Jindal aide restricts White's authority

Education branch will need state OK for $2,000+ contracts

In a sign of rising tensions over the dispute about Common Core, the Jindal administration has told state Superintendent of Education John White that his agency will be subject to more stringent contract rules.

Under the new rules, the state Department of Education will have to win approval from state finance officials for any contracts exceeding $2,000.

The previous cap of $20,000 was rescinded.

“Any professional, personal, consulting or social services contracts exceeding $2,000 which your agency enters into from this date forward will require the approval of the Office of Contractual Review,” Pamela Rice, interim director of OCR, said in a message to White dated Wednesday.

The OCR is part of the Division of Administration, which is embroiled in a dispute with White and Louisiana’s top school board over who has the final say in the selection of tests that are supposed to accompany the rollout of Common Core state standards.

White was notified of the change one day after the state Board of Elementary and Elementary Education, with his support, voted 6-3 to hire special legal counsel to challenge Gov. Bobby Jindal’s bid to derail Common Core test plans, as well as the new standards.

Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols said the new curbs are needed.

“OCR’s review of state education assessment contracts uncovered concerns related to DOE’s compliance with procurement procedures,” Nichols said in a prepared statement.

“For this reason, it is important that any new contracts be reviewed by OCR to ensure compliance with applicable laws, regulations and executive orders,” according to the statement.

Chas Roemer, president of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, who got the same message on the new contract rules, denounced the action.

“I am disappointed that the governor would do this,” said Roemer, who lives in Baton Rouge.

He said the latest directive is especially troubling because BESE voted Tuesday for White and the Jindal administration to try to hammer out a resolution to the dispute.

“This whole thing is political,” Roemer said of the latest developments.

He said board officials have long made clear that they will follow purchasing laws.

White, who was hired by BESE, was Jindal’s choice for the job, and the governor pushed for his selection for eight months.

However, Common Core has triggered a rift, with White and a formerly pro-Jindal BESE on one side against Jindal and his team on the other.

Jindal contends that BESE and White’s agency failed to follow state procurement laws in plans to administer Common Core tests for the 2014-15 school year.

The governor wants new exams, not those prepared by a consortium called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.

In his own prepared statement, White said his department will “not cease our efforts to raise expectations for the children of Louisiana.”

“We continue to have concerns that the administration’s actions are unconstitutional and illegal,” the statement says.

Common Core represents new standards in reading, writing and math.

Under plans in the works since 2010, students in grades three through eight are supposed to work under Common Core starting with the upcoming school year — most classes start in about one month — and take PARCC tests in March to see how they fare compared with students in other states.

But Jindal announced June 18 that he wants the state out of Common Core and its tests. He wants to have new ones crafted by state officials, educators and others.

The same agency that ordered the new contract rules earlier suspended its approval of a longstanding state contract that White planned to use to proceed with Common Core test plans, despite Jindal’s objections.

That has sparked a dispute about whether the Jindal administration or BESE has the final say over exam plans.

BESE approved Common Core in 2010 and reiterated its support earlier this year.

The Council for a Better Louisiana, which backs Common Core, said the latest action by administration officials is troubling.

In a written commentary, the group said the new contract rules suggest “no explanation other than that the administration is using an inappropriate and overreaching administrative tactic to scuttle Common Core testing contrary to the intentions of the Legislature and BESE. That would be wrong.”

The Legislature, during its three-month session that ended June 2, rejected bills to shelve or revamp the new standards and the assessments supposed to go with them.