Democratic Accountability in School Boards

Education Ideas and Issues Rebuild New Orleans

PaulPastorekInside.vu_t290 New Orleans In New Orleans we have seen the future of schools under a district-wide “choice” system and a charter school dominated program, and it is blatantly undemocratic and unaccountable.  That’s bad news. Add to that the fact that the schools don’t perform better either by most measures, and we are talking about a school “reform” tragedy in the making.

The head of the Recovery School Districts is the nationally known Paul Vallas.  He is a product of the Chicago city system under Mayor Daley II and a frequent, though losing candidate in Illinois local and state politics.  His main paychecks in recent years have come from schools.  He was big stuff in Chicago and then ran the system in Philadelphia before coming to New Orleans in post-Katrina.

Thanks to a huge “okey-doke” after Katrina school know-it-alls and business interests managed to get Democratic Governor Kathleen Blanco to agree to “charterize” the school district and in the wake of the hurricane given all of these charters – the largest charter experiment in America – a 5 year agreement where they could not be challenged or accountability to the voters through a democratically elected school board.

Most of this took advantage of the financial catastrophe of the school district and the incredibly mysterious and unfortunate decision of the elected school board to almost indefinitely postpone opening of the public school system after the hurricane blocking the return of thousands and thousands of families.  So the state took over and through the state superintendent had been running many of our schools with no voter accountability whatsoever under Louisiana’s State school czar, Paul Pastorek.

Vallas and Pastorek seem to want to substitute some kind of business contract as if that is the same as democratic accountability by the voters.  And, if it sounds like a mealy-mouthed runaround that would allow the State of Louisiana to continue running the New Orleans school system rather than the citizens, taxpayers, and voters of New Orleans, then that is because that is exactly what seems to be intended.  The state would contract with the operators of the charters and democracy and real accountability would go out the window.

For his part Pastorek seems to hope that he can flim-flam his way around this problem with total double-speak.  In the New Orleans Times-Picayune he had the following preposterous quote:  I’m in favor of returning the schools back to local control as soon as possible.  I’ve said that since Day 1.  But I’ve also said since Day 1 that they shouldn’t necessarily go back to the School Board.  They should go back to whatever entity is prepared to handle the responsibility. We’ve created a different kind of school than what they are used to managing.”

Huh?  Sorry, Mr. Pastorek, the only legal and democratic “local control” is in fact through the local elected members of the Orleans Parish School Board.  The rest is obfuscation and bull-hockey.

The Governor’s executive order expires 5 years after Katrina, so there is only 1 more year to go before we should have had legitimate, democratic accountability and local control again, but it seems all of this flannel mouthed talk by Vallas and Pastorek is an attempt to try to keep New Orleans citizens from running New Orleans schools.

And, that’s wrong – no two ways about it!