White criticizes moving students in EBR schools

Advocate file photo by BRYAN TUCK -- State Superintendent of Schools John White speaks during the first session of the Louisiana Department of Education's Teacher Leaders conference in this April 18, 2013, photo. Show caption
Advocate file photo by BRYAN TUCK -- State Superintendent of Schools John White speaks during the first session of the Louisiana Department of Education's Teacher Leaders conference in this April 18, 2013, photo.

State Superintendent of Education John White on Monday renewed his criticism of East Baton Rouge Parish School District officials for moving students to bolster scores at troubled public schools.

“We have to ask whether what they are doing is the right thing,” White said. “I would say it is not the right thing.”

Bernard Taylor, superintendent of the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, heatedly disputed White’s views.

“I do not want to engage in petty tit-for-tat with the state superintendent of education, but I think he clearly is misinformed,” Taylor said in a telephone interview.

The issue, which may come up Tuesday in a committee meeting of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, has sparked controversy off and on for weeks.

In April, White accused the district of moving children around district classrooms “to cover up problems in those schools.”

He called the practice “cynical, deeply disappointing and calls into question the genuineness of that leader’s desire for real change,” a reference on April 25 to Taylor.

At the same time state Sen. Bodi White, R-Central, accused district officials of “gaming the system” by moving talented students into failing public schools to improve school scores, and avoid having them taken over by the state and placed in the Recovery School District.

Bodi White noted that some parents were upset about the local board’s approval in April of moving about 100 gifted and talented students this fall from Glen Oaks Park Elementary, which is rated C by the state, to nearby Merrydale Elementary, which is rated F, to avoid state intervention.

More than 100 students at F-rated Mayfair Middle and 300 students at F-rated Delmont Elementary schools are being reassigned this fall as part of another bid to avoid state intervention.

“They are forcibly moving families,” John White said. “They are very upset about it.”

White also said “no one can produce a reason for all of this movement” other than comments by some members of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board that it is to improve school scores and avoid state takeovers.

But Taylor said that, early in the process, district officials met with the state superintendent on the plans, held community meetings, took input and sent the plan to the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, which approved the changes during a televised meeting.

“So the point is what is surreptitious about that?” Taylor asked.

He also said that, late last year, district officials asked White about appearing before BESE to discuss the transfers.

Taylor said White told them such an appearance was not necessary because local officials did not have to get state permission.

White told reporters that East Baton Rouge Parish school officials are not breaking any rules but that the student transfers are wrong.

“It is a good example of how the best intended accountability system can carry incentives that are not in the best interest of kids,” he said.

Taylor, in an apparent reference to White, said “individuals with very limited experience with respect to school reform” may draw erroneous conclusions about moving students.