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La. BESE President James Garvey Active in the Purchase of 2010 Jeff Parish School Board Race

June 6, 2016

On June 04, 2016, I wrote a post about an email that Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) president James Garvey sent to the rest of the BESE board especially regarding one of Louisiana state superintendent John White’s lawsuits to block public record requests.

At the end of the post, I noted that the real issue is that the public does not trust White because White is “a greasy, fast-tracked ‘superintendent’ who has an established reputation for narrative mud.

Even as I was writing those words, I was thinking that Garvey is also greasy.

And wouldn’t you know, an anonymous commenter noticed that Garvey responded using his personal email and asked me if I were aware of this January 2016 nola.com article regarding a public records request connected to Garvey.

I was not. It is quite a story, and at the end of the article, reporter Danielle Dreilinger attached the actual emails cited in her article.

The article concerns the 2010 Jefferson Parish school board election. It is entitled, “See How Jefferson Business Activists Plotted School Board Takeover.”

Here are some excerpts:

Newly released emails that passed through the government account of Lucien Gunter, former executive director of the Jefferson Economic Development Commission, shed new light on the extent to which Gunter and other business activists engaged in extensive campaigning and fundraising for candidates in the pivotal 2010 Jefferson Parish School Board races. …

The names of most of Gunter’s email correspondents have been redacted. But it is clear that he worked hand-in-glove with Metairie lawyer Jim Garvey, who is an elected member of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education member and a member of the Committee for a Better Jefferson.

Indeed, Garvey, who used his private work account, emerged as the mastermind of what the business activists called the “Enough Is Enough” Coalition — or, as a white paper the business people wrote called him, the leader of their “Strike Force.” The coalition operated under the aegis of the long-dormant Committee for a Better Jefferson, which the participants revived for the purpose, filing updated papers of incorporation with the state. …

The Committee for a Better Jefferson ran the show from the start, according to the emails, seeking and recruiting candidates to run against the incumbents. It had them sign a detailed pledge that included authorizing charter schools and “supporting and encouraging” Teach for America, two initiatives that bypass the conventional school system.

The business activists decided to assign each candidate a mentor. One person coached several candidates on basic talking points early on and “the importance of staying on point to avoid getting sucked into verbal traps.” For at least three candidates, the committee arranged for photo sessions and designed campaign logos.

The emails express a sense of ownership. One person wrote, “We need to be aware of and in control of our candidates meetings with incumbents.” When one candidate made a public comment about wondering who might help him raise money, Gunter jumped in: “These candidates have been briefed on more than one occasion and that kind of comment is unacceptable,” he wrote, and spoke darkly of penalizing the “guilty” party.

[School board member Glenn] Hayes strategized his decision not to run for re-election with Gunter’s correspondents. He suggested that he sign up to run, recruit lawyer Bryce Murray to run against him “then halfway through the campaign we should hopefully have some good news about a charter organization looking to move to Jefferson (one that I am affiliated with) (so) for the betterment of the school system and ethics, I am going to drop out,” and throw his support to Murray.

“This is not the most ‘honest thing’ I have ever done in my life, but it is not the most dishonest either,” Hayes wrote. “We are at a pivotal point here in Jefferson and all gloves are off.” In the end, he decided not to run at all….

Many of the emails concern money: donations, advertising buys, possible New Orleans contributors, budget spreadsheets for candidates. On Aug. 2, Gunter wrote, “I believe it is time to begin writing checks.” One correspondent, requesting $2,500 checks from donors for the group’s favored candidates, suggested “delivering the check to Lucien at his office.”

Some of those donations might exceed the $2,500 legal limit per candidate per election, they hoped. The organizers distributed a pledge form to supporters, which reads in part, “You may wish to contribute more than $2,500. This can be done in the name of your spouse and/or children.” Alternatively, “the overage amount can go directly to the Committee of a Better Jefferson,” Gunter wrote to a person whose name was redacted.

Garvey was even savvier. “I was wondering if having such large checks sent to candidates could be ‘spun’ by the opposition as a ‘buying’ of the candidates,” he said; it might be better for each donor to send the contribution as “two checks for $1,000 and one check for $500.” That, he said, “would have an added benefit of making each candidate look like they (have) broader support from the community.” …

As Gunter wrote in a cheat sheet for a presentation, “Most of the organizations I belong (to) are limited from any involvement in politics or elections, due to their tax-exempt status.” In a July email, he shared guidance for the business people to “refute the idea that the (Jefferson Business Council), or Chamber, or JEDCO, or the Jefferson Community Foundation or any other business organization, as organizations, are involved. … If you stay within this message, justice will prevail.”

The emails paint a different picture. Not only were the groups involved, but they were so intertwined as to seem functionally identical. “We might want to send some JBC members money to the Jefferson Chamber PAC,” Garvey wrote. Similarly, upon receiving a promise of a check, he wrote, “I’ll get him to make it out to the Chamber, so they can distribute it to their candidates.”

And it wasn’t just the Committee for a Better Jefferson. The emails include one from the Jefferson Chamber, in which it said it was “vigorously seeking volunteers” to run for School Board: “The Jefferson Chamber is in a position to lend a significant helping hand in securing the necessary financing and volunteer support for those who are willing to serve.” …

Planning a July meeting, the business people discussed how to protect the Jefferson Community Foundation from seeming like it was involved in the race – even though the foundation had authored a report harshly criticizing the school system. Afterward, Barri Bronston, covering the presentation of the report in The Times-Picayune, wrote that “several foundation members suggested a new School Board is not just desirable but essential.”

“Lou, I was pleasantly surprised to see how much the writer of the article focused on the upcoming elections,” Garvey wrote afterwards. “I think that it significantly helps our project.”

They had reason for confidence. Three days before the election, someone emailed Gunter a NOLA.com link, writing gleefully, “Big Lou, the resident idiots on this school board are p—ing down their legs in fear of their little party coming to an end and exposing their ignorance in the process. I hope that they are all sent to pasture Saturday.” …

After the election of their chosen candidates, the business people continued to steer matters during the School Board transition. In one email, Gunter advised the newly elected members to answer news media questions with, “It is premature for me to respond to anything until I take office, at which time all the facts will be available.”

In an email full of typographical errors to Garvey, Gunter summarized a meeting that laid out a point-by-point entry plan for the new members, who had yet to be sworn in. Pastorek and “BESE,” presumably Garvey, would participate in an orientation event; it would be “no violation of the sunshine law as long as no more than 4 of the present (School Board) memers are invited.” They would also suggest a preferred president and vice president for the new School Board.

“Give htem some breathing room by telling them we in the business community truat that they will systematically put a plan to implement the major ingredients of their pledge,” Gunter wrote, “but you would like a quarterly report to show progress to the people most responsible for thweir election.” He repeated, “Advise them the business leaders will stay out of their way.”

Here is the text of the pledge that candidates signed in order to receive campaign assistance from Garvey’s Committee for a Better Jefferson (CBJ):

Committee For A Better Jefferson’s Education Platform

I pledge to vigorously support the following issues

Implementing all viable options for turning around low performing schools, including:

  • Participating in the Race to the Top program,
  • Nationally recruiting school principals, and
  • Issuing RFP’s for high quality charter operators to turn around failing schools

Expanding the magnet school system to eliminate the waiting list for qualified students.

Expanding educational options (school choice) of parents through the opening of quality charter schools by:

  • Pro-actively soliciting charter proposals,
  • Authorizing charter schools using ‘Best Practices’ standards as proposed by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, and
  • Allowing charter schools that meet NACSA standards to locate or co-locate in public school facilities.

Enhancing the ability of the to attract new teachers and principals with diverse experiences and backgrounds to replace retirees and all vacancies by:

  • Supporting alternative certification programs for new teachers and principals, and
  • Supporting and encouraging the New Leaders for New Schools, the New Teacher Project and Teach for America programs to operate in Jefferson Parish.

Implementing strict rules that will restrict School Board members to creating school system policy only, and that will prohibit School Board members from interfering with the Superintendent’s duties of running the day-to-day Operation of the school system.

Implementing sound financial practices that will insure the stability of JPPSS. This would include the consolidation or closing of facilities where warranted and recommended by the Superintendent.

Establishing a performance plan, with annual benchmarks, to get 100% of schools at or above basic, and to have JPPSS ranked in the top 50% of State school systems. This would include moving the 4th grade LEAP scores to the State average in 4 years.

Presenting annual reports that evaluate the financial and academic achievements as they relate to the performance plan.

In the event that a replacement for the current superintendent is needed

  • Performing a national search for candidates, and
  • Releasing to the public each school board member’s scoring, by evaluation category, of all candidates

_______________                     __________________

Candidate’s Signature               Candidate’s Printed Name

Another draft of the CBJ platform/candidate pledge can be found near the end of this document cloud (pages 44 and 45). Some language in the second version is stronger, including “actively recruiting the New Teacher Project to operate in Jefferson Parish”; “actively recruiting Teach for America to return to Jefferson,” and “actively recruiting New Leaders for New Schools to operate in Jefferson Parish.”

Below is the text of the business leader pledge to support “blue ribbon panel” endorsed school board candidates (page 18 of this document cloud):

$4.3 Billion

“Enough is Enough”

Pledge

You can count on me to join the other business leaders who are pledging $2,500.00 to support first-time candidates for the Jefferson Parish School Board who commit to moving our school system upward. This Board has spent $4.3 billion in the past ten years to get us 64th in this state, “Enough is Enough”. Send your pledge to David Andignac.

A blue ribbon selection committee will screen the candidates. David Andignac will contact you and give you the name of the candidate that you should send your check.

You may wish to contribute more than $2,500.00. This can be done in the name of your spouse and/ or children.

I pledge $_________

Signature ____________________

Email Address: _____________________

Only a few pages prior (page 14) is the email exchange in which Lucien Gunter pulls entitled rank when a candidate, Mark Jacobs, talks funding out of turn. Read from bottom up (click to enlarge):

Mark Jacobs funding solicitation

See page 44 of this document cloud for the call for individuals to write their $2,500 campaign checks for the Mark Jacobs Campaign Fund and deliver to… Gunter.

And the August 04, 2010, email directing four individuals to write checks for small amounts for candidate Michael Delesdemier (see page 45 of above document cloud) is reflected in the four contributions dated August 04, 2010, on this Delesdemier campaign finance report. The small contributions sure lend the appearance of “grass roots.” Note that the lead contribution (for only $500) is from the Jefferson Chamber.

Here is Garvey’s email suggesting breaking a $2,500 donation into increments (page 24 of this document cloud). The subject line casually (flippantly?) reads, “Da candidates”:

Guys, While we are on the subject of the checks… we have talked about having the JBC members write $2,500 checks to the various candidates. I was wondering if having such large checks sent to candidates could be “spun” by the opposition as a “buying” of the candidates. Along those lines, would it be better to have each JBC member spread his $2,500 contribution over 3 candidates, in increments of 2 checks for $1,000 and 1 check for $500? It would have an added benefit of making each candidate look like they [have] broader support from the community.

Jim Garvey

Forget “buying.” Sure reads like Garvey and his pals were pimping a slate of Jefferson Parish school board candidates.

Garvey is identified as a member of the “Enough is Enough” steering committee on page 10 of this document cloud. Garvey is identified as promoting the “strategy” of creating charter schools on page 12.

On page 17, Jefferson Chamber members are presented with “options” for purchasing a slate of candidates (click to enlarge):

jeff chamber options

Page 18 notes that “Enough is Enough” is changed on the above “options” to “Committee for a Better Jefferson.”

Enough is right.

There you have it, Louisiana: The greasy president of BESE, there to protect the greasy state superintendent.

Keep the public records requests coming, Louisiana.

james garvey  James Garvey

_____________________________________________________________

Coming June 24, 2016, from TC Press:

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Stay tuned.

 

***

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.

She also has a second book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

4 Comments
  1. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    Amazing tale well told and a scary conspiracy to dupe the public, undermine democratic processes. This sort of scam is probably not unique to your neck of the woods.

  2. James Garvey’s campaign finance filings for his most recent BESE election are interesting also. His budd Lucien Gunter is reported as his paid campaign manager. You would think he would have been interested in “helping out” his former conspirator but I guess if there is money to be made……Jefferson Chamber also contributed, no surprise. And Adams & Reese contributed which I would have thought would be a conflict of interest because, if I am not mistaken, they have represented or advised BESE on legal issues. I know they represented Lycee Francaise during their last period of turmoil in which John White and Caroline Shirley- Roemer (now simply Roemer) came to the rescue. http://ethics.la.gov/CampaignFinanceSearch/LA-58026.pdf

  3. LAEducator permalink

    If the public at large would just wake up and realize that what is allegedly good for big business is invariably bad for everyone else!

  4. anonymous permalink

    As I look back through the trail of TP articles on JEDCO, there’s more than enough to skewer this guy, but instead he gets the kid-glove treatment, and we get the pro-business-spin as fact. No questions asked – the new mantra of this paper’s new ownership.

    This guy is smooth. The auditor reported back to then-Chairman Garvey, who when interviewed failed to mention *he* was not only involved, but pivotal to said email shenanigans, downplaying controversy at every turn:

    http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2012/10/jefferson_parish_economic_deve_1.html

    The auditor’s report is also available at that link, with the email blurb on page 60.

    Keep in mind, the timing of this coincides with the turmoil of CCSS implementation in the classroom and VAM scaring and stress taking up every waking moment of most classroom teachers and administrators. This is how such foolishness flies under the radar.

    And even AFTER all of this, the Times-Picayune had the nerve to endorse him during the 2015 BESE elections! Notice their link to his bio (looks like a regurgitated press release) is totally scrubbed of all unflattering and/or controversial nola.com articles. Six years worth of investigative reporting and FOI back and forth, with no mention. Only this glimpse from Garvey himself: “A lot of the time, it’s more effective to control what you want from the inside,” he said.

    http://www.nola.com/elections/index.ssf/2015/10/bese_election_recommendations.html
    http://www.nola.com/education/index.ssf/2015/02/bese_member_james_garvey_confi.html

    Thank you, Mercedes, for keeping the spotlight on our elected officials.

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