Beebe, the loyal opposition on BESE

Advocate file photo by BRYAN TUCK -- St. Martin Parish Schools Superintendent Lottie Beebe in January 2013. Show caption
Advocate file photo by BRYAN TUCK -- St. Martin Parish Schools Superintendent Lottie Beebe in January 2013.

Lottie Beebe, the most outspoken member of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, makes no apologies for ending up on the losing end of lots of 9-2 votes.

Beebe said that, while her colleagues are “great people,” most on the 11-member panel dutifully follow an education overhaul agenda pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal and state Superintendent of Education John White.

Asked if she considers the board a rubber stamp she said, “My response is, based on their response to issues, I am convinced they are rubber stamps.”

She added, “I cannot fully comprehend how it can always be 9-2.”

Beebe also said she has no regrets about casting the lone “no” vote when White was picked 18 months ago, claimed the state Department of Education employs too many inexperienced out-of-staters and heatedly disputed comments that she often relies on teacher unions for her comments.

“My talking points are my talking points,” she said.

Beebe, a veteran educator and administrator, is also the new superintendent of the St. Martin Parish school system, a job that pays her $121,000 per year.

BESE sets policies for about 700,000 public school students. Beebe said its six or so monthly meetings per year used to be sedate gatherings dominated by polite education policy debates. But since Beebe took office, she has clashed with White and BESE colleagues on numerous issues backed by the Jindal administration, often with acerbic exchanges.

In March, she said a Jindal-backed public school spending plan was being railroaded through BESE.

The same month, Beebe said she heard suggestions that the timing of Louisiana’s new teacher evaluations were linked to the governor’s national political ambitions.

And White’s comments about the quality of teachers educated by public universities were so egregious, she said, that they merited a face-to-face meeting with him and university deans.

Disputes over the state’s new teacher evaluations, which she has criticized, spring up regularly.

Vouchers, public school classes offered through nontraditional means and the merits of spending $1.2 million for Teach for America teachers have also been Beebe targets.

She said she has no regrets about opposing White’s selection.

“Superintendent White was appointed, recommended and appointed, because he was presented an agenda,” Beebe said.

“I have to say he is fulfilling that agenda,” she added. “Do I agree with his approach? No.”

Asked to comment, White said Beebe is “vigorous in her advocacy.

“Oftentimes her rhetoric is less about solutions and more about hyperbole,” he said.

Brigitte Nieland, who follows public school issues for the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, said Beebe is generally aligned with the Louisiana School Boards Association, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and the Louisiana Association of Educators.

All three groups oppose much of the Jindal/White education overhaul.

“She has kind of positioned herself to be the voice of the opposition,” Nieland said.

Beebe, 59, lives in Breaux Bridge and represents BESE District 3, which extends southeast from St. Landry Parish to include St. Martin, Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes, among others.

She also earned a doctorate in May after five years of juggling college and work.

Beebe joined BESE after defeating 19-year incumbent Glenny Lee Buquet, of Houma, who sought re-election after initially saying she planned to retire.

“What was even more disheartening was hearing a Republican governor, and I am a Republican, support the Democrat candidate,” Beebe said. “I was flabbergasted.”

Beebe’s stance against White in January, 2012 was the start of a series of votes that often pitted her and Carolyn Hill, of Baton Rouge, against the rest of BESE.

When White, 37, was named superintendent Beebe voted “no” and Hill abstained.

In July, BESE approved rules for voucher schools on a 9-2 vote with Beebe and Hill dissenting.

In October the panel approved new rules for private and parochial schools to qualify for state aid 9-2 with Beebe and Hill on the losing side.

In December a committee of BESE voted 8-2 to proceed with a new program that offers students courses through non-traditional means after 19th Judicial District Judge Tim Kelley, of Baton Rouge, struck down the funding mechanism.

Beebe and Hill voted “no” on the issue.

Beebe sided with East Baton Rouge Parish school officials, and against White, in defending controversial student transfers.

She also testified for a bill that would have let voters decide whether to elect the state superintendent of education, in part because she said White’s selection process was flawed.

“She often brings issues to light that normally wouldn’t be brought to the table,” said Scott Richard, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association. “She is very passionate about the value of public education.”