We’ve heard all the talk about a new day for public education policy in Louisiana, but we’re skeptical about the prospects for reform when the new polices are advanced with the same old secrecy that’s plagued Louisiana government for years.
A case in point involves conference calls that included members of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, staffers for the Louisiana Department of Education and Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White to discuss agenda items ahead of BESE meetings.
BESE Executive Director Catherine Pozniak said she monitors such conference calls to ensure there is never a quorum of the board. But the law also forbids “walking quorums,” a practice in which members of a public body confer in a series of smaller groups to avoid triggering the public notice requirement reached when a quorum is present.
Except for a few stipulated exceptions, the Louisiana Open Meetings Law requires that public bodies give citizens 24 hours advance public notice before the body meets to discuss business, and those meetings must generally be open to the public.
But over the years, public bodies have proven endlessly ingenious in devising ways to deliberate and debate public policy in private, instead. That means that important issues can be decided before a public meeting ever takes place. The citizens that government is supposed to serve need a clear view of how their government is being run. Secretive tactics such as these conference calls among top education officials seem like a cynical ploy to avoid basic standards of transparency.
Two BESE members, Carolyn Hill and Lottie Beebe, said they refused to participate in recent calls scheduled before BESE members were slated to vote on accountability criteria for nonpublic schools participating in the state’s voucher program. Hill and Beebe said they were concerned about the lack of transparency created by the conference calls.
“If we continue to not be transparent, we will continue to have mistrust from this community,” Hill said.
We couldn’t agree more.
Accountability and transparency go hand in hand.
If state education leaders want accountability from teachers, school administrators and parents, they should practice what they preach, and conduct their business in full public view.