What do you see as the main job responsibilities of a school board representative and how many school board meetings have you attended in person in the last two years?

The main responsibilities for a school board member are as follows;

  1. As an elected board member, said member is to represent the interests of the local constituency.  A school board member is not to be beholden to the superintendent or central office and is not to participate in lobbying efforts from the central office, as is the case currently with the school board.
  2. Interface with the individual school administrators designated to each board member in order to set a vision for the schools and district. Get to know what is and is not working as it relates to budget appropriations, i.e. a text book expenditure that is actually not being used.  Plan for the funding of future growth needs with regard to school construction and the funding of all operations and curriculum changes for particular areas such as ESL, vo-tech, STEM, autism, dyslexia and special needs education.
  3. Since each board member’s vote affects the entire district, a member must become familiar with the other school board member’s districts and their funding concerns.
  4. Hire and evaluate the superintendent
  5. Adopt and oversee the annual budget after an internal auditor has signed off on the accuracy. The internal auditor, audits the Central Office and does not report to the Central Office as has been the case in recent years.  There was no internal auditor this last year to audit the budget number for 2018-19

I have not attended any school board meetings. I have watched most of the 2017-18 board meetings online.  The online platform is beneficial; I can replay segments of the recording.  My take away from these meetings is that there is a very cozy relationship between the board and the superintendent a lot of over congratulating and very little challenging of ideas or questioning regarding where the current policy is heading.

 

What is the Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) and why is it important to the St. Tammany schools?

The MFP, is a formula to equitably allocate funding for education to districts. Funding through this program is provided to school districts as a block grant.  Once the requirements are satisfied, districts can spend the grant to meet the needs of their schools. This is important to St. Tammany Schools in order to address one of the most urgent issues, growth.  With continued growth, the district will need to address increased funding of special needs students, dyslexia/autism curriculum, ESL, STEM in all schools, not just some and overcrowding, new construction as well as de-construction. MFP money from the state comprises the largest amount of money in the budget.  Due to shortfalls on the state level the delivery of MFP monies has not kept up with the needs and rising costs of the district, without this allotment the district must find the money elsewhere.

 

The state has imposed numerous unfunded mandates on the St. Tammany school system. Discuss two of these mandates and how they affect the school-operating budget.

I am in favor of a Federal Education Standard and when Common Core was introduced into my child’s elementary school in California, I unfortunately saw the reality of this hit- or-miss unfunded program.  Not all schools are financially equipped to accept the Common Core money and pay the balance stipulated by the state in order to roll out this program.  In addition to only some aspects of the Common Core mandate really achieving funding, sadly, if a district took the money, teacher evaluations were tied to the success of Common Core and these outcomes unfairly hurt the teachers.  What I experienced was that the textbooks were purchased, yet the teachers were barely trained on the new curriculum.  The Excel computer math modules were way out of line skill-level wise for most students and definitely for an older student trying to jump into the program.  The unfunding all of the necessary steps, materials, teacher training, testing and bridging for an older student has hurt the success of the program as well as the student and as I have come to learn upon arriving to Louisiana in 2012, many of the same issues have arisen here.  My child, has a few Common Core designed textbooks only used somewhat in class, other materials make up the balance, and there are strange EOC state tests given at the end of the year on a computer that can really be out of bounds with her skill level, particularly in math.  My child has been told she will flunk her grade if she does not pass these EOC state tests and I am told teacher evaluations are tied to these EOC outcomes. Unfortunately, the STPSB board has such a convoluted way of reporting these Common Core expenditures, I would need to sit down with a forensic accountant to understand how this program is funded.

The next unfunded mandated program is alternative education. Unfunding of the necessary steps for successful alternative education in Louisiana should be of grave concern.  Louisiana has 18,000 alternative students and for STP, I am actually having a hard time finding a current student number.

In a statewide report released on Oct. 17, 2017, it was reported that the system is riddled with problems, and that students rarely get the academic, behavior and social help they need.  Under current rules, alternative schools get their own grades.  There currently is no way to measure the schools and programs before a student is returned to his/her home school.  The report concluded that administrators would like to identify the facets that make for an excellent alternative education program or school. They need more mental health services, an academic curriculum as well as better trained teachers & para-professionals. The task force said the state needs a revamped accountability system unique to those students, and whether they meet clearly defined performance measures. Closer to home, our STPSB program named Operation Jumpstart has two campuses in Mandeville and Slidell. This kind of reporting takes money, we need to fund performance evaluation, more teachers, MHP & para-professionals. We have to know what is and isn’t working we need an alternative education audit so they can subsequently appropriate the funds in the right areas in order to garner success. I have tried to learn more about this topic but other than websites have hit the wall.  The STPSB ten-page budget does not name it as an expenditure, but maybe perhaps it is folded into special education.  This needs to come to light.

 

Tammany has an “out of district” policy that states a student must attend the public school in the district where the parent/ guardian owns a home and claims a homestead exemption or has proof of rent or lease.  There have been reported cases in which the policy has been violated.  A by-product of the policy violation is the overcrowding of some schools and under-utilization of others. Do you think anything should be done to balance the enrollment and reduce the need for more buildings? If so, what?

I have seen firsthand what happens to neighborhoods & communities when schools allowed out-of-district transferring in California.  The neighborhood elementary school is no longer used to capacity, parents transport students across town to the more desirable school which suffers from overcrowding.  You break the neighborhood school community when you allow this en masse and if parcel tax assessments are levied for improvements, (solar panels in our school’s case), the out of area families had no vote. When a community is left with a school void, this gives rise to charter schools.  I am against this policy all together with the exception of bullying, or a student needing a particular academic program not otherwise offered at the local school.  The goal should be to bring all the schools up to an optimal level to avoid this kind of flight in the first place.

Now in the case of STPSB, I do not see overcrowding as a result of granting too many waivers, but I see this due to growth that has not been properly addressed. Full disclosure I have applied twice for a waiver for my child for both 8thand 10thgrade as my schools did not offer creative writing, projects, or writing clubs.  I was turned down both times.  Currently at Covington High School we have no STEM curriculum offered, so a child with this desire and skill set may or may not get this much desired program if denied, which is currently offered at our neighboring two high schools.  In terms of “waiver” policy violation, I am sure it exists, but it’s not the causation for overcrowding.  The solution is to build more schools particularly in the growth areas, Madisonville, west Parish, and redevelop the older schools with real construction, not portables that lapse into mildew ridden hovels.

 

A major concern to parents and voters is the safety of our children while they are in our care at school.  By the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year, all 55 schools will have a school resource officer (SRO) funded by FEMA and the BP oil settlement.  These funds will eventually expire.  Would you favor increasing the school board tax millage to cover this cost or do you have another suggestion for coming up with the money?

STPSB has nearly a half-billion-dollar yearly budget.  Until a thorough internal audit of this budget has been completed, which has not been done in over a year, there is no reason to raise taxes.  We have money. That being said, once the budget has been straightened out, and if it is determined the district can’t fund the extension of the SRO program I would only then consider an increase in the millage tax.  I will note that although all schools will now have an SRO, our high schools already have one officer. An additional officer should be added to each high school; this can be justified with the yearly student population increase.  It’s just too much for one officer to handle.  I am calling for single entry/exit points and the numerous obvious security breaches need to be closed on all campuses.  I am also in favor of school uniforms as another security measure in high school as already practiced in STPSB through the 8thgrade.   In addition, enhanced MHP/counselors in order to head off a troubled student.  Since each school has a unique layout, I recommend continued security audits particular to each school.  In terms of the funding for my security ideas, everything will have to be on the table, millage increase, higher budget appropriations and a continued push to extend the FEMA/BP Oil Settlement.

 

The Louisiana Industrial Ad Valorem Tax Exemption program allows school districts to reject exemptions that decrease the tax revenue available to the school board. What action, if any, should the school board take in compliance with the current law to adopt new policies and standards for industries seeking tax exemptions?  Do you think the school board should accept or reject most exemptions?

Why should corporations be exempt from local taxes as an incentive to operate in STP?  They should not.  Corporations have enough tax deals on the Federal & State level whereby they are already avoiding taxes.  The school board should have the discretion to accept or reject an Ad Valorem Tax Exemption and frankly I wish they would reject these.  As I understand it, in this Parish we are really talking about a small percentage, relative to other parishes.  That being said it’s a bad precedent, corporations are known tax dodgers & polluters and while they may create jobs the impact of their presence needs to be evaluated for environmental impact, real job creation long-term, community enhancement, traffic etc.  Other parts of the country have already learned these lessons, tech companies don’t employee that many people and want all the goodies, will take the tax deals and subsequently leave. While these tax deals to bring in jobs and growth sound appealing on the surface they need to be monitored and the STPSB should never lock themselves into a long-term tax exemption deal, short-term with compliance oversight is a must.  Before a vote is cast, all board members must be free of any conflict-of-interest from the said corporation or recusal is required. The board must use extreme oversight, perhaps a breakout committee to research the company and their history of business & tax dealings and find out the reality of how many people will be locally employed, or will new employees be brought in, a long-term benefit must be established before an exemption is passed.