Dennis Persica: Not much clarity on big state issues

Education Superintendent John White recently told teachers and school administrators that after years of changes in the education landscape, it was time for some clarity and consistency.

But throughout government in Louisiana, consistency and clarity are hard to find.

The most obvious example, of course, is Gov. Bobby Jindal’s flip-flop on Common Core school standards. He’s against them now, but White is still for them.

In the Legislature, the anti-Common Core posturing earlier this year apparently was just a head-fake, and the lawmakers ended their session doing nothing to roll back the standards. But that doesn’t mean Jindal won’t roll them back anyway.

Clarity, anyone?

Meanwhile, Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera has uncovered a cluster bomb of problems at the ReNew Charter Management Organization, which oversees six New Orleans schools and apparently played a shell game to get around pension requirements.

State law lets individual charter schools choose whether to stay in the Teachers Retirement System of Louisiana. Once a decision is made, it applies to everyone at the school.

“If a charter school elects to participate in TRSL, then all eligible employees at the school are required to participate,” the state audit explains. “If a charter school elects not to participate in TRSL then all school employees are ineligible to participate.”

One ReNew school, Reed Elementary, opted to stay in TRSL. But according the audit, the organization allowed at least 21 employees at the other five schools it oversees to remain in TRSL as well. At the same time, the audit says, 41 Reed employees who should have been enrolled in TRSL were not.

The result is one big ball of confusion. ReNew should have been making contributions to Social Security for those 21 employees who stayed in TRSL even though their schools had opted out.

ReNew now has to sort out everything with the retirement system and Social Security. There’s also the chance that Internal Revenue Service regulations were disregarded.

Charter schools were supposed to be responsive and innovative, cutting through red tape to find the best ways to educate. Instead, ReNew is stuck in a tar pit of potential violations of a number of regulations. The much-desired clarity, meanwhile, is nowhere in sight.

The big news last week was Jindal’s decision to sign a bill that could affect the ability to hold BP’s feet to the fire as it pays reparations for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. In signing the bill, Jindal ignored the advice of the state’s top lawyer, Attorney General Buddy Caldwell.

He also ignored the urgings of several parish officials in southeast Louisiana. I guess consistent support for decision-making at the local level only goes so far.

In the meantime, there was the surprising comment from Louisiana Oil and Gas Association President Don Briggs that oil companies would be willing to pay double the fees they’re paying to plug orphaned oil wells and clean up pollution.

State government, however, isn’t interested, he said.

“We have a state political administration that opposes raising fees or taxes,” Briggs told The Advertiser in Lafayette.

Imagine that: We have an industry virtually screaming, “Take our money, please,” and we’re ignoring them.

You don’t need much in the way of mental clarity to see that doesn’t make sense.

NOTE: Last week, I incorrectly wrote that Louisiana plants produced aluminum during World War II. Aluminum oxide, which is used to produce aluminum, was made in Louisiana, but the metal itself was not manufactured in the state at that time.

Dennis Persica’s email address is dpersica@theadvocate.com.