Dipping for the second time this year into the legislative ranks, the Louisiana Department of Education has hired the ex-chairman of the state’s House education committee, Republican Rep. Don Trahan, to serve as the agency’s liaison with business leaders and public-interest groups.
Early this year, the agency turned to the other side of the political aisle when it hired former Democratic House Speaker Joe Salter, who had just retired because of term limits, to become its director of governmental affairs.
Both bring some experience directly in public schools. Mr. Trahan at one time was a high school teacher, and Mr. Salter was a high school principal.
“Don’s background in both education and government makes him a valuable addition to our team,” state Superintendent Paul G. Pastorek said in a Sept. 30 press release. “He has been a longtime supporter and advocate for public education reform.”
Mr. Trahan’s annual salary in the new job is reportedly $110,000, according to news accounts in Louisiana. Mr. Salter’s salary is reportedly $120,000.
The Louisiana Department of Education did not respond to repeated inquiries for this story.
For his part, Mr. Pastorek recently received a $50,000 raise. His annual salary is now $277,249, and he also receives a $48,000 housing allowance and a $24,000 car allowance. (“Hefty Pay Increase Arrives Early in Term for Louisiana Chief,” March 5, 2008.)
Among the state chief’s priorities for the state agency are expanding the state-run Recovery School District, which oversees most New Orleans public schools, to take over additional chronically low-performing schools elsewhere in Louisiana; expanding a statewide reading initiative; and promoting initiatives to help implement recommendations from a state commission on redesigning Louisiana high schools aimed at cutting the state’s dropout rate in half over the next decade.
Here are some of the players pressing the education agenda for the Louisiana Department of Education in Baton Rouge and across the state.
Paul G. Pastorek
State Superintendent of Education
Among his priorities are expanding the Recovery School District, which oversees most New Orleans schools, to take over chronically low-performing schools elsewhere in the state; high school reform; and a statewide reading initiative.
Liaison to Business, Public-Interest Groups
A Republican, he recently stepped down as chairman of the education committee in the Louisiana House of Representatives.
Director of Government Affairs
A Democrat, he retired earlier this year as Speaker of the Louisiana House because of term limits and joined the education department. He is a former high school principal.
Also, Mr. Pastorek has been aggressive in defending the state’s high-stakes testing system, which generally requires students in the 4th and 8th grades to pass state assessments in order to advance to the next grade.
‘A Huge Disconnect’
Brigitte T. Nieland, the education director for the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, welcomed the choice of Mr. Trahan, and said the agency has sorely needed someone dedicated to external relations.
“There’s a huge disconnect between the education bureaucracy and the business community,” she said.
Ms. Nieland noted that as chairman of the education committee, Mr. Trahan was helpful in efforts to pass new charter schools legislation this year that, among other things, raised the cap on the number of Louisiana charters permitted to 70 from 42.
But his views on education policy have not always been in line with those of Mr. Pastorek and the Louisiana Department of Education. Earlier this year, Mr. Trahan signaled that he planned to conduct a series of hearings on the state’s high-stakes testing system, amid complaints from some parents about the controversial assessments.
“Everybody who has worked so hard for accountability was nervous about putting any energy into anything other than helping kids pass the test,” Ms. Nieland said.
At the same time, Mr. Trahan joined with opponents in defeating measures this year that would have altered the high-stakes testing program.
With Mr. Trahan’s departure at the end of September from the legislature and the House education committee, the panel has a new chairman: Rep. Austin J. Badon, a New Orleans Democrat, who was formerly the panel’s vice chairman.
Mr. Badon was a leading champion in the House this year for a $10 million private school voucher program for students in New Orleans, which was signed by Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal.
A version of this article appeared in the October 15, 2008 edition of Education Week as Ex-Louisiana Lawmakers Land Key Education Jobs