EBR schools need visionary leader – The new school board has a real opportunity to leave a legacy for East Baton Rouge Parish by hiring a dynamic and visionary leader for our next school superintendent.

The new school board led by President Barbara Freiberg has a real opportunity to leave a legacy for this parish by hiring a dynamic and visionary leader as our next school superintendent. One who is willing to take some risks by showing the community a different path forward. One that will lift us from the rank of 62nd out of 72 Louisiana districts on graduation rate. One who is entrepreneurial and not afraid of competition. One who is innovative and can embrace technology and virtual learning. One who believes in giving parents and students more choices. One who will inspire good teachers and fire bad ones. One who believes in thinking big and thinking outside the box. One who is willing to challenge the status quo that has failed us. One who will bring us together—or go toe-to-toe with those who would keep us down.

We are running out of time in this parish, which now has four school districts. The EBR district has gone from 67,000 students in 1979 to less than 42,000. The EBR population back then was 366,000. Today it is 440,000, or 20% higher. Had the public schools grown at the same rate, we would have 80,000 public school students today. Instead, we have about half that. While the parish grew by 20%, the public school population declined by 37%. Instead of adding 13,000 over the last 30 years, we have lost 25,000 students to private and parochial schools and to public schools in outlying parishes. The EBR district’s customers—parents and students—have abandoned it in droves.

Despite the loss of students, you can imagine how much more. the EBR system gets today in parish property taxes, sales taxes, and state and federal revenue for far fewer students. And how much better are the results on LEAP, graduation rates or drop-out rates?

I found some other interesting facts in a report by the Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives at Tulane. The report notes that, according to EdWeek 2010, when local, state and federal funds are included, the MFP average in Louisiana is $10,307 compared to $10,557 nationally. So, despite all the complaining on funding, we now are at the national average. Not bad.

But the report also reveals the top 10 districts for just local/state funding, which included the City of Baker district. They get about $10,000 per student. But the City of Baker’s 2010 district score was the third worst [No. 70] of 72 districts. Ironically, the 10 lowest-ranking districts for local/state funding included Livingston and Central, which placed among the top eight districts out of 72 in performance scores.

So what does that say about funding and results? A top 10-funded district is in the bottom three on performance. And two districts in the bottom 10 for funding are in the top eight for student academic performance.

Current Superintendent John Dilworth has spent most of the multimillion-dollar surplus that EBR had by delaying tough decisions and just paying adults for showing up each day. And now he’s intending to leave town with us holding the empty account.

Now there is talk of yet another new school district for south Baton Rouge—following the lead of Zachary and Central. I don’t blame folks at all. They are fed up and want out.

There is a lot at stake here for kids. Many of the arguments are about what the “adults” and the unions want. That is of little concern to me. I hope the board agrees. Leadership, creativity and vision will be key qualities to look for in hiring the right superintendent. Let’s pray the board is up to the challenge and gets it right for children.

We have heard a lot about reducing the number of state employees [and I’m all for less government and more privatization]. It makes a good sound bite for a politician running for reelection, but when it comes to a vote on merging an institution or privatizing an agency and eliminating jobs, those same blowhards in the Legislature are cowards and hypocrites.

Treasurer John Kennedy, a friend of mine for a long time, goes on and on about cutting 15,000 state employees—something he wouldn’t and couldn’t do if he were “king.” But why does he ignore the facts?

There was a Senate Finance Committee meeting on Friday, June 3, and the facts about the actual number of state employees were presented by Shannon Templet, head of the Civil Service Department. It was an enlightening report, and most newspapers in our state had the story on Saturday. It was on the AP wire, Google Alerts and various websites nationally on Sunday. But for some reason I couldn’t find the story in our “official state journal” in the Capital City, The Advocate. Did I miss it?

Well, since those of you in Baton Rouge didn’t get to read the facts, let me share what The Times-Picayune and Gannett papers in Monroe, Shreveport, Alexandria and Lafayette reported.

The headline in The Times-Picayune was “Louisiana’s payroll sees dramatic decrease.” It cites Templet’s testimony and reports, “The state payroll now has the fewest employees it has had since Buddy Roemer was governor. Templet said the state has 82,842 workers. The last time the state had fewer workers was in December 1992, when the number totaled 82,051. The numbers include both full- and part-time employees, classified and unclassified, she said.”

The story adds, “Since July 1, 2008, after Gov. Bobby Jindal took office in January of that year, Templet said, the number of positions in state government has been cut by almost 3,300 slots and 1,517 workers have been terminated.”

So I guess Templet is saying the state government payroll is down to what it was almost 20 years ago under Roemer. Did you know that? You wouldn’t have from reading The Advocate [unless I missed it].

Roemer is a good friend of John Kennedy, as Kennedy served in his administration and managed his 1995 campaign. I wonder if he got on Roemer’s case back then about cutting 15,000 more state employees? I was following the Roemer administration closely, and I don’t ever remember that happening—but then again, that was when Kennedy was a Democrat.

So, while Jindal is continuing to shrink government, let’s not ignore the fact he has rolled back the numbers to 1992, which is quite an accomplishment. I just wish The Advocate would have shared that good news about Jindal and his staff with its readers—as did numerous other dailies and The Associated Press. Oh, maybe that’s why it didn’t: It was good news.

I was there. Tiger Stadium on a Saturday night with the crowd roaring … but we weren’t watching football. We were all listening to the sounds of Bayou Country Superfest. Tens of thousands of people from all 50 states and some foreign countries, who spent their Memorial Day weekend in Baton Rouge. What a great event.

But there seems to be a debate between the mayor and the Metro Council on whether the city-parish should invest public money. The economic impact topped $30 million last year.

Paul Arrigo, president and CEO of the Baton Rouge Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, told the LSU Reveille that Festival Productions put in more than half a million dollars of advertising for national publicity, making the event “priceless” in economic development and branding for the city.

We are the Capital City and the most populous parish in Louisiana. The Metro Council has to understand you pay to play in the big leagues. I believe Bayou Country Superfest is a winner for Baton Rouge, a good investment and should be back in Tiger Stadium in 2012.

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