St. Mary Parish school chief sees flexibility in BESE changes

Louisiana’s state school board agreed Wednesday to shrink the number of mandates required of local districts, despite concerns the move would let schools eliminate counselors and librarians to cut costs.

“Senior staff carefully reviewed the proposed changes to 150 different components of policies governing school systems. The relaxation of many mandates, regulations or policies will provide much needed flexibility for school districts.

“In the short term, school districts will need to evaluate whether this new flexibility can translate into more efficient delivery of educational services. For example, will changing physical education standards to allow credit for extracurricular activities like cheerleading and participation in marching band have any negative impact on the number of physical education classes or sections currently running at middle and high schools?”

Superintendent of Education John White proposed changes to 150 different sections of policies governing school systems. They included eliminating the statewide school calendar and changing physical education standards to allow credit for extracurricular activities like cheerleading and participation in marching band.

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education backed the changes with no discussion, after making modest adjustments a day earlier in a committee meeting.

As approved, schools can sidestep requirements for how many counselors and librarians they must have, raising complaints that it will let schools do away with the jobs altogether.

“The policy changes in regards to counselors and librarians also generated a significant amount of discussion,” Aguillard said.

“In a practical sense, school districts have been staffing these positions at minimal levels. Rather than eliminating counselor and librarian position, school districts should be evaluating whether we would benefit from staffing these critical positions at higher levels to increase effectiveness,” he added.

White said the changes will let educators decide what they need at their schools and remove outdated regulations.

“It is time to return the education decisions to the educators, and that’s what this policy is about,” White said during Tuesday’s committee hearing on the mandate changes.

Librarians and counselors worried it could leave their jobs at risk as cash-strapped school districts seek ways to limit spending, and they defended their roles to the board’s instruction committee.

“I understand you’re not trying to eliminate school counselors, but I feel that this would be opening the door to do so,” said Cathy Smith, president of the Louisiana School Counselor Association.

As originally proposed by White, the requirements for schools to have counselors and librarians would have been removed altogether. The board rewrote the changes to maintain the requirement but also saying the provision doesn’t apply to schools deemed capable of providing the same services through “alternative” means.

Board members Lottie Beebe, Jim Garvey and Carolyn Hill each objected to various parts of the school mandate rewrite.

Garvey said he was concerned about making so many changes and “saying it’s OK because we have accountability and we’re going to trust people to do the right thing.” He said the state needed to have more oversight.

Incoming board President Charles “Chas” Roemer said the state can’t have a rule that applies to every school environment and student. He said school districts needed flexibility.

“Any school that thinks they can do without counselors and librarians and P.E., they will not succeed and then we have accountability to deal with that,” said board member Connie Bradford.

The board also gave final approval to modest changes to the state’s method for evaluating public school teachers. Teachers will receive more information at the start of the year about their student growth targets, and principals will have the ability to make slight adjustments to scores for teachers who rank in the middle-range of performance.

“Changes to the Compass teacher evaluation program were much needed,” Aguillard said.

“The Highly Effective threshold was increased to encompass the top 20 percent of teachers. Other welcome changes included: providing teachers with more student-level data, providing teachers with value-added data with expected progress for every student early in the school year, providing teachers with access to video exemplars of classroom practice to help define levels of performance and tailoring frequency of observation for teachers,” the superintendent said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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