EBR School board to take up strategic plan, charter school requests

The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board on Thursday is dusting off a long-dormant plan that recommends automatically firing a quarter of the poorest-performing teachers, sacking principals who don’t meet three-year goals and paying teachers more if they’ll work in struggling schools.

A local teachers union is urging the board to reject the proposed strategic plan, describing the idea of firing so many teachers, perhaps as many as 750 a year, as absurd and one that will destroy teacher morale.

“There is no logical, statistical or educational reason for the School Board to adopt this policy,” said Carnell Washington, president of the local chapter of the Federation of Teachers.

The meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. at the School Board Office, 1050 S. Foster Drive.

In addition, nine groups hoping to start charter schools in Baton Rouge will learn at that meeting whether they have the board’s blessing.

Superintendent Bernard Taylor is recommending two of the nine for approval. Charter schools are public schools run privately.

Groups denied can appeal to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

A BESE committee on Tuesday gave the green light for up to 10 other charter schools for East Baton Rouge Parish to open during the next two years. BESE is expected to finalize that decision when it convenes Thursday.

Both of the charter groups Taylor is recommending already operate schools in Baton Rouge.

One is J.K. Haynes Charter School, which formed its elementary school in 1997; it is seeking to form a 400-student middle school.

The other goes by the name South Louisiana Charter Foundation. That foundation plans to partner with Fort Lauderdale-based Charter Schools USA, which on Monday opened its first charter school in Baton Rouge, called Baton Rouge Charter Academy in Mid City.

Charter Schools USA operated 48 charter schools in five states last year. It has plans to run five elementary schools in the Baton Rouge metro area by 2015.

The proposal before the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board calls for an 800-student elementary school.

The group recently started a school in Shreveport, has approval to start one in Lake Charles in 2014 and is awaiting a decision on whether it can start up to three more in Lafayette.

Also on Thursday, the School Board will announce the results of its first evaluation of Taylor, who took over as superintendent in June 2012.

He previously spent six years as superintendent in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Taylor has had a rocky first year and his relations with some board members have frayed of late as they have rejected or adjusted his initiatives. A handful of board members, however, remain staunch allies of Taylor.

Board members were handed evaluation forms two weeks ago to fill out. They plan to meet behind closed doors Thursday to discuss the results.

The proposed strategic plan the board will consider Thursday is a long set of recommendations aimed at moving the school district from 52nd place — last place is No. 71 — to among the top 10 in Louisiana by 2020.

The plan, which has been collecting dust for the past 20 months, was developed in 2011 by a 33-member Committee for Educational Excellence, made up of local business and community leaders.

Taylor and some board members have suggested a few additions to the plan, but have left almost unchanged the work of the committee, including the idea of firing the bottom 25 percent of teachers.

Those teachers would be identified through the state’s new teacher evaluation system known as COMPASS, a system that relies largely on student academic growth on standardized tests.

The Federation of Teachers is suing to block the use of COMPASS to fire teachers and determine teacher tenure.

Washington said COMPASS is a flawed system with too high an error rate.

He also objected to setting 25 percent of teachers as targets of termination as a goal.

“No matter how well teachers do, or how much students improve, there will always be a bottom 25 percent,” he said. “That is just the way math works, and you can’t fire a quarter of our teachers every year because of it.”

He also noted that schools will be short teachers because there won’t be enough replacements in the hiring pool.

The latest draft of the 21-page strategic plan can be found at http://news.ebrschools.org/explore.cfm/ebrstrategicplan/.