Two BESE members resign

Penny Dastugue
Penny Dastugue

Two of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s three appointees to Louisiana’s top school board resigned Friday.

They are Penny Dastugue, of Covington, who ended a two-year term on Wednesday as president of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, and John Bennett, who lives in Port Allen and has been principal of St. Aloysius Catholic School for 28 years.

Stephen Waguespack, former chief of staff and executive counsel to Gov. Bobby Jindal, will fill one of the openings.

Dastugue, who has been on BESE for nine years as an elected and appointed member, said she and her husband Quentin, a former state representative, together have more than a quarter century of public service. “And we felt like it was time to pursue some other interests,” she said in a telephone interview Friday.

Bennett said he only intended to serve for four years. “They asked me to do an additional year because of a new superintendent, a host of new board members and one heck of an agenda,” Bennett said.

Jindal named Waguespack and Judy Miranti, chairwoman and director of the Division of Education and Graduate Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana, to replace the pair.

Waguespack’s appointment solidifies an already pro-Jindal board, where allies often account for nine of the 11 votes on key issues. “I don’t think there is any more important issue than working to improve education for the state,” he said.

Waguespack is a lawyer and special counsel at Jones Walker, a national law firm which has offices in Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

Miranti, like Bennett, will serve as the non-public schools representative on the board.

She noted that she has worked on teacher and other public school issues in the past with officials of the state Department of Education.

BESE sets policies for about 712,000 public school students statewide.

Dastugue also said she hoped to leave the panel about one year ago. But she too opted to stay on in part because Jindal was launching a sweeping public schools overhaul in the Legislature in 2012.

In addition, BESE hired a new state superintendent of education, John White, in January 2012 just ahead of the months of public school battles in the Legislature.

The board has 11 members, with three at-large named by the governor and eight elected by voters from individual districts.

Scott Richard, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association, said he hopes the new BESE members have education experience.

The LSBA has clashed with the Jindal administration over several high-profile education issues.

Brigitte Nieland, who follows public schools issues for the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, said Dastugue and Bennett performed well for the students of Louisiana.

“I admire the fact that they took on this tough job and took it on as long as they did,” said Nieland, whose group backed many of the Jindal public school initiatives.