Chas Roemer, president of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, and state Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, had a near nose-to-nose, heated exchange on Thursday.
The dustup took place moments after the Senate Education Committee, at the urging of Roemer and others, approved a revised, $3.6 billion spending plan for public schools during a rare, 8 a.m. meeting.
The vote was 5-1, with Claitor casting the lone “no” vote.
Moments after the vote, Roemer confronted Claitor about his stance.
“You can’t be pleased,” Roemer told Claitor.
After a brief exchange, Roemer added, “Good to see you. Good luck running for Congress.”
Claitor is a candidate for the 6th Congressional District seat that Bill Cassidy, of Baton Rouge, is giving up to challenge U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu.
In an interview later, Claitor said he voted against the measure — Senate Concurrent Resolution 55 — because he has problems with how special education funding would be handled.
He said that under the plan, students with a speech disability qualify for the same amount of state aid as those with total disabilities, without taking into account the differences in the costs of services.
Claitor said he has repeatedly asked top state education officials to address the issue.
Roemer said the state has made “significant changes” in special education funding and has taken pains to include education stakeholders in the formulation of spending plans, and that most legislators backed it.
Claitor noted that, in a second meeting of the committee later Thursday, he and Roemer were cordial.
Ole Miss grad gives LSU graduation talk
The irony of an Ole Miss graduate giving LSU’s spring commencement speech wasn’t lost on U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus.
Mabus, a Mississippi native and former Magnolia State governor, broke the ice during his speech Thursday by thanking the crowd for not jeering his alma mater when he was introduced.
“All I’m saying is, there is a chance for peace in the Middle East,” he joked.
Mabus drew several laughs from the crowd on the Ole Miss-LSU rivalry theme, noting that he has several relatives who attended LSU. But don’t expect to see him donning purple and gold anytime soon.
“You will never hear me say this again: Geaux Tigers! G-e-a-u-x,” he said.
Administration annoys budget committee
Budget panel members were miffed at the Jindal administration over a state health insurance program’s request to spend an extra $175 million.
The discomfort came after the Legislative Fiscal Office — the legislators’ budget advisers — said it had no recommendation.
The reason why: The state Office of Group Benefits had not responded to a 2-week-old request for information until that morning just before the meeting’s start. So, Legislative Fiscal Officer John Carpenter said analysis could not be done on the request in time for the meeting.
“On many occasions, we have asked for information and we don’t seem to be able to get it,” said an irritated Senate Finance Committee Chairman Jack Donahue.
“It’s unreal that we get to this point” and don’t have the information, agreed House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Fannin.
Fannin served notice that he would not put items on the agenda in the future if information needed to analyze the spending request had not been provided in advance.
“I’m very sorry,” interim Group Benefits CEO Susan West replied.
Donahue and Fannin suggested delaying the vote.
Group Benefits would not be able to pay medical and pharmacy claims for its members if it did not get authority to spend an estimated $120 million to $150 million, West said.
“It leads me to believe you don’t know what you need,” Fannin replied, noting the agency started out requesting $175 million.
The budget committee eventually opted to conditionally approve $130 million in new expenditure authority because it won’t meet again until July. But the dollars cannot be spent until the Fiscal Office analysis is completed.
La. Teach for America director leaves post
Michael Tipton, executive director of Teach for America South Louisiana, is leaving his post after seven years.
Who will succeed him has not been decided.
Teach for America trains college graduates for the classroom, then tries to place them in especially challenging public schools for at least two years.
Women’s Caucus re-elects chairwoman
State Rep. Karen St. Germain, D-Pierre Part, has been re-elected as the chairwoman of the Louisiana Legislative Women’s Caucus for the 2014-15 term.
Officers for the term that begins July 1 include Sen. Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb, D-Baton Rouge, Senate vice chairwoman; state Rep. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, House vice chairwoman; state Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, secretary; state Rep. Ledricka Thierry, D-Opelousas, treasurer; state Rep. Nancy Landry, R-Lafayette, parliamentarian; and state Rep. Barbara Norton, D-Shreveport, member-at-large. State Sen. Karen Peterson, D-New Orleans, is the immediate past president and continues to serve on the executive committee.
College system head to address Press Club
Monty Sullivan, president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, will be the speaker for Monday’s meeting of the Press Club of Baton Rouge.
Sullivan will discuss the WISE plan being considered by the state Legislature, as well as the system’s role in addressing Louisiana’s industrial demands.
The Press Club meets in the Iberville Room at the Belle of Baton Rouge Hotel, 102 France St. Parking is free in the garage off Mayflower Street.
Lunch, which is served at 11:30 a.m., is $12 for members and $15 for nonmembers. The public is invited, but only members of the Press Club and the news media are allowed to ask questions.
Pachyderm Club to hold crawfish boil
The Pelican State Pachyderm Club is holding its sixth annual Crawfish Boil from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday.
No business or program is planned.
The meeting is set for Jaegers Seafood, 901 South Clearview Parkway, near the Huey Long-Elmwood Business Park in Metairie.
The cost is $25 members and $35 for others. The cost includes crawfish, corn, potatoes and jambalaya. Draft beer, wine and nonalcoholic beverages are available.
RSVP to MiltonAtebara@aol.com.