La. education chief, EBR superintendent in spat

In an unusual public spat, state Superintendent of Education John White and East Baton Rouge School Parish Superintendent Bernard Taylor traded pointed charges Thursday.

White accused Taylor of moving children around district classrooms “to cover up problems in those schools.”

He said, “To forcibly move students just to make one’s own performance appear to be better is cynical, deeply disappointing and calls into question the genuineness of that leader’s desire for real change.”

In a separate interview, Taylor said student transfers in his district followed heavy input from parents.

He also said he makes no apologies for wanting to keep troubled Baton Rouge schools out of the state-run Recovery School District. White regularly praises the district.

“And if you look at the track record of the RSD schools, what superintendent who has any commitment to children in education would allow them to be put in a situation like that that would do educational harm,” Taylor said.

What sparked the dispute was a bill heard earlier in the day by state Sen. Bodi White, R-Baton Rouge, that would require state approval before moves like those among students in the East Baton Rouge school system.

He later shelved his own proposal in hopes that the state Department of Education and the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will tackle the issue.

Bodi White repeatedly accused district officials of “gaming the system” by moving talented students into failing public schools to improve school scores and avoid having the schools taken over by the state and put into the Recovery School District.

“It’s blatant,” Bodi White said. “The citizens of Baton Rouge know what they are doing.”

He noted that some parents have complained about the local board’s approval last week of moving about 100 gifted and talented students this fall from Glen Oaks Park Elementary, which is rated C by the state, to nearby Merrydale Elementary, which is rated F, to avoid state intervention.

In other planned moves, more than 100 students at F-rated Mayfair Middle and 300 students at F-rated Delmont Elementary schools are being reassigned this fall as part of another bid to avoid state intervention.

In an interview, Taylor said the Merrydale and other reassignments were only undertaken after extensive input from parents, and going through a variety of options in response to parental concerns.

“We listened to them,” he said. “There was nothing surreptitious about it.”

He also made no apologies for wanting to keep area schools out of the RSD, which are schools run by the state after years of academic and other problems.

“Our parents do not want their children in schools in the RSD,” Taylor said. “They have made that abundantly clear.”

The measure, Senate Bill 176, would require local officials to win approval from BESE before any closings, new grade configurations or changed instructional programs for schools designated as failing by the state.

Bodi White said that, after talking to John White and BESE President Chas Roemer on Wednesday, he would prefer that the state Department of Education and BESE address the issue.

“They need to keep school systems from gaming the system,” he said.

John White said a few hours later that “you can bet your bottom dollar” that department officials will pursue policies to ensure “that moving kids around to cover up failures will never happen in this state again.”

He added, “We have more than 20 F-rated schools in this parish. Some of them are governed by the state, some by the district. Moving kids around to cover up failures and bickering about which government agency runs the schools is a losing path that gives kids the short end of the stick.”