BESE bickers over multiple topics

Controversy erupted Friday on Louisiana’s top school board over teacher evaluations, troubled public schools and even a comment about closing the state Department of Education.

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, called BESE, also approved a $3.5 billion school funding request on an 8-3 vote.

The request now goes to the Legislature, which can approve or reject the plan but cannot change it.

The session begins on April 8.

The spat, which took place one day after a lengthy hearing, surfaced during what is normally a low-key part of the meeting when state Superintendent of Education John White makes comments to the 11-member panel.

But Lottie Beebe, a BESE member who lives in Breaux Bridge, responded by saying that, because of the new reviews, teachers are “stressed” and the state board and White have failed to do enough to address their complaints.

“No one is taking a look at this,” Beebe said. “That is what a leader does.”

The new job evaluations are aimed at improving teacher quality and student achievement.

Opponents say the evaluation system is flawed.

BESE member Carolyn Hill, who lives in Baton Rouge, criticized the state-run Recovery School District. The RSD oversees failing and other troubled schools in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and elsewhere.

Hill said she has heard from some parents who prefer to get up at 4:30 a.m. to get their children to distant traditional public schools rather than relying on one run by the state.

However, as Beebe touched on other subjects, BESE president Chas Roemer stepped in.

“I think you have made your point,” Roemer told Beebe at one point.

At one point Beebe fired back.

“I am not finished,” she said.

Responding to Hill’s comments, White said state officials are working with East Baton Rouge Parish school system superintendent Bernard Taylor to make improvements in troubled schools here.

He said that includes the creation of the Baton Rouge Achievement Zone for seven failing schools in north Baton Rouge that need special attention.

BESE member Kira Orange Jones, who lives in New Orleans, also rebutted Hill’s comments about the RSD, which oversees dozens of schools in New Orleans.

Jones noted that, less that a decade ago, the valedictorian of a public high school there failed the state’s graduation exit exam six times.

“The culture of New Orleans schools is changing,” Jones said. “The expectations are rising.”

White, responding to Beebe’s comments about state assistance for teachers, noted that 150 teachers statewide worked voluntarily on a recently unveiled plan to aid educators through a variety of online resources.

Beebe, who becomes superintendent of the St. Martin Parish school system on July 1, also took issue with what she said was a published comment that quoted Roemer as saying he wants to close the state Department of Education.

Roemer countered that he said the agency should be closed and re-opened with more focus on educating children than requiring local school districts to comply with state mandates.

Beebe and Hill are often at odds with the board’s other nine members, who are often aligned with Gov. Bobby Jindal.

The school aid plan, which is called the Minimum Foundation Program, or MFP, sparked comments from 39 people during a nearly six-hour hearing on Thursday, according to BESE records.

Others submitted written remarks.

The MFP request echoes the spending plan proposed by Jindal.

Backers said that, even with a fifth consecutive year of freezes in state spending per student, public schools are faring better than other services.

Opponents included the Louisiana Association of Educators, Louisiana Federation of Teachers and the Louisiana School Boards Association.