Teacher training contract advances

Sticker shock, pent-up demands for teacher pay raises and push back against the Common Core educational standards are among the reasons Superintendent Bernard Taylor is having trouble selling the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board on his plans to train teachers to teach to those standards.

The School Board initially couldn’t muster enough votes Thursday to approve a $2.7 million professional development contract with the Pittsburgh Institute for Learning.

The measure needed the votes of six of 11 board members to advance to a final vote at the board’s June 20 meeting.

Instead, the vote was 5-3. Board members Jerry Arbour, Connie Bernard and Vereta Lee voted against the contract. Board member Kenyetta Nelson-Smith abstained. Board members Jill Dyason and Craig Freeman were absent.

Upset and surprised, Taylor objected and persuaded the board to reconsider, which it did, advancing the measure in an 8-1 vote.

Taylor said directing professional development is a “core function” of being superintendent, indicating that he might rethink his employment in Baton Rouge if the board persisted.

“You’re tying my hands here,” Taylor said. “If this is the way you want to go, we’re going to have to have a whole different conversation.”

The contract calls for hiring the Institute for Learning, which is connected to the University of Pittsburgh, for one year at a cost of more than $1 million with the option to extend for three years at a cost of almost $1.7 million.

Arbour said he voted against the contract because he wonders about the cost.

Earlier on Thursday, Taylor gave a presentation to the board on his proposed $424.6 million 2013-14 general operating budget, which calls for $7.8 million in net budget reductions. Arbour pressed Taylor on Thursday to find more money to increase the pay of veteran teachers, who haven’t received step increases for the past few years, so that their pay matches that of newly hired teachers with similar levels of experience.

“Coming right on the heels of the bad vibes of the budget presentation, that played into it,” Arbour said, explaining his vote.

Arbour said he wants to hear more about the alternatives.

“I’d like to see what else they have out there,” Arbour said. “If there’s nothing better and this is the best deal we can get, I might go with it.”

Taylor said he has had the Institute for Learning in mind from the beginning and looked nowhere else. He said he has worked with the institute, led by Lauren Resnick and Anthony Petrosky, repeatedly through the years, going back to when he was a principal trying to turn around a struggling school in Pittsburgh, his hometown. Also, all of Taylor’s academic degrees are from the University of Pittsburgh.

“This group, in every circumstance where I have had the chance to work with them, they have helped to improve student achievement,” Taylor said. “Every single one.”

Taylor had representatives from the Institute for Learning, via Skype on May 2, give the board a lengthy presentation on Common Core and how the institute could help the school system prepare for the new standards.

Louisiana is one of 45 states that adopted the standards. Teachers in Louisiana will be teaching to these standards in the 2013-14 school year, and tests aligned with Common Core are to be given starting in spring 2015.

Taylor noted that members of the institute were involved in the development of Common Core, and they are working with many school districts to get ready for the full implementation of the standards around the country.

“It would be wise to bring to the district the leading provider of this work,” Taylor said.

“They don’t need the money,” Taylor added.

Taylor said not approving the contract would cause unacceptable delays. He also said none of the board members approached him before the meeting about problems with the proposal.

Board member Connie Bernard said she didn’t talk to her colleagues before voting against the proposed contract.

Bernard said the school system already has a curriculum department.

“To me, we’re duplicating our efforts,” Bernard said. “If we have curriculum experts, why aren’t we using them?”

Bernard also said she has concerns over Common Core itself. Bernard, a Republican, said leading groups in the party are coming out in opposition to the standards.

She acknowledged that as long as Louisiana has adopted Common Core, schools need to prepare for the standards. But, she said, she worries the school system will spend a lot of money only to have state leaders pull the plug on the program due to the controversy.

Taylor said the Institute for Learning is so good that teachers will benefit from the training whether Common Core goes into effect. He said he will talk to any board member with concerns.

“I can defend, explain and justify why this is important,” he said. “I can’t respond to something I don’t know anything about.”

The proposed contract with the Institute for Learning can be found at: http://www.ebrschools.net/eduWEB1/1000144/docs/06.06.13itemv.13.pdf