State delays Parkview nomination because of audit

The Louisiana Department of Education delayed for almost three weeks nominating an A-rated Baton Rouge public elementary school for a national award because the department also was auditing the East Baton Rouge Parish school system’s graduation records.

A spokesman for the state agency, Barry Landry, said in a written statement Wednesday that the nomination was delayed “out of an abundance of caution.”

It’s an explanation that puzzles two state representatives, Pat Smith and Alfred Williams, who have been pressing the department to explain the delay.

“The audit was done on high schools, not on elementary schools,” Smith said. “That makes no sense. None whatsoever.”

Landry wouldn’t elaborate about why a high school audit would have any effect on a matter involving an elementary school.

The graduation records audit, launched Jan. 9 and released publicly Sunday, is not mentioned in a stack of emails and other public documents that Smith and Williams recently obtained.

The state nominated four schools in late February for the national Blue Ribbon School of Excellence honor, but waited until March 13 to nominate Parkview Elementary School. That’s the same day The Advocate began asking the state questions about the matter.

The four original nominees were given less than a month to complete the lengthy application, due this Friday. Parkview will have had just eight days. The winners will be announced in September.

Blue Ribbon School of Excellence honors go to schools that either are among the top-performing in the country or have shown significant progress in improving student achievement.

In its 31-year history, the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program has honored about 7,500 of America’s schools.

Nine are part of the East Baton Rouge Parish school system. Parkview, if it were to get a Blue Ribbon, would make that 10.

The state struggled for weeks to settle on new criteria for choosing which schools to nominate, finishing five weeks after its Jan. 10 deadline to submit nominees. The federal government gives Louisiana slots for six public schools.

In 2013, operating under different criteria, Landry said, Parkview Elementary was one of 12 schools eligible, but ranked below others on the list and didn’t make the cut.

This year, Louisiana opted to take advantage of a new federal rule that allows states to set their own criteria for which schools to nominate, Landry said.

The emails released through a public records request by Smith and Williams show that the state adjusted these criteria several times.

One version produced no nominees. The state finally settled on criteria that left five schools, including Parkview, eligible for nomination.

Even so, Stephen Osborn, assistant superintendent for student programs, sent an email on Feb. 21 listing only four nominees. Osborn also led the graduation records audit of East Baton Rouge Parish schools.

Two hours later, he got a response from Casetta Robinson, an education program consultant active in developing the criteria. She wondered if Parkview might have been inadvertently left off.

“The principal and staff at Parkview Elementary have demonstrated they have set high expectations for students and those students have consistently achieved at high levels,” Robinson wrote.