Nathan Stubbs

School board enlists lawmakers to fight Pastorek plan

by Nathan Stubbs

Only two state lawmakers showed up for Thursday’s legislative breakfast with local school board members, but both appeared to be in line with board members' opposition to a slew of controversial proposals set forth recently by state Superintendent Paul Pastorek. Pastorek is seeking to dramatically rein in the role school boards play in governing local districts — slashing their pay, allowing for their termination and further limiting their oversight over contracts and superintendent hiring and firings. Pastorek’s plan will be considered by the state Legislature in the upcoming spring session and, if passed, by voters who will need to approve state constitutional amendments.

Both state Sen. Mike Michot and state Rep. Bobby Badon seemed to agree with most school board members’ concerns over the proposals. In fact, the conversation in the meeting often turned to Pastorek himself and what his motives were for pushing the changes. Many board members felt the state superintendent — who is not an educator and who pushed for and received a 17 percent pay raise last year (his annual total salary is now nearly $350,000) — is being hypocritical in trying to slash board members’ salaries and institute educational requirements to serve. Michot says that Pastorek’s high salary has upped the pressure on him to produce results. “I really think a lot of [Pastorek’s] proposals are his way of throwing things out there to say, ‘Look, I’m doing something’ in order to justify his high salary.” Badon recounted a committee meeting where Pastorek, in part of his argument for a higher salary, told legislators that he didn’t need the job of state superintendent and could be making more money elsewhere. “That told me,” Badon says, “that his heart wasn’t in the right place.”

School board member Mark Babineaux drew laughs and nods of approval when he asked if anyone had Pastorek’s phone number, suggesting that school board members could simply forward to him all the calls they get from parents and teachers when things aren’t working properly in the district. “They want to take the calls when a school bus doesn’t show up on time?” Babineaux asked. He was one of several board members that had attended a recent state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education meeting where Pastorek’s proposals were brought up. (BESE punted on the issue, passing a resolution calling for the Legislature to “study” the plan). “Even BESE wasn’t for it,” Babineaux noted. “From what I see, this is something that Pastorek is basically doing on his own. Right now it seems like a whole lot of grandstanding to an empty stadium.”