Bill to enhance authority of principals approved

Despite a rift in the education community, a state Senate panel approved a bill Wednesday that supporters said would give Louisiana’s top-rated principals new authority.

The Senate Education Committee passed the bill and sent it to the full Senate.

Backers included officials of the state Department of Education, the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry and Stand For Children, an advocacy group.

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

The proposal, Senate Bill 385, would allow but not require principals who are rated as “highly effective” to have their school declared as an “empowered community school,” including what backers called expanded authority for principals to design instruction plans, assign personnel, set budgets and enter into contracts to support school operating needs.

“It takes a really high-end principal to take on these kinds of responsibilities,” said state Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte and sponsor of the plan.

A similar proposal won Senate approval last year but failed in the House Education Committee.

Jason Hughes, an official of Stand For Children, backed the plan.

“There is no individual more in tune with the day-to-day operations than a principal,” Hughes said.

On the other side, Michael Walker-Jones, executive director of the LAE, said principal ratings are based on subjective evaluations.

“This bill is really not needed,” Walker-Jones told the panel.

Patrice Pujol, superintendent of the Ascension Parish school system, said singling out certain schools could lead to a reduction in what is now a healthy amount of interaction among schools sharing good practices.

“My concern about this bill is setting up some islands of excellence,” Pujol said.

LaFleur said about 25 percent of the state’s public school principals were rated as highly effective last year.

His plan would apply to those who earn that rating for the 2014-15 school year.

The new authority would be effective for the 2015-16 school year.

LaFleur said that, unless there is a good working relationship between the principal and superintendent, it is unlikely that a school would be designed as an empowered community school.