to operate. Geymann noted that typically, the legislature has influence over the budget, so it is not just the governor, but the governor is the most powerful office in the state: “Right now, he [Edwards] has momentum, which is especially true in his first year.”
In closing our conversation, Geymann moved beyond his two points to add, “He [Edwards] controls to some degree the House and Senate ed committees”– something legislators supporting local control did not have under the Jindal administration when those committees were appointed. And control over committee membership means that the governor “can control legislation, no question,” Geymann concluded.
In short, Edwards could use all of the above to put a degree of pressure on White heretofore unknown, even considering the brief stint of pressure that White experienced when Jindal had DOA suspend LDOE’s testing contract and other contracts in June/July 2014.
As for the newly-elected BESE, Geymann reflected: “You have new BESE member[s] that business may have put a few million dollars behind, but at the end of the day, the governor has so much influence and power, there’s a possibility they would want to work with the governor.”
In other words, even BESE-majority backing for White is potentially malleable.
What is certain is that Edwards can surely get White where it hurts: in those scores of LDOE contracts. And he can get White’s “boss,” BESE, in its budget.
So, when the Louisiana governor-elect publicly repeats that he wants a new state superintendent, know that he also has leverage to bring it to pass.