Despite bills’ defeat, board reform looms

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 17, 2009

By David Vitrano


LAPLACE—“I think that the legislature has kind of fired a warning shot across our bow,” declared St. John School Board Member Russ Wise.

These words referred to the bills regarding statewide school board reforms, which the legislature recently debated and subsequently rejected.

The bills, drafted at least in part by Louisiana Superintendent Paul Pastorek, would have limited the term limits and powers of school board members as well as decreasing or eliminating compensation for them.

Wise led the charge in St. John against the bills, but that does not mean he is against them entirely. “I think we need to reform school boards,” he said, adding that the mere fact the bills were introduced in the first place signals a great deal of discontent across the state.

According to Wise, the reason he opposed the bills and the reason they got rejected has to do more with the way they were introduced than with what they contained. He called the way in which the bills were introduced a “dictatorial approach” and said the bills were shoved down the throats of local boards. The bills, he said, could be redrafted “without making it sound like every school board in the state is a failure.”

Wise thinks the best approach to school board reform would be to create a statewide commission composed of representatives from local school boards, the statewide Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, the chairmen of the House and Senate Education Committees, the heads of such organizations as the Council for a Better Louisiana (CABL) and the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) and any other groups or persons appropriate to the proceeding. Wise said he already spoke with Rep. Nickie Monica about forming just such a commission. He believes such a commission could come to a suitable compromise. “It worked with the accountability program in schools,” said Wise.

“A compromise is something that nobody likes,” he said, but he continued, “[An acceptable compromise] would sail through the legislature.”

According to Wise, some of the bills were aimed at correcting a very localized problem with very broad strokes. Still, he admitted some of them were on the right track.

One of the points he agreed with had to do with assigning more hiring power to superintendents.

“[School boards] aren’t in the business of assigning jobs,” he said. Such a bill, he said, would not only take that power out of the hands of board members but also make the superintendent directly accountable.