Leslie Turk

CABL responds to BESE opposition to school board reform

by Leslie Turk

Largely due to an April 1 story published in The Advocate, the Council for a Better Louisiana’s Barry Erwin today responded to comments made by Board of Elementary and Secondary Education President Keith Guice concerning the debate over school board reform in the state. CABL has been actively involved in legislation authored by state Rep. Steve Carter of Baton Rouge, much of which is based on State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek’s plan for overhauling Louisiana's education system.

Erwin opens his response saying he welcomes public debate and engagement in an issue that so profoundly affects the future of Louisiana's children and proceeds to challenge Guice's position:

Referring to our efforts at eliminating micromanagement of school systems by clearly defining the roles of the school board and superintendent, Mr. Guice took issue with the idea of directing board members away from personnel issues and toward policy management.  Mr. Guice said in the story, “It places too much authority in one person when it comes to the dismissal of employees without anyone having an opportunity to review what is being done. Some checks and balances need to be placed in that legislation that are not there.” ...

As President of BESE, Mr. Guice is familiar with how a board is intended to work — BESE members spend their time looking at ways to improve the state’s education system and enacting policy to reach that goal.  Would that be possible if its weekly meetings were taken up by personnel issues? Could you imagine if BESE had to decide on the hiring, firing, promoting or disciplining of state employees at the Department of Education? That is Superintendent Paul Pastorek’s job. And that is also the job of local superintendents with their district personnel. ...

And on the matter of re-election, Mr. Guice also opposes the idea of term limits for board members. We are including term limits in our legislation for the same reason that the governor, the Legislature and most state boards and commissions all operate with term limits — to bring new blood and fresh ideas into the discussion and prohibit political dynasties. If 12 years isn’t enough time for school board members to accomplish the educational improvement goals they set for themselves and their districts then it’s probably time for them to move on anyway.

Mr. Guice also said he is against our proposal to address board members’ compensation, what he calls a pay cut.  The truth is, it’s not a pay cut, it’s a return to what the state constitution clearly states, that board members “shall serve without pay,” but may receive a per diem and reimbursement for their expenses. ...

Finally, we believe health care benefits are another negative incentive that could invite people to serve for the wrong reason — and that is any reason other than wanting to improve education. The state has already done away with retirement benefits for part time elected officials, we are simply saying be thorough and let’s finish the job.

Read the full text of Erwin's response here.