December 10, 2003 1 min read

Dock Their Pay

What’s the best course of action when school boards go bad? Mayoral control? State takeover?

John Crose has another idea: Dock their pay. Under a plan he’s pitching to Louisiana state lawmakers, board members in districts with low-performing schools would forfeit the stipends they normally get for serving on the panels.

“You got a lot of people who are there for the money,” said Mr. Crose, who recently stepped down from the school board in St. John the Baptist Parish, where the district serves 6,200 students. “I’m looking for people who want to be there because the schools are important.”

Louisiana districts set their own pay rates for board members, up to a statewide maximum of $800 a month. If Mr. Crose has his way, board members would lose that money if even one of their districts’ schools got labeled “academically unacceptable” by the state’s accountability system. In those cases, he’d have the funds spent instead on school-improvement efforts.

Eight of Louisiana’s 68 districts now have at least one such school, but that number likely will grow as the state carries out plans to ratchet up academic standards over the next year.

Calling his proposal the School Board Accountability Act, Mr. Crose hopes to persuade a member of the state legislature to introduce it as a bill when the body reconvenes next March.

Already, he’s got some powerful backing. Lev Dawson, a wealthy former Silicon Valley entrepreneur who now runs a Louisiana sweet potato farm, says he’ll lend whatever weight he can to Mr. Crose’s crusade. Without giving names, the politically connected businessman said he’s been helping recruit lawmakers to sponsor the measure.

“We’re going to agitate and raise hell about it,” said Mr. Dawson, who also helped found a charter school in rural northern Louisiana.

Mr. Crose, who by day works as a quality-control supervisor for a produce company, has a history of raising the hackles of school board members. Before joining the board in St. John the Baptist Parish in 1999, he persuaded Mr. Dawson to pay for a billboard that tallied the total earnings of the local school board over a five-year period. He says the sign read: “They’re all doing very well; how are your schools doing?”

The Louisiana School Boards Association plans to fight Mr. Crose’s latest idea tooth and nail, according to Ronald Wascom, the group’s associate executive director.

— Archer