News Briefs

Picard retires, FEMA squanders $1 billion and more


After a decade as state superintendent of education and more than 30 years of service in state government, Cecil Picard announced his retirement last week. Picard, who was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis ' more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease ' in May of last year, cited his deteriorating health in deciding to step down from the state's top education post.

"I told Gov. Blanco and my staff that my plan was to work through the end of her first term as long as my health allowed me to," Picard said. "Unfortunately, I feel as thought my energy and focus is beginning to wane and both are needed to fully implement our vision for educational improvement."

Picard's retirement will become effective May 1, 2007. In the meantime, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will be charged with finding Picard's successor.

A native of Maurice, the 68-year-old Picard, who now resides in Lafayette, began his career following in the footsteps of his father, working as a teacher, coach and principal at Maurice High School. In 1975, he was elected to the state House of Representatives, and moved up to the state Senate in 1979. A champion of education reform in the Legislature, Picard was named state Superintendent of Education in 1996. As superintendent, he is credited with spearheading the state's Accountability Program and the LA 4 Pre-K program, both of which have been recognized nationally as model programs. Over the past year, Picard also helped oversee the massive recovery assistance to public schools in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

"Life has an interesting way of pushing you toward your destiny," Picard said. "When I was growing up I knew one thing for sure ' I did not want to follow in my dad's footsteps and become a principal and coach. But I soon found that I was a good teacher and a good principal and a good coach ' I was passionate about it. Those experiences in the classroom laid a foundation for me, but I knew if I wanted to make a real difference I would have to influence educational policy at a state level, so I ran for the House and the rest is history. I hope that I've made a difference. I think I have."' Nathan Stubbs


FEMA continues to bewilder Louisianians with bureaucratic blunders. Last week, the federal Government Accountability Office issued a report on FEMA's massive mismanagement, outlining $1 billion in disaster aid waste. GAO investigator Gregory Kutz said, "Our estimate of $1 billion in improper and/or fraudulent payments is likely understated." The agency's findings detailed bogus rental payments, duplicated aid and a multitude of puzzling mishaps. For example, FEMA purchased 20 flat-bottom boats but lost two of them and did not have titles to the other 18 boats. ' NS


The final step in Louisiana's push to legalize online ticket scalping for concerts and sporting events came last week when the Attorney General's Office released an opinion siding with a decision already made by the Legislature and Gov. Kathleen Blanco. The opinion allows any "legitimate holder of tickets" to sell their tickets over the Internet as long as the letter of the new law is followed. So you can sell those Britney Spears tickets for $100 over the ticket price as long as the event organizer doesn't object and the transaction takes place on a Web site that offers full refunds if Britney or your home team is a no-show. The New Orleans Saints have already launched their own ticket exchange program where buyers are charged with a 10 percent transaction fee while sellers are charged 15 percent. ' Jeremy Alford


UL Lafayette is expected to spend more than $500,000 on a batch of new service-learning projects that will bolster ecotourism, launch intergenerational studies, foster creative writing in the region and create stronger partnerships with parish schools. Half of the money came in the form of a matching grant last week from the University of Louisiana System.

It marks the first phase of a three-year, $1.2 million initiative called ULS Serves, which aims to increase service-learning at the system's eight campuses. It's a simple formula that has yielded positive results for other universities, says UL System Board Chair Jimmy Long. "Students who connect to their communities through service become better citizens," he says. The centerpiece of the planned projects could be the "Acadiana Food and Folklore Media Initiative," which partners the Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission with a bevy of local groups to study, conserve and promote Louisiana's unique cultural assets as a way to build ecotourism opportunities.

There are also projects slated that partner architecture students with Boys and Girls Club members; teacher candidates with local schools; and nutritionists with the elderly. Another service learning project will partner college students with local high school students to reinstate the 42-year-old tradition of the Deep South Festival of Writers after a four-year absence. The festival will teach attendees how to cope with and reflect on traumatic events through art and writing. The original grant money was made possible by Learn and Serve America, a division of the Corporation for National and Community Service in Washington, D.C. ' JA


Acadiana High kicker Drew Alleman's 32-yard field goal gave the Wreckin' Rams a 13-10 victory over Sulphur Saturday in the Class 5-A state championship game in the New Orleans Superdome. Alleman nailed the field goal, the final play of the game, clinching the Rams' first-ever state title.


Local musician Ann Savoy has been nominated for a Grammy Award for her work with Linda Ronstadt on Adieu False Heart in the Best Traditional Folk Album category. Savoy and Ronstadt were featured in The Independent's July 26 cover story, "Songbird Sisters."

New Orleans Soul Queen Irma Thomas is also up for a Grammy for her album After the Rain in the Best Contemporary Blues Album category. Thomas recorded the album at Dockside Studio in Maurice, with the help of local musicians Sonny Landreth, Dirk Powell and David Egan; 2006 Festival International headliner Thomas was also the subject of an April 26 Independent cover story, "Queen in Exile."

Other Louisiana nominees include Allen Toussaint with Elvis Costello, Dr. John, Tab Benoit, Branford Marsalis, Terence Blanchard and Harry Connick Jr. Read the complete list of Louisiana's nominees at Greg Hardison's Web site. ' R. Reese Fuller