Voters in New Orleans have little voice in how our public schools are run, and it is about to get even worse.
In 2004 we elected seven officials to serve on the Orleans Parish School board. The parish is divided into seven districts, so I voted for one of the seven members that oversaw 117 schools, the largest school district in the state. While I did not vote for her, Una Anderson represents me on that board. In November of 2005, the governor and the Louisiana legislature turned over control of 102 of these schools to the Recovery School District, run by appointed persons, none of whom are elected. Now the Orleans Parish School Board governs five schools, and oversees 12 charters.
On the state level, schools are governed by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE). There are 11 members of BESE, 8 of whom are elected by district, and 3 of whom are appointed. All of New Orleans is represented by one representative from the state's district 2. So New Orleans has one vote on an 11 member panel for matters pertaining to most of our schools. Our representative is currently Louella Givens, who is up for reelection October 20th. She often is the one voice of opposition on the board. The vice-president of BESE is Leslie Jacobs, one of the strongest advocates of charter schools, and the primary advocate of the state takeover of New Orleans schools. Jacobs is supporting Ernest Marcelle, Givens' only opponent, because Givens has often voted against the charter school movement. Marcelle, like Jacobs, is in favor of school vouchers. For them, charter schools are the next best thing in this "education as business" model. Like me, Givens is against chartering schools without community support. If my entire Mid-City neighborhood was against chartering schools, or if every person in New Orleans was against charters, we would have a voting voice only for the few schools run by the Orleans Parish School Board.
But now my school board representative Una Anderson is running for a seat on the Louisiana House of Representatives (95th district). Anderson advocates charter schools, even though she is on the Orleans Parish School Board. Her primary platform is to "raise the statewide cap on charter schools and establish a new local governance structure for Orleans Parish schools." I've heard from many people, including the appointed State Superintendant of Public Schools, Paul Pastorek, that the Orleans Parish School Board as it now exists will be short lived. There is talk of a system with an appointed school board rather than an elected one. And our soon to be next governor, Bobby Jindal, also advocates for vouchers and charter schools.
So it might be a good time to invest in for-profit education companies, because New Orleans is open for business.