School & District Management

Louisiana Chief Draws Heat on Leadership, Policy

By Erik W. Robelen — August 25, 2009 2 min read

Louisiana schools chief Paul G. Pastorek is no stranger to controversy, but things seemed to reach the boiling point this summer for two prominent education groups.

First, in late July, the Louisiana Association of Educators said he should be replaced, citing, among other things, what the National Education Association affiliate called his “failed leadership” and his “unwillingness to work with educators, legislators, and locally elected board leaders to bring about meaningful education reform.”

Next, the Louisiana School Boards Association in early August declined the state superintendent’s invitation for its officers and staff members to meet to discuss education policy.

“There is a very strong sentiment among lsba leaders that trust no longer exists between you and the education community,” wrote Tammy Phelps, the group’s president, and Nolton Senegal, its chief executive officer. “Such a call as was made by the [teachers’ union] has much merit, and (we) have to advise you that our board unanimously supports the [union] in this call.”

In an interview, Mr. Pastorek, who was appointed by the state board of elementary and secondary education in 2007, appeared to be taking it all in stride, noting that the board just gave him a positive evaluation.

“There’s some frustration that people have about some of the actions that I’ve pushed for in the legislative session,” he said.

Several state education organizations, including the teachers’ union and the school boards group, did, in fact, meet Aug. 19 with Mr. Pastorek and a representative from the office of Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, who has said he stands behind Mr. Pastorek. The main point was to discuss the state’s planned application for a grant under the federal Race to the Top Fund, part of the economic-stimulus law.

But the recent tensions also were addressed, Mr. Pastorek said.

“It was an opportunity to correct some misimpressions,” he said. “We’ve been pretty aggressive about taking over schools and putting charter [schools] in place, and that’s been seen by some as a threat.”

The school boards’ organization also was a staunch opponent of Mr. Pastorek’s unsuccessful bid for legislation to limit the authority, tenure, and compensation of local school board members.

“We said we were all going to work together for the good of the children,” Mr. Senegal said of the Aug. 19 meeting, though he cautioned that “we still have ... concerns” about trust.

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