New authority for principals fails

A state Senate-passed bill that would give top-rated public school principals new authority narrowly failed Wednesday in a House committee, likely killing the measure for the session.

Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, said his plan is aimed at giving new powers to principals, who are often described as the most important officials in any school building.

“That’s what this bill would do,” LaFleur told the House Education Committee.

But state Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, a member of the committee, said he was concerned that the measure would allow principals to fire teachers and other school workers.

“It has the potential to disrupt not only what is going on at the school but in the district,” Edwards said. “It has the potential to really wreak havoc.”

The bill failed, with six “yes” votes and seven “no” votes.

The legislative session ends June 6.

The proposal, Senate Bill 206, would apply to principals rated as “highly effective” for three consecutive years, or schools designated for special measures by the district superintendent.

The bill would allow principals to design instructional plans, daily schedules, school calendars, professional development, textbooks and other areas.

It would also permit principals to craft school budgets.

Critics said that move is similar to student-based budgeting, which state education leaders toyed with a few years ago before the effort lost momentum.

Scott Richard, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association, said LaFleur’s proposal needs a cost estimate because it could spark additional costs based on directives by principals.

“It’s not a reform issue,” Richard said. “It is a practical issue.”

LaFleur said innovative principals can make a huge difference in improving troubled schools.

Even with the new authority, he said, school leaders would face limits.

“They still have to follow state law,” LaFleur said. “It is not like they have unencumbered discretion.”

Joyce Haynes, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators, said LaFleur’s bill would downplay the role of teachers in school success.