Showing posts with label Business Report. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Business Report. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

'White schools' and 'n***** schools'

The problem with conservative ideologues like Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is that rarely do they "conserve" anything. Except, of course, the ability of radical individualists to blow up society for their own profit.

Thus, the dirty little secret behind the "school choice" agenda Jindal has embraced in his call for the state's second special legislative session this year,
as reported by The Times-Picayune of New Orleans:
The governor spent little time in his prepared remarks on the tuition tax deduction proposal. But teachers union lobbyist Steve Monaghan said afterward that it could define the tax portion of the session.

At a $20 million cost -- allowing parents to deduct half of each child's tuition cost up to $5,000 per child when figuring their taxable income -- the plan is a blip on the state's budget radar. But the precedent, Monaghan said, would establish that the state's educational priority list is no longer topped by public schools.

"This is a distraction," said Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers. "If we're truly concerned about building a world-class public education system, then we have to stop sending mixed messages. Why incentivize sending children to private schools?"

Jindal said the idea, which was not part of his campaign platform, came from several legislators and other advocates of "school choice."

"They made a persuasive case," the governor said. "We think it's important for our families to be able to send their children to high-quality schools all over Louisiana."

WHY IS IT that someone who bills himself as a "conservative" -- particularly a fiscal one -- is so enamored of what amounts to welfare for the well off? Or at least well off enough to shell out thousands of dollars a year in private-school tuition.

Welfare for the at least moderately well off is what Jindal's proposed tax credit is, too. And it's what passes for sound public policy in the eyes of Jindal's buddies in the "school choice" movement.

One of those "school choice" friends is Rolfe McCollister, publisher of the Baton Rouge Business Report and a founder of the city's Children's Charter School.

McCollister, who's had his scrapes with the local school system, recently penned a column calling on voters not to renew a penny sales tax that funds part of teachers' salaries and provides funds for school construction and renovation. He decries the local public schools' poor performance, particularly their record with at-risk students.

This despite his own charter school's barely passing grade from the Great Schools website, which uses publicly available data and parent ratings to grade America's schools. In fact, according to Great Schools, McCollister's Children's Charter School had the second highest pupil-teacher ratio of any school within a five-mile radius, while earning only a 6 rating on a 10-point scale.

One would think Children's Charter School would be drawing the at-risk children of the most motivated of at-risk parents. Parents you would assume at least gave enough of a damn to try a charter school. Yet. . . .

On a college grade scale, 60 percent is a D. Barely. On my old high-school grade scale, 60 percent is a solid F. And one nearby public, non-charter school at least managed a C. Barely.

IF I'M BOBBY JINDAL, I'm going to be seeking out advice on education policy from "D" educators? And I'm going to be following these folks' advice to pursue a policy of undermining public schools . . . for what, exactly?

There are none so blind as right-wing pols who refuse to see.

"Conserving" a civic culture and a functional society does not include aiding and abetting the "school choice" of the relatively privileged while abandoning the rest to a "separate and unequal" public-education system. There is no "conservative" principle, properly understood, in tolerating decay and dysfunction as the normative environment of those "left behind" in public schools.

(East Baton Rouge Parish public schools, in the wake of court-ordered desegregation, now are 83 percent minority and 79 percent African-American. Most students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.)

And there is nothing "conservative" about opening the public coffers, wholesale, to private groups for carrying out the public's business. In this case, that would be educating Louisiana's children.

"Conservatives" have forgotten -- utterly -- the flip side of freedom. That would be "duty." Just because middle- and upper-class folk have the ability to "escape" a struggling school system, that freedom to do so does not therefore become an entitlement underwritten in whole or in part by the state.

And it certainly does not translate into some "right" to cast the less privileged into an abyss of voters' making, either by commission -- as in the separate but unqual of Jim Crow days -- or by omission . . . as in the separate but unequal of some McCollisterian "I'm not paying a cent of tax money for 'failed schools'" dystopia.

When, by default, most white children attend private schools partially underwritten by public monies and most black children attend public schools abandoned to decay and dysfunction, it is difficult to discern how the "desegregated" present differs substantially from the darkest days of de jure segregation.

LONG AGO, before de jure school segregation had breathed its last in Baton Rouge, my parents used to threaten me with being sent to "the nigger school" when I misbehaved at the officially all-white Red Oaks Elementary. That was supposed to imply a fate worse than death to a young mind indoctrinated, from birth, into a white, racist milieu.

Now, in my hometown, they're working on making every public school "the nigger school" -- with all the awfulness that once meant to little white ears -- and all you have to do to get your kid sent there is not have enough money (or luck, or whatever) to get into this generation's "white school."

And if you don't have the dough (or luck, or whatever) to get into the "white school" in the first place, I don't see how Bobby Jindal -- or his proposed tax credits -- can offer you any hope. Any hope at all.

Let me know how that works out for you, Louisiana.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Washing their feet and looking at the moon

With people like Chas Roemer -- son of Louisiana's last (failed) reform governor -- running education in the Gret Stet, it's hard to hold out hope that anything will ever get better there.

Roemer, newly elected to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education from Baton Rouge, is another Capital City swell who thinks teachers and children need to pay the price for the sins of the school board. He writes in the Baton Rouge Business Report:

Taxpayers are now faced with the proposition of either sending more money to the same system or being labeled as “against the kids.” Nothing could be further from the truth. I, for one, will vote against the tax—not because I’m against spending the money, but because I am against wasting the money. I would support any number of different approaches and, in fact, could support sending even a greater amount of money to a system that I believed put the kids first and not “the system.” I have witnessed firsthand the system making decisions that protect them while sacrificing potential opportunities for our kids. For example, the system turned away KIPP Academy—a nationally recognized charter school provider that specializes in serving urban kids. They turned down the Children’s Charter School in their attempt to expand—despite that their student body is 98% at risk and scores above the state average on school performance scores. Children’s Charter operates an 11-month school year with extended day for the same amount per pupil as the system. Furthermore, for years the Children’s Charter operated exclusively out of temporary buildings. Why can’t the system do some of these same things?
HERE'S A NEWS FLASH, podna. When you willfully advocate a politcal course of action that will force teachers to take a pay cut of between 2 percent and 22 percent, you're not only against the teachers . . . you're "against the kids."

And when you willingly advocate a politcal course of action that will doom the parish's students to remain in crumbling, outdated and squalorous "facilities," you're "against the kids." In fact, you're guilty of child abuse.

But that's OK. Baton Rouge's public schools now are 83 percent minority.

So it's not like the children of actual white people are on the line here. At least not enough of them to represent an unacceptable level of collateral damage when you blow up the public schools so that a magical voucher scheme might descend from the heavens and set everything aright.

BUT WAITING FOR GODOT is what my fellow Louisianians do. They're good at it. And the state's periodic political messiahs are happy to offer up the latest hare-brained scheme to throw Bubba a sop and stick it to the Negroes in the name of "reform."

Gov. Bobby Jindal (PBUH) is the latest to try that approach, just today calling on legislators to approve a tax credit for private-school tuition. In other words, welfare for people who have the money to pay thousands per year in tuition for their kids to go to private schools . . . so they don't have to give a damn about public schools.

Welfare is only a dirty word when it applies to minorities -- whose children are left to rot in defunded ratholes.


IN OTHER WORDS, things ain't changed much in the Gret Stet since Gov. Earl Long stood at the dais in the Senate chambers and laid into one of its members, arch-segregationist Willie Rainach. In his book, The Earl of Louisiana, the journalist A.J. Liebling recounts the scene:

"After all this is over, he'll probably go up there to Summerfield, get up on his front porch, take off his shoes, wash his feet, look at the moon and get close to God." This was gross comedy, a piece of miming that recalled Jimmy Savo impersonating the Mississippi River. Then the old man, changing pace, shouted in Rainach's direction, "And when you do, you got to recognize that niggers is human beings!"

It was at this point that the legislators must have decided he'd gone off his crumpet. Old Earl, a Southern politician, was taking the Fourteenth Amendment's position that "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States . . . nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

AFTER THAT, they put Uncle Earl in the nuthouse. Being in favor of the Fourteenth Amendment . . . that'd always get you in trouble in the Gret Stet of Loosiana.

Still will, I suspect.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Hurting people to make a point

olfe McCollister,
as we've discussed previously, wants Baton Rouge voters not to renew the penny sales tax dedicated to public-school construction and teacher raises.

The Baton Rouge magazine publisher asks voters to write out a spite-based public policy prescription because he's frustrated with the public schools and the poor performance of many. This, when local teachers are chronically underpaid and local schools fall apart around those inside them.

Here's a passage from an article on my alma mater, Baton Rouge Magnet High, from one of McCollister's own magazines, 225:
The Government Street school, decades behind in maintenance, is crumbling around the National Merit semifinalists it produces.

Plaster flakes from classroom walls. Mold and mildew feed on intruding moisture behind the crumbling brickwork, which has separated from the building’s exterior. It’s so bad it routinely sickens students and faculty.

“The mold and mildew on the third floor are just out of control,” Principal Nanette Greer says. “You wouldn’t believe the number of people who are sick or have problems due to allergies. It’s unbelievable. We’re all sick. I’m on allergy medication as is most of the staff. We don’t complain because it is what it is.
OH, BUT IT GETS WORSE than that. Here's an excerpt from a story about Baton Rouge High and the plight of local public schools in McCollister's other publication, The Baton Rouge Business Report:
The findings were no surprise to Dot Dickinson, who watched a tile fall from the ceiling before a performance of the school’s orchestra, which included her son, in the mid-1990s. Luckily, the wayward tile landed on empty seats.

“Seems someone would have noticed the need for maintenance at that time,” she says.

Most likely someone did. But at the time, every public school in the parish needed work, and there was virtually no money to pay for it, school officials say. The system isn’t in the crisis mode it was in 10 years ago, but there are still a number of school buildings that are drafty, leaky, moldy or otherwise disheveled.

The School Board was scheduled to discuss—and most likely finalize and vote on—the system’s facility plan on Jan. 10. The futures of Baton Rouge Magnet High, which is in line for a $62 million renovation, and Lee High School, which the system had considered closing before Superintendent Charlotte Placide proposed building a new Lee High on the same site, have elicited the strongest emotions.

But the problem is much bigger than two schools.
YES, THE "PROBLEM" IS BIGGER than Baton Rouge High and Lee High. The "problem" is as big as an entire city -- an entire state -- where public education, and generations upon generations of students, just aren't that big a priority.

The problem is as big as a magazine publisher who sits on the board of a charter school and loathes the public school system with such a white-hot intensity that he's willing to cut off kids' noses to spite the school board's face. And he hopes to accomplish this by convincing voters to effect positive "change" via means of material and financial destruction.

Really, what's condemning somebody's children -- though certainly not those of Baton Rouge's Brahmins -- to attend classes in squalor when it's all to fire a shot across somebody's bow. The shot may well cross the East Baton Rouge school board's bow, but here's a sketch of whom it won't hit . . . and whom it will.

from McCollister's own Business Report:
Thirty percent of children in East Baton Rouge Parish do not attend public schools, nearly double the state average of 16%, which the Louisiana Department of Education says is the highest rate in the nation. The private schools can pick and choose whom they want to let in, while public schools take all comers. Public schools tend to have nearly all of the special education and special-needs students, while private schools grab many of the high-achievers.

For middle- and upper-class children, private schools are the rule, not the exception. Nearly 77% of the students left in East Baton Rouge public schools are poor, as measured by how many qualify for free or reduced lunch. Often, poor children come from unstable homes or dangerous neighborhoods, and they bring those problems with them to school. Parental involvement in a child’s education, a key factor in academic success, is often lacking in poorer homes.
IT TAKES A BIG MAN -- and a classy city -- to kick kids who already are down. And, in the case of Baton Rouge High, an added bonus is getting to kick the crap out of the really smart kids Louisiana desperately wants to stick around.

The school board is clueless. Kids, however, get the message loud and clear.

For the former, may we have a standing eight count and a prison cell, please? And for the latter . . . a scholarship to an out-of-state school, a U-Haul and some mail-order Community Coffee.

Because now it's possible to get the coffee without having to live in a world of suck.

SO, WHOM ELSE is Rolfe McCollister willing to shaft to make the point that he's mad as hell, dammit, and he's not going to take this anymore?

Here's part of a comment left by a Baton Rouge public-school teacher in response to McCollister's diatribe:
If you run a business, you get to choose the best and the brightest people with which to surround yourselves. You get to choose from which suppliers and vendors you will purchase your raw materials to make/create/perform your products/services. If an employee is failing to do his/her job at a high enough standard, you get the luxury of firing him/her. We don't get that luxury. We have students that come to us with varying negative backgrounds, poverty, no adult supervision, no structure, exposure to violence, etc. over which we have NO control. We have students that come to us from homes where they are taught that the teacher is always wrong and "out-to-get-you." Sometimes, when I discipline a student in class for negative behavior, that student tells me "I'm going to tell my mom. She's going to come here and get you."

Yet, despite this, we work as hard as we can. We go above and beyond the call of duty. Even when we have NO support from administrators, and sadly sometimes no support from parents, we make strides to take kids from nothing to something.

I like my job. I like what I do. I love to teach and talk to the kids and see them learn and grow. I like to hear them laugh. I live for that rare moment when a kid tells me "thank you."

So, if you have a problem with the way the school system runs, then get involved. Work to make changes. Go into the schools and observe. Volunteer. Maybe you could offer your advice on something (since you obviously know so much about education). But, PLEASE, PLEASE do NOT take it out on us. Do not take it out on the kids. Do not take it out on the hard-working, dedicated teachers.

And, finally, if this renewal does not pass, my annual salary will drop by exactly $5218.00. How would you like to suddenly lose $5218.00 of your salary just because people don't like the school system for which you work. If I lose that salary, I won't be able to afford the house that I worked so hard, took a part time job, and struggled to be able to buy five years ago. I guess I will have to move back in with mom and dad.
REALLY, if you're willing to make children suffer for pique's sake, what's ruining the life and finances of a schoolteacher? It's all in the name of reform, right? Even if you don't have a Plan B yet to deal with the wreckage you leave behind.

I would ask Rolfe McCollister what the hell gives him the right to tell people to hurt kids and punish teachers in the name of making the perfect the sworn enemy of the good. But, then again,
everybody knows that "You can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs."

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Maybe it's time you tried, Baton Rouge

One has to wonder whether the animating political instinct of my hometown, Baton Rouge, is spite.

Confronted with pictures -- in his own magazine, no less -- of a public high school crumbling around the children and faculty within, the publisher of the Baton Rouge Business Report is foursquare against renewing a sales tax that could fix all that. And give raises to teachers, too.

IN SHORT, Rolfe McCollister is calling on his readers to put a bullet in the head of a school system that has come up lame:

I had a neighbor tell me last week, “I have never voted against a school tax, but I am going to have to vote no this time.” I think that’s the conclusion many folks have come to for the special March 8 election. I certainly have.

“Outrageous,” you say.

No, what is outrageous is what my neighbor said to me after he proclaimed his position. He said, “We have become the New Orleans school system.” Now that should make the hair on your neck stand up. Fact is, he is referring to the old New Orleans system characterized by poor performance, declining enrollment, resistance to change and a constant hunger for more money. New Orleans, as a whole, has been innovative about its school system since Katrina and drawn lots of attention. It still has issues and is struggling, but it has signs of new life and hope. Can you say the same for East Baton Rouge schools? This election is your opportunity to answer that question and speak out so the school board and the community can hear you loud and clear.

So why would folks oppose the school taxes?

It’s not because we think education isn’t important. It is very important. And many of us opposing the taxes have been involved in supporting education in many ways for many years.

It’s not because we aren’t concerned with the needs of children, particularly lower-income children. They are the ones who have been denied a choice and stuck in our failing system. More of the same provides them with no hope and no way out.

It’s not because we don’t appreciate teachers and the tough job they have. We have supported teachers and pay has increased—but are teachers and the classroom a priority for funds? Have the best teachers been rewarded and the worst removed?

It’s not because we aren’t patient enough. We have allowed time and supported previous taxes. We have watched for progress for years and passed millions in new taxes [property and sales taxes] and renewals. And what are the results we have to show for that commitment and investment?
GOT IT? The school system is failing. Ergo, let's take away the money to fix and rebuild crumbling schools, let's make sure teachers are paid less than surrounding school systems, let's give the school board a symbolic fickle finger of fate and see whether things get any better.

That's what we have to assume is McCollister's line of "thinking" since, unfortunately, he doesn't tell us what, exactly, he proposes to do about the quite live children crawling around inside the carcass of a school system euthanized by denying it nutrition and hydration.
The ballot will have three propositions funded by renewal of a sales tax. While the tax was previously authorized for a five-year period, this time they are asking for a 10-year tax which would generate $870 million total. Proposition 1 funds construction and technology, Proposition 2 is for discipline and truancy and Proposition 3 maintains salaries of teachers and school workers.

The school board points out they have done well in the last 10 years and built seven new schools, with three more under construction. They have repaired 40 schools, spent millions on technology and created six new alternative schools. So with all these millions spent, these accomplishments, facilities and new assets, we still have an F system, we’re losing students and now the state is even taking our schools away.

And the school board is asking us to sign up for 10 more years and spend $870 million more. For what? More of the same?

This is exactly why a tax is set up for a limited duration: So you can decide if it generated the desired results and if you want to re-invest. I would conclude we got little return on our investment, and we need to look for something new to invest in. This system is broken down like a car with no engine. Why would you paint the body and hire a driver when it is going nowhere?
WHAT DOES McCOLLISTER propose Baton Rouge invest in after it again cuts off its nose to spite its face? U-Haul? Ryder? Mayflower Van Lines?

Perhaps the citizenry might choose, instead, to invest in more prisons. Of course, McCollister might object to a new prison tax -- being that the recidivism rate never came down -- so Baton Rougeans might want to just invest in guns and ammo.

In 1981, white Baton Rougeans invested in private schools so their darlings wouldn't have to be bused across town to attend school with the Negroes. In time, Baton Rougeans also invested in new homes in neighboring parishes so their children wouldn't have to go to crappy public schools that really weren't any more mediocre than they were at 65 percent white -- just much poorer and much blacker, with all the baggage that connotes.

And, by and large, the East Baton Rouge Parish schools have been awful for decades, with some glaring exceptions . . . like Baton Rouge Magnet High, my alma mater and one of the schools most desperately depending on that tax getting renewed.

Part of the reason the parish's public schools have been so substandard for so long is that Baton Rougeans have been OK with that. After all, until voters approved the penny sales tax in 1998 -- the one up for renewal -- no school-construction tax had passed in three decades.

Indeed, most of the Baton Rouge schools I attended more than three decades ago were, shall we say, dumps. Except for Baton Rouge High. Now, it may be the biggest one of all.

IF INCOMPETENCE were a capital offense, the East Baton Rouge school system ought to have been executed years ago, when it was still mostly white and the public still was paying attention. Not properly funding it, mind you, but still paying attention.

But no. The Rolfe McCollisters of Baton Rouge only want to "pull the switch" after the public and "civic leaders" have really let it go to hell . . . and have let it become 83 percent minority, and largely poor.

Now it's time for the blindfold and last cigarette -- now that those who have better options largely have exercised them and those "left behind" have no better option at all. But only if we're sure there's no Plan B for doing this public-education thing.

But say there were a Plan B -- which there isn't. If there were a Plan B, a knight in shining armor to magically fix the school system and make every poor, ill-educated child suddenly above average . . . if there were such a savior on the horizon, where would these miracles be performed?

In the same old crumbling facilities, decrepit schools unfit for dogs but not for Baton Rouge's kids? Would that make the miraculous all the more . . . miraculous?

DOES ROLFE McCOLLISTER'S public-policy prescription include making children sit in squalor to atone for the sins of the school board? Or is it possible that the city might embrace an imperfect plan to fix up facilities in anticipation of a coming push to fix the problems with education administration and student achievement?

Baton Rouge never has been, is not now nor ever will be "America's Next Great City (TM)" so long as it is dominated by reactionary, spite-driven, race-tinged politics. It will never progress beyond "Southern backwater" in the eyes of the nation until folks down there figure out that they're all going to pull together or fly to pieces.

That starts with public education. Building a capable, literate and skilled workforce for a state that currently doesn't have one is a lot easier if you don't -- in a fit of pique -- throw your school system back to Square Zero in the name of "reform."

But then again, we are talking about my hometown, Baton Rouge.

They say that a dog won't crap in its own bed. That may be true for Phideaux, but not for the Baton Rouge that I know and love . . . and hate. (They get complicated, my feelings do.)

The Baton Rouge I know -- and the Baton Rouge evidenced by the deplorable conditions at my alma mater, and by that anti-tax McCollister column -- not only will crap in its own bed, it'll then plop its children in the stinking pile.

Change you can believe in (to steal a slogan) is a city overcoming a crappy legacy. A big part of that would be renewing the school sales tax to fix dilapidated school buildings and raise teachers' pay -- a first step on a challenging journey toward a better future for Baton Rouge's children.

In Baton Rouge, for a change.