reports from a local parent monitoring public education in New Orleans

Entries for June, 2008

RSD FOIA for charter school monitoring info (updated)

From: Amelia Lafont
Date: Mon, Jun 23, 2008 at 2:14 PM
Subject: Freedom of Information Request to RSD for charter school monitoring information
To: Siona LaFrance

Amelia Lafont
PO Box 51153 ,
New Orleans, LA 70151
****

Siona LaFrance
Communications Director
Recovery School District
1641 Poland Ave.
New Orleans, LA 70117
(504) 373-6200 ext. 20084
(504) 214-7994 cell
(504) 309-3647 fax

June 23, 2008

Dear Ms. LaFrance:

I respectfully make the following Request for Public Records as authorized by the Louisiana Public Records Law enumerated in LA R.S. 44:1 et seq. and adopted by the City of New Orleans in Section 2-773 of the Code of Ordinances, City of New Orleans. Please provide these records within three days as per LA R.S. 44:33.

Should a question be raised as to whether the record(s) requested are public documents, please inform me of your determination – in writing – within three days of receipt of this request. Such a determination “shall contain a reference to the basis under law which the custodian has determined exempts a record, or any part thereof, from inspection, copying, or reproduction.” (LA R.S. 44:32.D)

Since the purpose of this request is to inform the public of the operations of your agency – a public purpose – I request a fee waiver for duplication. (LA R.S. 44:32.C(2))

The following information is being requested:

1. A copy of each contract past and present between any agency of Louisiana with the National Association of Charter School Authorizors (NASCA).

2. A copy of RSD’s policies and proceedures for charter school monitoring.

3. Copies of reports done to assess charter school performance, complete or in draft.

Thank you,
Amelia Lafont

(Sent Monday, should have responded by Thursday, no response yet.)

UPDATE:
On July 3rd the RSD sent 2 scanned copies of contracts with NASCA totalling about $400,000 to manage the charter approval processes from 2006- Spring 2008. As of today, July 9, they have not sent any information regarding their monitoring processes, reports, or results from any specific site and charter monitoring activities.

(Gmail) Siona LaFrance to Chris, me
Jul 3 (6 days ago) [attachments: NACSA Contract 1.PDF,NACSA Contract 2.PDF]

Ms. Lafont,
Attached please find an electronic copy of contracts between the Louisiana Department of Education and the National Association of Charter School Authorizors.

The company’s federal tax identification number has been redacted from the documents for privacy reasons.

I will advise you when other documents responsive to your other requests are available.

Best,
Siona LaFrance

How we do things in Louisiana – the bad way

I wish we would just get over it.

“Who’s pushing the buttons? Legislators voting in others’ absence, Legislators Pressing Each Other’s Buttons

By Caroline Moses
Posted: June 25, 2008 06:06 PM

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) – You might still be angry about the pay raise legislators gave themselves and another circumstance we’ve come across may irk you, too. 9NEWS has learned some legislators voted on two, three, or even four machines at a time during this session because other legislators were not in the chamber. Some of them were not even in the state.

We saw Representative Barbara Norton of Shreveport pushing not one, not two, but three machines on one vote. Then, she directs Representative Rickey Hardy of Lafayette to catch another one she can’t quite reach. This practice of pushing other legislators’ buttons is not new. “They used to do it with golf clubs and a putter and things like that. Now, they have more sophisticated clubs to push the buttons,” says Barry Erwin with the Council for a Better Louisiana.

However, if a member is outside the Capitol building, it is against House rules. “I don’t think anyway can defend having a legislator not in the building, not at work, may be not even in the state or city, having people vote for their machines,” says Erwin. Representative Reed Henderson of Chalmette called in to WWL-Radio from his car on Friday. He was on his way back home while legislators were still in session and somehow, his votes kept coming in, without him there. Henderson is not the only one who does this. We have confirmed that at least one legislator was not even in the state when his buttons were pressed and pressed and pressed.

“There is an expectation that your legislator is going to be there casting votes for you if you’re a citizen. If votes cast and legislators not there, kind of like defrauding public in a lot of ways,” Erwin says. The House rules state that if a member is not present at the Capitol, they are supposed to have the clerk turn off their machine, so no one else votes on it. Yet, it’s completely up to the legislator whether or not they choose to do that. “The point is you should be there. You should be listening to the debate and you should understand what’s going on and you should be pushing your own buttons,” says Erwin.

Maybe if seeing all this pushes your buttons, legislators will stop stretching their sticks beyond the rules. If a particularly important vote is about to take place, legislators can call for a quorum vote or a lock-out. That’s when they are specifically told to vote only their machine. Otherwise, there are no real consequences if a legislator pushes multiple buttons. Tell us what you think about the multiple voting that goes on. ”

Kudos to WAFB Channel 9 of Baton Rouge for investigative political journalism!!!
Keep it up, ya’ll! We love it.

RSD non-response to Facilities Master Plan FOIA

From: Amelia Lafont
Date: Mon, Jun 23, 2008 at 2:08 PM
Subject: 2nd Request: Freedom of Information Request to RSD for Facilities Master Plan information
To: Siona LaFrance
Cc: Tracie Washington

Dear Ms. LaFrance,

One week ago, I submitted the FOIA request below, and I haven’t had a response. The records should have been provided to me no later than last Thursday, and they are now three days late. Please provide copies of the records as the law states.

Thank you,
Amy Lafont

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Amelia Lafont
Date: Tue, Jun 17, 2008 at 1:23 PM
Subject: Freedom of Information Request to RSD for Facilities Master Plan information
To: Siona LaFrance

Amelia Lafont
PO Box 51153 ,
New Orleans, LA 70151
***

Siona LaFrance
Communications Director
Recovery School District
1641 Poland Ave.
New Orleans, LA 70117
(504) 373-6200 ext. 20084
(504) 214-7994 cell
(504) 309-3647 fax

June 16, 2008

Dear Ms. LaFrance:

I respectfully make the following Request for Public Records as authorized by the Louisiana Public Records Law enumerated in LA R.S. 44:1 et seq. and adopted by the City of New Orleans in Section 2-773 of the Code of Ordinances, City of New Orleans. Please provide these records within three days as per LA R.S. 44:33.

Should a question be raised as to whether the record(s) requested are public documents, please inform me of your determination – in writing – within three days of receipt of this request. Such a determination “shall contain a reference to the basis under law which the custodian has determined exempts a record, or any part thereof, from inspection, copying, or reproduction.” (LA R.S. 44:32.D)

Since the purpose of this request is to inform the public of the operations of your agency – a public purpose – I request a fee waiver for duplication. (LA R.S. 44:32.C(2))

The following information is being requested:

1. A complete copy of most recent draft of the Facilities Master Plan, in whatever stage of completion it exists.
2. Meeting agendas, minutes, sign-in sheets, and public notices from all meetings wherein the FMP RFP was prepared, issued, responses were received, reviewed, and contractors selected.
3. A roster of all who participated in the decision making process of FMP contractor selection, including state employees, board members, para-professionals, and community members.
4. All responses received to the Request for Proposals to conduct the plan.
5. Complete file copies of all due diligence performed on the selected FMP contractors.
6. All contracts signed for the execution of the Facilities Master Plan, including subcontractor contracts.
7. Copies of invoices received and statements of payments made to the contractors to date.
8. Copies of contract changes including extensions and/or change-orders to complete the extended work now required.

Thank you,
Amelia Lafont

FW: Public Records Request
Siona LaFrance to me 3:17 PM

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Chris Fruge
To: “‘ameilia.lafont@gmail.com’”
Date: Fri, 20 Jun 2008 13:55:09 -0500
Subject: Public Records Request

Ms. Lafont:

I have been informed of your recent public records request for the following documents:

1. A complete copy of most recent draft of the Facilities Master Plan, in whatever stage of completion it exists.
2. Meeting agendas, minutes, sign-in sheets, and public notices from all meetings wherein the FMP RFP was prepared, issued, responses were received, reviewed, and contractors selected.
3. A roster of all who participated in the decision making process of FMP contractor selection, including state employees, board members, para-professionals, and community members.
4. All responses received to the Request for Proposals to conduct the plan.
5. Complete file copies of all due diligence performed on the selected FMP contractors.
6. All contracts signed for the execution of the Facilities Master Plan, including subcontractor contracts.
7. Copies of invoices received and statements of payments made to the contractors to date.
8. Copies of contract changes including extensions and/or change-orders to complete the extended work now required.

First, with regard to the Facilities Master Plan, It is my understanding that the Facilities Master Plan is not yet fully completed. Parsons is still in the process of producing the final plan. The Louisiana Public Records Act defines a “public record” as a document (I’m paraphrasing somewhat here) used or to be used in the performance of a public business. Louisiana’s Attorney General has previously opined that incomplete documents that are not yet final are not yet at the stage where they are used in the performance of public business and therefore do not constitute “public records” as defined by the Louisiana Public Act. See AG. Op. 1998-21. Louisiana’s Attorney General has also previously opined that “…[w]hen documents are not yet in the form of a final report, the public board or agency should be given an opportunity to make corrections and to complete the document before public inspection is allowed.” See AG. Op. 79-242. The Department of Education/Recovery School District will make the Facilities Master Plan available for public inspection once it is completed.

With regard to the proposals submitted in response to the RFP, (1) Parsons stated that it’s detailed pricing data constituted a trade secret, (2) ISES stated that its financial reports/data those documents withheld for privacy/proprietary considerations, (3) Dejong also asked that any financial data submitted by it be withheld for the same reason. See La. R.S. 51:1431 et seq., Art. 1 § 5 of the Louisiana Constitution.

We will find whatever other documents LDE/RSD has which are responsive to your request. You have asked for copies and have also asked for a waiver of the fee for copies. Note that your conclusory statement of “public purpose” does not entitle you to free copies, and even if you were to state that your “public purpose” was the dissemination of information to the public, that does not suffice as the type of “public purpose” contemplated under the pertinent regulation. Even journalists are required to pay the required fee for copies. You likewise will be expected to pay the appropriate fee (25 cents per page) for copies as a prerequisite to receiving copies. I will be happy to provide you a cost estimate prior to having you incur that expense so you can make the decision as to whether you wish to pay the required copying fee and obtain copies.

The Greater New Orleans Education Foundation

Tonight at the hastily-announced RSD update meeting, I asked Paul Pastorek who was working on the return of schools to local governance. First, he said no-one was, then he said Bob O’Reilly with the Greater New Orleans Education Foundation. Mr. Pastorek further said that we must first define what type of system we want, then he said we cannot return the schools to a local system without the capacity to manage them.

I have heard of GNOEF before, not in a positive light (and not really since). Let’s look again:

BOARD OF DIRECTORS

Criteria for Board Selection :

Business, political and university leaders with strong interest in public education reform were chosen to lead the Foundation in its objectives and policies.

Executive Board :
Robert D. Riley (Co-Chair) – Vice President, The Reily Companies

Alden J. McDonald, Jr. (Co-Chair) – President & CEO, Liberty Bank and Trust

C. Ray Nagin (Vice-Chair) – Mayor, City of New Orleans

James Reiss, Jr. – Reiss Companies, LLC

Kenneth E. Pickering (Finance Co-Chair) – Partner, Pickering & Cotogno

Elizabeth Rack (Finance Co-Chair) – Former OPSB Member

Paul G. Pastorek – General Counsel, NASA

Dr. Gerri Elie – Retired Professor, Dillard University

R. King Milling – President, Whitney National Bank

Herschel L. Abbott, Jr. – Former President, Bell South-Louisiana

Dr. Brenda L. Mitchell – President, United Teachers of New Orleans

Florida Woods – President, Professional Administrators of New Orleans Public Schools

Policy Board :

Dr. Scott S. Cowen – President, Tulane University

Dr. Norman C. Francis – President, Xavier University

Dr. Alex Johnson – President, Delgado Community College

Rev. William J. Byron, S.J. – President, Loyola University

Dr. Timothy P. Ryan – Chancellor, University of New Orleans

Dr. Press L. Robinson – Chancellor, Southern University of New Orleans

Dr. Paul T. Caesar – President, Our Lady of Holy Cross College
***

Since Katrina I have asked Dr. Brenda Mitchell and about this group and she said unequivocally that she was not a part of this group and she knew the names I read to her but not the organization name. She said she had not attended any such meetings to her memory.

Who’s GNOEF?

When do they meet? Do they have bylaws? Who pays their office rent? Inquiring minds want to know. Are they board members for life?

Tonight Mr. Pastorek referred to this organization as the ‘core group’ of who is considering the future of our schools. He did not disclose that he was a member, much less a director, of this group.

Greater New Orleans Education Foundation
1515 Poydras Street, Suite 1880, New Orleans, LA 70112
(504) 593.9100 Office (504) 593-9511 Fax gnoef@bellsouth.net

Who’s Bob Reily?

Speaking about special interests, let’s talk about how Paul Pastorek uses social connections for jobs:

“Mr. Pastorek’s role at NASA is his first position in the federal government. Appointed by President George W. Bush, he took command of the general counsel’s office in February, 2002. And no, it did not hurt that Mr. Patorek was a close boyhood friend of his fellow Louisianan and the current chief of NASA, Administrator Sean O’Keefe.

Before going to Washington, Mr. Pastorek handled business law matters, commercial litigation and transactional work as a managing partner at Adams and Reese in New Orleans. While there, he managed the firm’s groups that specialized in government relations, as well as intellectual property, labor and other hot areas.

Back home in Louisiana, NASA’s head lawyer is active in community and state issues, particularly in the area of education. Since 2000, he has been President of Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and has lent his skill and attention as a member of various commissions on K-12 education, community colleges and higher education.

A married father of three, Mr. Pastorek earned his undergraduate and law degrees from Loyola University of New Orleans. ”
***

Is the “hot” unit at Adams & Reese the civil discontent unit? The plantation-enforcement unit? What’s up with that?

Now what else I’d like to know is, where did Mr. Pastorek’s children go to school?

(apologies to the Pastorek children – this is not about you, but your Dad is wreaking havoc on the rest of us.)

Cursory searches of their names imply lifetimes of private schools.
***

Who else is in GNOEF?

James Reiss, real estate investor and chair of the Regional Transit Authority (i.e., the man responsible for the buses that didn’t evacuate people)

and also

another great moment in Jimmy Reiss history:

“During the immediate post-Katrina period, there were essentially two visions of a resurgent New Orleans. One, widely decried as racist, saw the new, improved New Orleans as smaller, whiter and more prosperous.

This was openly advocated. Just a few days after the storm, a wealthy member of the city’s power elite, James Reiss, told The Wall Street Journal: “Those who want to see this city rebuilt want to see it done in a completely different way: demographically, geographically and politically.”

Mr. Reiss, who is white and served in Mayor C. Ray Nagin’s administration as chairman of the Regional Transit Authority (he has since left the government), said that he and many of his colleagues would leave town if New Orleans did not become a city with better services and fewer poor people.”

so let’s have these people exclusively control schools, ok? yes? wow.

Pickering hmmm I know that name too let me see … here . I don’t know if Charles and Kenneth are related, but I do know see that certain industries seem to have a death-grip on our public infrastructure.

Too many lawyers, no parents. No hands-on educators, for that matter, either.

Can people who actually are a part of the public school system please have a voice in it?

Why are we begging? Haven’t we been through enough?

Mr. Pastorek, have you served to improve public education for the greater good or are you serving another interest?

The RSD is not accredited

What does this mean? Immediately after Katrina in Fall 05, while the city was still under water, the Legislature authorized the State of Louisiana Department of Education to seize all ‘failing’ schools in New Orleans, and my understanding is they moved the failing grade up to an 87 (someone please correct me if I’m wrong) to seize about 105 of 112 schools.

Now, the State-run Recovery School District, RSD, has chartered out most of the schools they operate, creating an experiment in a system based on charters. They are aggressively pushing to have every school chartered or charter-like.

The concept of charters is for them to compliment a conventional public system and strengthen it, not to constitute the system itself.

It is wrong to experiment with Katrina’s survivors, especially our children. It is being implemented by people who’s agenda is privitization by any means. This movement was afoot pre-K, and these people used the population’s forced displacement to push through legislation that never would have otherwise passed.

Even then, the laws have not been followed. We have so many examples of this, from no community participation to no services for special needs children.

Now, Wal-Mart’s foundation, the Walton Foundation, has funded and is very quietly pushing through programs that are against the wishes of the affected communities.

Militarization instead of Social Justice.

Ya’ll heard me?

www.savefrederickdouglass.com

Back to RSD.

Not being accredited.

See:

http://www.liprapslament-theline.blogspot.com/

and

http://hurricaneradio.blogspot.com/2008/06/not-accredited.html

What does this mean?

It means if you want a high school diploma or credit for student or teaching experience, for choices you have:

9 OPSB

Archdiocese of New Orleans is multi-parish so let’s just count the ones in Orleans:
21

(but this number is misleadingly high also as several Catholic high schools have 8th grade and they have their ‘junior high’ accreditation separately so it is one school, 2 accreditations)

if you count the same schools only once, the number is 15.

- apples to apples comparisons of the lists generate more questions: Audubon and Lake Forest are named OPSB charters in the Parent’s guide, but why not listed as accredited?

RSD/State Charter:
– have to leave accreditation website to count RSD schools –

- they are adding 9 new charters with grade configurations all a mess – will post on these later –

- the parent’s guide says ‘ 51 including 20 charter schools, with 7 more in the Fall’

grand totals:

9 public accredited schools OPSB (6 high schools, 2 elementary, 1 K-12 Lusher)

15 private Catholic acccredited

0 non-religious accredited in Orleans Parish (where’s Newman? not accredited?)

58 RSD/Charters without accreditation and as of Fall 08.

So, parents in Orleans Parish have exactly three options for accredited public schools, one of which gives first enrollment to Tulane employees.

Wonder if they’re all full?

This is not an argument for vouchers!!! This is an illustration of why we need our schools back under local control.