Ethics complaints target White, BESE members

A longtime critic of state Superintendent of Education John White said Friday she and others plan to file an ethics complaint next week naming White and four members of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

White disputed the comments.

Lee Barrios, a former school teacher in St. Tammany Parish who often testifies at BESE meetings, spelled out plans by her, parents and education “activists” in a news release and a telephone interview.

What the complaint will say is unclear.

“As far as the details, I don’t think that it is appropriate to the specifics in the press release,” she said.

However, the prepared statement said one of the concerns is that White accepted more than $700 for his appearance at a Teach For America gathering last year in Connecticut.

White’s office provided copies of an ethics disclosure form that White filed on Oct. 29, 2013, that detailed expenses associated with the trip, which he said is clearly allowed by state law.

The tally includes $402.36 for transportation to Old Greenwich, Connecticut, $229 for lodging, $58 for meals and $68.95 in miscellaneous expenses — $758.31 in all.

Officials such as White are allowed to accept complimentary admission, lodging and other expenses to and from educational gatherings if the invitation comes from a civic or nonprofit group, the conference is related to the official’s job duties and the gathering is held in the U.S. or Canada, according to documents provided by Joan Hunt, executive counsel for the state Department of Education.

Barrios said BESE members named Monday in the complaints will be Chas Roemer, president of the board, Holly Boffy, Jay Guillot and Kira Orange Jones.

Barrios noted that Roemer’s sister Caroline Roemer Shirley is president of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools.

Critics have questioned whether that is a conflict of interest.

She said she wants ethics officials to take another look at the job of Orange Jones, who the Louisiana Board of Ethics ruled in 2012 could keep both her elected seat on BESE and her job with the New Orleans branch of Teach for America.

A spokesman for BESE said Friday he did not think any of the four wanted to comment about Barrios’ statements.

Complaints filed with the Louisiana Ethics Administration are generally shrouded in secrecy.

They are first checked by staff officials, who then forward any findings to the full board.

The board then decides whether to launch a full-scale investigation.

Once that is done the panel decides whether to file charges, which would be decided by a three-member Ethics Adjudicatory Board.

Jane Smith, who is Gov. Bobby Jindal’s key ally on BESE, has cited the work of Barrios and others in saying that the battle over Common Core could spark ethics charges against White.

In a letter to BESE on Wednesday, White said he is being unfairly targeted personally for possible wrongdoing by the Jindal administration and its allies.

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