At a time of deep budget cuts, it is time to cut the Recovery School District (RSD)

Latest John White lie

Bobby Jindal recently released his budget for the 2015 fiscal year.  This budget has some pretty steep cuts for the Louisiana Department of Education.

State Superintendent John White recently claimed Bobby Jindal’s 2015 budget would force him to lay off as many as 100 of his 300 workers.

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s proposed budget would force layoffs of about 100 of the state Department of Education’s roughly 300 workers, state Superintendent of Education John White said Monday morning.

White said he was originally told that the governor’s budget plan could result in 45 agency employees losing their jobs.

http://theadvocate.com/news/acadiana/11738663-125/white-says-jindal-budget-would

Of course this a statement from a John White, a well documented liar, and an article from Will Sentell, who is rumored to be White’s pal outside of working hours, so it doesn’t surprise me that these figures are dishonest and not fact checked – not even a little.

Fortunately I had recently asked for the lists of LDOE and Recovery School District (RSD) employees. RSD is a branch of LDOE and directly overseen by LDOE. The true number of employees I came up with was 447 “DOE State Activities” employees, 117 Special School District Employees, and 108 RSD employees. That comes to 675 employees scattered across several divisions that report to John White, or more than twice the number White quoted to the Advocate – and Will Sentell dutifully reported.

From payroll file 1/23/2015

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But what is one more lie?

LDOE employees with multiple offices

RSD no longer directly manages any schools, it just recruits them and “oversees” them. (New Schools for New Orleans is a non-profit that already does that.)  RSD’s employees are actually extensions of the LDOE. Many LDOE employees live in New Orleans and have offices in Baton Rouge and luxury offices in New Orleans. Many of LDOE’s executive employees live in New Orleans and do all their work from the RSD offices across from the Superdome, or from the privacy of their homes – as their exorbitant conference call bills will attest to.

Sources have relayed that a non-exhaustive list of employees operating this way are:

  • · Katherine Westerhold
  • · Hannah Dietsch
  • · Alicja Witkowski
  • · Taina Knox
  • · Rebecca Kockler
  • · Kunjan Narechania

The truth behind LDOE state employee RIF’s (Reductions In Force)

Everyone knows that John White and Bobby Jindal have claimed they have cut back employees in state service, so I decided to verify that claim myself. I asked Civil Service for the payroll of LDOE as of 1/1/2012 and 1/31/2015. A direct comparison would lead one to believe that John White had reduced his employees. John White filed dozens of RIFs, or Reeducations In Force, during his tenure.  However what you can’t tell from these files is that John White simply reclassified all of his IT positions as belonging to DOA instead of LDOE. Many of these folks still work at the Claiborne building where LDOE is housed in their same roles, they just are paid from the DOA budget although they still work for John White and LDOE on LDOE systems.

I asked for listing of these employees, but Civil Service has no way of identifying them. Therefore I excluded all the people from the IT area from my 12/31/2011 file so we could have an apples to apples comparison.  These are the numbers I came up with as of 12/31/2011 excluding IT.

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However this was when RSD actually staffed schools with teachers!  Now almost all the RSD employees are unclassified operatives of John White.  Many freely move back and forth between these agencies at will as I will show you later.

What this means is employees John White controls for day to day operations is down to 675 from around 697 – excluding IT and RSD employees.  RSD actually had to run schools three years ago and most of those employees were teachers. Now RSD skims money from grants these schools receive and skims MFP funds to support their lavish lifestyle  – as I will also get into later.

Next I wanted to find out what types of employees are left and how the workforce changed. Instead of support personnel for things like Special Education, most of LDOE was turned into a charter school recruiting office and assessment section. At first blush it would appear the number of unclassified positions decreased, however when you add in RSD unclassified positions you can see a dramatic increase in this type of unrestricted worker.  Below are some distinctions between classified and unclassified employees.  Please refer to this definition from Civil Service.  I have summarized some of the differences below:

Unclassified state employees have no restrictions on salary or raises, can lobby legislators and donate to candidates, do not have need to have any specific qualifications, and are generally supposed to be restricted to just the heads of departments.

Classified state employees cannot engage in any political activity, or even the appearance of political activity. They cannot donate or endorse candidates and cannot even discuss these topics publicly without suffering sanctions or being fired. Raises for classified workers are tightly controlled and limited. Classified positions have specific sets of duties, education requirements, and experience requirements they must meet to qualify for positions.  Classified workers cannot be promoted if they do not meet the requirements of their new position. The vast majority of state workers used to be considered “classified.”

Below are the basic positions defined in Civil Service that are supposed to be classified as unclassified.

  1. Elected officials and person appointed to fill vacancies in elective offices.
  2. The head of each principal executive department appointed by the Governor.
  3. Registrars of voters.
  4. Members of State boards, authorities, and commissions.
  5. One private Secretary to the president of each college or university.
  6. One person holding a confidential position and one principal assistant or deputy to any officer, board, commission or authority mentioned in (1), (2), (3), or (4), above, except the State Department of Civil Service.
  7. Members of the military or naval forces; including those employees in the Military Department of the State of Louisiana who are members of the Louisiana National Guard or Louisiana State Guard, either active or retired.
  8. The teaching and professional staffs, and administrative officers of schools, colleges, and universities of the State, and bona fide students of those institutions employed by any State agency.
  9. Employees, deputies, and officers of the legislature and of the offices of the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General; and of police juries, school boards, and assessors; and of all offices provided for in Constitutional Article V.
  10. Commissioners of elections, watchers, and custodians and deputy custodians of voting machines.
  11. Railroad employees whose working conditions and retirement benefits are regulated by federal agencies in accordance with federal law.
  12. Notaries Public.
  13. All employees of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

Obviously unclassified employees are supposed to be restricted in number and held to a pretty high standard.  Unclassified positions are supposed to be rare.  The vast majority of state employees in Civil Service are supposed to be “classified” to prevent a return to the “spoils” system of governance in Louisiana; when most of the positions in state government we doled out based on who folks supported in elections.  A classified state worker is loyal to the state, not a specific political party, candidate, or appointee.  From information I’ve been given, John White reportedly did not like that arrangement and exploited Civil Service rules to simply drive off hundreds of classified state workers loyal to Louisiana and replace them with unclassified employees (mostly from out of state) loyal to him.

Of 108 positions at RSD today, 107 are unclassified.

What possible harm can come from converting our workforce from classified to unclassified?  (Hint: New taxes!)

In case you were wondering how this arrangement works out in the real world consider this.  RSD and its staff, in conjunction with the charter lobby, successfully PR’d the public in New Orleans last year to pass a tax that contributes 90% of the proceeds to RSD until 2025 (in additional to their state and federal funding and fees they charge charters.)

Shall the Orleans Parish School board (the “School Board”) levy a tax of four and ninety-seven hundredths mills on the dollar of the assessed valuation of property within the City of New Orleans assessed for City Taxation, (an estimated $15,540,000 reasonably expected at this time to be collected from the levy of the tax for an entire year), for a period of ten (10) years, beginning in 2015, for the purpose of preservation, improvement and capital repairs of all existing public school facilities, to be levied and collected in the same manner as is set forth in Article VIII, Section 13(C)(Second) of the Louisiana Constitution of 1974; provided that said tax is to be levied each calendar year at a millage rate not in excess of the difference between 4.97 mills and any millage levied in such calendar year for any outstanding general obligation bonds of the School Board?”

How will property taxes be extended and/or redirected to fund RSD?
OPSB is expected to pay off school facility debt by 2021 using 4.97 mills of property tax previously approved by voters. The tax is expected to end in 2021, and the amount collected from voters will begin to decrease as the debt service decreases. If voters approve the proposition, the mills will be renewed and extended through 2025. The difference that is not applied to the debt service will be set aside for facility preservation, and RSD can begin to access the funds as early as 2016. The mills currently collect approximately $15.5 million each year. (Source: OPSB FAQ on Tax Proposition. )

In full effect and after OPSB has fulfilled its debt obligations, the non-elected RSD would receive 90% of the funding ($13,986,000) of property tax revenue. OPSB would receive the remaining portion of approximately $1,554,000.

What does RSD do with all their money?

What does RSD do with all its money you ask?  Well for one thing, they like to rent luxury office space in downtown New Orleans across from the Superdome.

RSD takes up the entire 14th floor at 1615 Poydras street. Here is the floor plan of the suite right above them

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Here are some of the images of the building and the amenities:

Encompassing 508,741 rentable square feet, the Class A Property is 85% leased and serves as the corporate headquarters for McMoRan Oil & Gas.

 

The property’s rent rolls are dominated by high profile, local, national and international corporations including Freeport-McMoRan, ANKOR Energy, U.S. Coast Guard, Gillis Ellis & Baker, Kuchler Polk Schell Weiner & Richeson, Usry Weeks & Matthews, Duplantier Hrapmann Hogan & Maher, First NBC Bank and Regus.

 

1615 Poydras accommodates an on-site restaurant, a barbershop and dry cleaning pick-up & delivery services.  Our location in the Central Business District (CBD) directly across from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, provides easy access to City Hall, hotels, Canal Street shopping and the historic French Quarter.  Tenants enjoy easy walking distance to the NFL Saints Champion Square and the world-class Mercedes-Benz Superdome directly across the street.

clip_image003

Man, who wouldn’t want a drycleaners with pickup and delivery service and a barbershop in their office building?

Check out the gorgeous marble and mahogany floors and enormous meeting rooms overlooking the city.

Who knew being a state worker could be such a sweet deal, especially amidst a 1.6 billion dollar deficit?

But maybe there was a logistical reason for locating so close to the superdome in a luxury office building?

RSD claims this move makes them more accessible to families and parents.

Recovery School District

www.rsdla.net

The Recovery School District is a special district of the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) charged with transforming chronically underperforming schools in Louisiana. The organization’s mission is to ensure that all students graduate high school on-time and be college and career ready.  Their move to 1615 Poydras provides a more centrally-located site in the Central Business District – closer to business and community partners [true] and more accessible for families and parents [not true].  Recovery School District also maintains three Parent Centers at various locations throughout the city.

But let’s be honest. This is move to put them closer to the Saints, not students. Right across the street in fact!  RSD used to be located in a warehouse before John White came to town, where many of the parents actually lived.

Let’s compare.

RSD Pre-John White at 1641 Poland Avenue.  Note the graffiti on neighboring buildings and less than august surroundings. . . but I bet the rent wasn’t too steep.

image

RSD – Post John White at 1616 Poydras street on the 14th floor across from the Mercedes Superdome.  Who knew School Reforming could be so good?

clip_image003

So what if RSD is ripping us off. . . at least I get choices!?!?

Now when parents have problems they can’t actually reach anyone at RSD. RSD makes thousands of parents with enrollment problems line up all day in the hot sun every year while they try to fix the choices the One AP enrollment system selected for them.

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Last year some parents waited in line all day only to be turned away and told to come back tomorrow.

http://thelensnola.org/2014/07/09/frustrated-parents-wait-hours-to-enroll-in-schools-only-to-be-turned-away/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U_fV5nCu_p4&feature=youtu.be

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RSD Choice. We choose for you.

In my district, East Baton Rouge Parish, I actually have choices and can apply to numerous schools and programs.  I can choose to send my kids from among the schools I get into. In public schools I have the choice to send my kids to a Montessori program, magnet school, language immersion school, Arts integrated or Math Sciences and Arts school, a trade focused school, a charter school or just send my kids to the school down the street. I can apply to all of those choices and select the one I want based on the ones I can get approved for. In New Orleans you put your top 3 choices in, and maybe the computer selects one for you. If you don’t like the selection, or the selection scatters your kids all across town, you and thousands of other parents must queue in line all day to try and find a new school for your kids to attend.

That type of “choice” is more like Communism, than Capitalism folks. You know, where the state assigns you to a school and you line up for days to make simple changes to anything (and that’s on a good day.)

The free enterprise system charter supporters often tout as the cure-all for the ails of the public education system can’t work because bad or undesirable charters can stay in business when the few desirable schools run out of spots.

RSD and New Schools for New Orleans claim that RSD and the New Orleans Experiment has solved the problem of kids being limited by their Zip code. In actuality, they have just made it worse.

These groups claim to provide choice, but the choice belongs to RSD, to the state, not to the parents.

This is the future that awaits us as this “public/private” partnership proceeds.

Wow. Can RSD do anything right?  Uh. . .

But that’s not the only form of waste at RSD.

RSD’s 100+ strong workforce loses more property and equipment each year than the rest of the state put together.  About a million dollars a year at last tally. Here is a statement from the legislative auditor:

Statement: The Recovery School District reported more than 28 percent of its movable property missing in its 2014 inventory. Because of the large volume of missing inventory, [the Louisiana Property Assistance Agency] disapproved the agency’s property certification and completed an internal investigation on the losses. We have since reported our findings on the issue to the Attorney General and Legislative Auditor for further review

The full report is here: http://app.lla.state.la.us/LLApress.nsf/10fbc08e4e1f685a86257c3f005437d5/dcf94ca15acaf57986257dab00780aa9/$FILE/RSD%202014%20Release.pdf

You can also see how RSD’s losses compare to the rest of the state in Lee Zurik’s report:

http://www.fox8live.com/story/27976094/zurik-millions-in-state-property-lost-and-not-found

RSD and LDOE employees switch jobs fluidly because they are really the same agency now.

To see this in action let’s look at the curious case of Kunjan Narechania, who came to Louisiana and RSD with John White as his chief of staff. Then she went with John White to LDOE, and now is back at RSD but is paid from LDOE’s budget.

http://louisiana-employees.findthedata.com/l/185/Kunjan-Narechania

http://www.nola.com/education/index.ssf/2015/02/did_the_community_get_a_voice.html

From payroll file as of 1/23/15

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From Nola.com article as of 2/2/15.

Recovery chief of staff Kunjan Narechania said the department has held off on finalizing the Dunbar agreement pending the John Mac and Livingston decisions; if Believe moves into John Mac, it would be moot. She added that the Recovery system does not typically have written agreements with charter programs about which buildings they will get, though “the process has been fairly inconsistent.”

Gotta’ love that freedom.

As you can see, RSD and LDOE employees are fluid and all report to John White.  They certainly don’t oversee any schools, and I sure hope they aren’t trying very hard to look after property that is disappearing at a burn rate of a million dollars per year.  So do we really need them to recruit charter schools in a 100% charter district?

Is RSD the future we want for Louisiana: a giant, unaccountable, exceptionally wasteful, state level agency who’s employees can lobby and donate to local and state officials for increases to its budget and power and which oversees all the schools in the state – instead of local school boards?

Is there a conclusion in here somewhere?

It is clear that RSD is not working. . . for parents or students. At a time of great financial crisis in our state, RSD is providing multiple luxury offices to its staff members so they don’t have the inconvenience of driving into Baton Rouge – where they really are supposed to work.

Louisiana is facing a 1.6 billion dollar shortfall this year, while some state DOE employees are assigned multiple offices (luxury offices).  Based on my calculations, Bobby Jindal is probably right to recommend 100 employees be reduced at the department of education. John White has actually maintained his staffing level at LDOE via RSD over the last 3 years (while increasing his overall payroll by eliminating classified positions and replacing them with unclassified positions.) The payroll at RSD alone is 1/4th of the entire payroll at LDOE for 1/5th of the employees. Many of John White’s employees swap back and forth for budgeting reasons but, they all ultimately report to White.

RSD is the past, and it needs to be left in the past, and now is the time to do it.

John White claims he needs to start discussions and meetings to determine where to make layoffs. I actually have 108 employees to recommend eliminating right now (or maybe 109 depending on where Kunjan actually works).  It’s time to eliminate the RSD.

That is a real choice that would be good for just about everybody.

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5 thoughts on “At a time of deep budget cuts, it is time to cut the Recovery School District (RSD)

  1. Wow. What a great and fact based article. I believe the RSD should go too! They are nothing but public school destroyers and make no bones about it. How sad!

  2. I have to take issue with 1 item in this post. John White had nothing to do with the IT people being moved to DOA. The IT consolidation was in the works long before John White came on the scene. I believe it was Gov. Mike Foster who started the consolidation process. All state agencies that have appointed heads have had their IT departments consolidated under DOA. The same is happening with HR and Finance. So, this time, it’s not an under handed move.

    1. Never said it was. I’m just saying you can’t compare the employees from that time period that included those folks with the head count now without them. I might need to double check Hr and finance. It might be a narrower margin than i originally posted if those folks are removed as well.

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