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Louisiana’s Next Superintendent: Baghian, or Brumley, or Neither?

May 11, 2020

Louisiana’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) expects to vote on Louisiana’s next state superintendent on May 20, 2020.

However, according to a May 07, 2020 tweet by Advocate reporter, Will Sentell, none of the six candidates has the necessary 8 out of 11 BESE member votes to be elected as the next superintendent:

 

I was not surprised by this behind-the-scenes polling of BESE members. Former state superintendent John White’s second-term presence in his position was never brought to a formal vote because behind-the-scenes polling had his reappointment deadlocked at 7 to 4, with the one elected BESE member not purchased by out-of-state billionaires/Louisiana Business and Industry (LABI), Kathy Edmonston, holding out, as did the three governor-appointed BESE members. So, John White’s second, four-year stint had him in his job as a month-to-month employee, which allowed the ed-reform, LABI/out-of-state billionaire-bought, 2016 BESE majority to keep White as state superintendent by default. The strategy: Just don’t bring the issue to a vote.

But now, we’re in 2020, and some deal was cut such that days prior to Louisiana governor, John Bel Edwards’ second, 2020, inauguration, White resigned. Prior to the November 2019 election of the 2020 BESE board, Louisiana businessman Lane Grigsby’s Empower Louisiana PAC disbanded, which I took as evidence that White might be moving along.

Despite not being able to funnel millions through Grigsby’s PAC in 2019 like they did in 2015, out-of-state billionaires managed to contribute to other PACs and have their ed-reform-friendly money amply flowing to the eight non-appointed BESE candidates elected in November 2019. So, one could argue that the game continued: A trade-off to let White go, but a security to purchase the eight votes needed to ensure that his successor would be just as ed-reform friendly as was White.

For me, the major surprise in Sentell’s May 07, 2020, tweet was the realization that the ed-reform purchase of those eight BESE seats may have hit a snag.

At least one elected BESE member could be holding out on a (the?) state superintedendent candidate favored by LABI and/or out-of-state, billionaire donors.

According to Sentell’s May 11, 2020, Advocate reporting, the issue chiefly comes down to two of the six candidates: State-level assistant superintendent, Jessica Baghian, who worked under John White; has two years of teaching experience, was never even an assistant principal, and who appears to be the preferred choice for ed-reform BESE members (the ones elected using loads of out-of-state cash), and Jefferson Parish superintendent, Cade Brumley, who has been a teacher, assistant principal, principal, and district superintendent (twice) across decades, and is the candidate seemingly preferred by BESE members appointed by the governor who wanted White gone years ago.

Then there’s this observation in Sentell’s May 11, 2020, article:

All eight of BESE’s elected members were backed by business groups, which would seem to favor Baghian….

But four panelists are new to the panel….

Ahh. “Four panelists are new to the panel”… meaning that one or more than one of these newly-electeds might not be making the Baghian shoo-in as smooth as expected.

This is great news. It means that someone whom Big Money intended to own is doing some independent thinking.

At least one individual. Maybe more than one.

Now, it is possible that some one or more BESE members are voting for candidates other that Brumley or Baghian as a first choice. But the possibility that intrigues me is that there might be one or more elected BESE members who refuse, period, to vote for Baghian.

Three BESE members have been staunch White supporters: James Garvey, Kira Orange-Jones, and Holly Boffy. I’m pretty sure (not definite, but pretty sure) they would vote for Baghian.

The governor’s three appointees (Belinda Davis, Thomas Roque, and Doris Voitier) likely support Brumley.

The remaining votes are a complete mystery to me.

In Sentell’s May 11, 2020, article, Garvey seems to believe all could just fall into place:

“I think as of today it is still fairly wide open,” Garvey said, adding that he thinks a consensus will emerge “pretty quickly” after all the background checks, review of public surveys and other steps are done.

“The attempt will be to go from six to one, which is fairly ambitious but not impossible,” he said.

As to the results of the public survey BESE conducted related to the superintendent search: Cade Brumley was mentioned five times more than any other candidate; “scan of comments suggests most are positive if not glowing.”

But you know who does not like Brumley because he prefers locally-authorized rather that state-authorized charter schools? Caroline Roemer and her Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools (LAPCS). From Sentell:

The group (LAPCS) sent a clip of Brumley’s comments to members, and a letter to BESE members that said picking a leader who does not embrace state-authorized charter schools would be “deeply concerning.”

Caroline Roemer, executive director of the group, said Brumley’s comments appeared to confirm the view that district superintendents believe “the best charter is the local charter.”

Roemer’s brother, former BESE member Chas Roemer, was an avid charter school supporter. Caroline Roemer used to attend BESE meetings at which her brother presided. I wrote about it in March 2013:

The ethics board is apparently fine with Chas and Caroline’s connection, since Chas has been installed as not only a BESE member, but of late as BESE president, and is openly vocal in support of charters. Meanwhile, Caroline is still allowed to frequent BESE meetings, where one is allowed to use electronic devices to communicate during the meetings.

As for Garvey’s confidence in a “pretty quick” consensus:

For its entire last term (2016-20), BESE chose to hold no vote for superintendent to keep its inability to approve a second term for John White off of the public record.

BESE knew it had no supermajority vote to keep White. No “pretty quick” consensus– except to just nix voting altogether.

If no supermajority vote is the case come May 20, 2020, Louisiana’s next superintendent could remain its acting superintendent, Beth Scioneaux.

Such a situation should have Louisiana lawmakers revisit the idea of the state superintendent being elected by Louisiana voters.

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2 Comments
  1. From what I hear, many people who are against White, Baghian, charter schools, vouchers, etc. seem to think Brumley is the person to go with. Do they not see that Baghian, Brumley, White all share the same background–Broad foundation? All but one candidate have clear, strong connections to business/industry/reform complex on their CV. All but one of them will be out there to dismantle public education. Why does the public not see this? Brumley’s Louisiana public schools experience seems to blind people, but that’s not the real indicator of whether he’ll be a defender of public education. Connections to edu-business interests speak the loudest.

  2. Robert Tellman permalink

    Don’t be fooled about the fact that Dr. Brumley attended Broad. He has always listened to all sides and he is a student of education and a life-long learner.

    Sometimes you have to see what others are up to in order to work with them.

    He does not have connections to edu-business interests. He does not have his hand in the cookie jar. He will not dismantle anything. He will be a defender for the children and taxpayers of Louisiana.

    If you knew the man, you would know this. He will work with “both sides” to do what is right for the students. Period.

    I hope he gets the chance to prove what he can do for education at the state level. He has already proved it everywhere he has taught and led. He has the experience and credentials for the job. He has the heart and temperament for the job. He is truly a servant leader. He walks the walk.

    If he is given the chance to prove what he can do for students, BESE can brag later that they picked him.

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