Future Cloudy for Louisiana's Leadership Academy

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A Louisiana program designed to hone the leadership skills of school administrators has been caught up in a funding dispute that is giving potential participants an early lesson in the foibles of state government.

This month, Attorney General William Guste issued a draft opinion stating that the state board of education's $750,000 appropriation for the Administrative Leadership Academy is unconstitutional.

If Mr. Guste sticks to his finding in an upcoming formal opinion, the academy will go unfunded for the first time since lawmakers approved its creation at the behest of former Gov. Edwin E. Edwards in 1986. The program had previously received its funds from an account controlled by the governor.

The academy is now being run by an interim director, its third head in less than a year. The first director resigned for personal reasons in December, and the second stepped4down last month because of his health. The funding crisis has put a hold on plans to launch a national search for a full-time director.

Robert Schiller, the state's deputy superintendent of education, recently conceded that the academy has not been "as effective and successful as we'd have liked it to have been."

Mr. Schiller added that as the funding dispute unfolds, he and Cornelia Barnes, the academy's interim director, plan to be busy "redefining what our purpose is."

The academy's funding problems have their roots in the state board's decision last year to finance it with revenues from the board's $25-million share of Louisiana's Education Quality Support Fund.

The fund derives its revenues from interest on more than $600 million that Louisiana gained in a settlement with the federal government over offshore oil and natural-gas revenues.

The state constitution requires that interest income from the fund, which is divided equally between precollegiate and postsecondary education, be spent on "exemplary programs." The constitution states that these must be programs that cannot otherwise be funded through the state's minimum-foundation formula.

Last year, the Public Affairs Research Council, a private, nonpartisan lobbying group, suggested that Mr. Guste examine more closely how the state's precollegiate and higher-education boards were using money from the fund. The group has argued in the past that when education officials have been unable to convince the legislature to finance programs through the minimum-foundation formula, they have labeled the programs "exemplary" and paid for them from the quality-support fund.

In his preliminary opinion, the attorney general concluded that although the leadership academy had been "budgeted and approved" by the legislature and State Superintendent Wilmer S. Cody, it was not eligible to receive funding from the quality-support fund.

Since that opinion was issued, "what we've had to do basically is put on hold spending any money," Mr. Schiller explained.

Richard A. Musemeche, executive director of the Louisiana Association of School Executives, said he thinks that in spite of its problems, ''by and large, administrators have been receptive to the concept" of a leadership academy.

But Emogene Pliner, a parc spokesman, said that even if the leadership academy's appropriation is judged to be legitimate, her group will continue to raise questions about the use of the quality-support fund.

"There is a lot of interest in the legislature about oversight" of expenditures, she said.

Vol. 08, Issue 27

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