Thursday, November 13, 2014

Evangeline Parish; A Case Study in the Education Disaster Created by Act I

I was called upon to make an emergency trip to my old home parish of Evangeline yesterday to conduct an independent review of claims of an excessive salary raise given to the Superintendent of schools for Evangeline Parish. The LAE requested that I gather information and review the financial records relating to the salary of Superintendent Hamlin and about teacher salary issues in general. The LAE Executive Director wanted an independent review of the controversy because many teachers had been told that huge raises had been granted to the Superintendent while teacher's salaries had been in effect frozen for the last three years. Someone had also spread a rumor that the LAE field representative, Mr. Marcus Thomas was somehow in cahoots with the Superintendent in helping her to cover up the alleged raise. I refused the consultant fee offered for my services because I wanted to be truly independent in my review. I was happy to do this review at no charge because many years ago I got a wonderful public education from the Evangeline public schools and still think that it has some of the best and most dedicated teachers in the state.

I was informed that the Superintendent had planned a meeting with teacher and administrator representatives from each school for Wednesday afternoon. I requested to attend that meeting, but I also requested access to financial records well in advance of the employee meeting. In addition to the budget I requested that the chief financial officer for the school system provide me with a printout of actual salary payments made to the Superintendent for each of the last three years. I also wanted to see how the teacher salaries had changed over those years.

Everything was provided promptly as requested and a pre-meeting was held with the chief financial officer, the Superintendent and the Assistant Superintendent. We not only reviewed the superintendent's salary data but also a description of the teacher salary system which is now based on Act I specifications in state law. We also reviewed the sales tax supplements made over the last three years to all employees.

The data provided indicates that the Superintendent received no additional raises to her salary not also received by teaches in the last three years even though for each of those years her contract provided for a 3% performance bonus based upon being evaluated as proficient by her school board each year. Ms. Hamlin stated that she had refused to receive the raise each year even though her contract entitled her to the performance raise, because she was concerned that school system finances had not allowed for across the board employee raises. According to a review by KATC television news, Ms. Hamlin received the lowest salary of all parish superintendents in the region. Even though she has received a good evaluation from her school board, and even though the Parish has now raised its rating on the accountability system from a C to a B, the Superintendent's salary has remained the same for the last three years. Ms Hamlin, each year has quietly refused the raise and continued to attribute much credit for the progress of the school system to the dedication of the teachers and principals of the system. It was only when her contract was renewed last week that some took note of the performance bonus and assumed that she had received the money. She had not.


The real problem in my opinion, is the new state law that controls teacher salaries and attempts to implement merit pay. This new law is seriously flawed and has never been properly funded by the Governor and the legislature. Act I of 2012 was an empty promise to teachers and has ended up seriously damaging the morale of teachers across the state. Act I, which was rammed through the legislature in record time, by Governor Jindal drastically changed the way teachers must be paid compared to previous years.  The new salary plan was supposed to reward effective teachers by basing a portion of their salaries on performance. This was supposed to help each school system retain the best teachers. The teacher salary plan adopted by the Evangeline Parish School Board in accordance with the new law provides that automatic step raises have been replaced by a system based on the new teacher evaluation system. But the flaw in the new system is that even though a teacher may receive a modest raise based on highly effective or proficient performance, there is no provision for adequate salary improvement over the years. Under the old system, teachers in the 8 through 12 year experience ranges in Evangeline Parish got raises averaging over $640 each year. Now the largest raise they can get is $400, and that is only if they get a highly effective evaluation. Teachers with a proficient rating get only a maximum of $200 per year. In my opinion, the new salary plan for teachers is much inferior to the old salary plan even for the teachers rated as the best in the system.

The only new money that Evangeline Parish received from the state in recent years, was as a result of a lawsuit by the LAE which forced the Governor and the Legislature to fund the 1.75% that had illegally cut from the MFP for the 2012-13 school year. As a result of this lawsuit, all certificated personnel in Evangeline parish got a salary supplement of $656 and support personnel got $300.

In addition to the major salary downgrade described above, Act I did away with seniority benefits of teachers and dismembered the tenure process for teachers. The new tenure process in Act I was basically rigged against the teacher and was not even worth the paper it was written on. After winning a lawsuit throwing out the new bogus tenure process, LAE was successful in negotiating with Jindal and passing legislation this past legislative session that gives teachers reasonable due process. Act I was supposed to make all professional employees salaries dependent on student performance. If a school system went from a C to a B, it should be logical that teachers, principals and even the superintendent should have been due a nice raise, right? Wrong! That's because the cynical big business people who encouraged Jindal to pass Act I were never willing to pay for the raises. That's why Act I ends up "robbing Peter to pay Paul", and ends up with everyone getting less than they would have gotten under the old system. To add insult to injury, the Jindal administration has privatized employee health insurance which is now resulting in a loss of benefits at the same time that premiums have gone up.

When Act I was proposed, the governor and big business needed some way to show that this new merit pay system for teachers had the support of the "good" teachers who they claimed had never been properly rewarded for their expertise and dedication. So while thousands of teachers were locked out of the Capitol and forced to stand on the Capitol steps, the officials of the A+PEL group were allowed to come into the Education Committee room and take up the seats in the front of the room along with the representatives of big business and the Chambers of Commerce representatives, so they could testify about the wonderful benefits to teachers and children that would be instituted by the adoption of Act I. Later, the real teachers were allowed to testify, but it was too late. The decision had already been made.

All of these events in my opinion are what have led up to the teacher unrest in Evangeline Parish. I believe some of the same repercussions will also be felt in other parishes. I am encouraging any teacher in Evangeline Parish or any other parish who has any questions about these salary issues to write me at All such emails will be kept confidential.
Thanks for your dedication to children.
Michael Deshotels

Monday, November 10, 2014

Tenure Has Never Been More Needed

I always knew that teacher tenure and even administrator tenure were important, but just like anything else you never need to use, simply because it prevents bad things from happening, I never thought very much about tenure. But now that tenure has been removed from many teachers and from all administrators, it is really becoming abundantly clear how vital the due process protection provided by tenure really is.

We have been told by big business elites for years that teacher tenure is just an unnecessary impediment to school improvement. Often they have told us that Myth #1:"Good teachers don't need tenure." and also Myth #2:  "When tenure is removed, good teachers will be empowered to finally get rewarded according to their value to the children they serve." The following post by Diane Ravitch highlights for us how untrue these statements are and how cruel this new world of teaching without due process can be.

Diane Ravitch explains here how a wonderful kindergarten teacher was fired by one of our Louisiana charter schools, and was never even given an explanation.  This recent firing puts the lie to both myths about tenure. This particular teacher had been honored just recently as one of the most effective teachers in Louisiana as measured by the tremendous academic growth of her students. She had been awarded a large bonus, paid for with a federal grant aimed at promoting merit pay for great teachers. Contrary to Myth #2, this teacher was absolutely powerless to keep her big bonus and even her job. She was fired without warning of any kind and barely given time to clean out her desk.

Fortunately because of the increasing shortage of kindergarten teachers, she was able to find a good job almost immediately in a traditional public school. She now tells us that she has never been happier in her profession. So all ended well for her

The same thing happened to a charter school principal I know who was fired mainly because she insisted that the discipline rules at her school be fairly enforced for all students.  Apparently she had failed to take into account that a student who was guilty of a serious discipline infraction had a parent who served on the board of the charter school. This principal was fired also without being given a reason of any kind. Her contract did not protect her. This principal is now teaching in a private school where she never has to worry about the almighty LEAP tests and there is no COMPASS or VAM. She told me that she had never wanted anything but to be allowed to do the job she loves to do. She tells me that her work has become rewarding again, even at a lower salary.

The welfare of the children was never a factor in the dismissal of the two individuals described above.