Tag Archives: Louisiana

Two-Authorizer Structure Critical to Charter Schools’ Success

Source: Bureau of Governmental Research, April 2016

Introduction:
In the current legislative session, state lawmakers filed several bills directed at reducing the state’s role in governing Orleans Parish public schools. Recently, the Senate unanimously approved a bill providing for the transfer of charter schools from the state Recovery School District (RSD) to the Orleans Parish School Board (School Board).1 This would reduce the role of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) as a charter authorizer in New Orleans.2 These changes would depart significantly from the dual authorizer structure that has been an unsung hero in Orleans Parish public schools’ success story. Charter authorizing carries more significance than its name might suggest. Charter authorizers grant charters in the first instance, but then continue in an oversight and accountability role, enforcing charter contracts and performance standards. In essence, charter authorizers serve as charter school regulators. They must foster autonomy and accountability at the school level and support the system’s ability to deliver high-quality education. In a system of mostly charter schools, the quality of the authorizing function directly affects the system’s performance and its future growth. For that reason, legislators must approach the charter authorizing structure with care. As part of its ongoing reporting on public education issues, this report seeks to inform lawmakers and the public about the current structure and the potential risks that accompany a diminished role for BESE and the RSD in charter management. The report recommends ways to reduce those risks. To be clear, BGR is not currently taking a position on the issue of whether, when or to what extent RSD charter schools should be placed under School Board management. Instead, BGR seeks to ensure that, as lawmakers chart the course for Orleans Parish public schools, whether now or in future legislative sessions, they elevate the charter authorizing structure among the many issues that are essential to long-term charter school success.

Read full report.

School Board signs no-bid contract for monitoring state tests at some campuses

Source: Marta Jewson, The Lens, April 21, 2016

The Orleans Parish School Board is the latest organization to bolster state exam security by hiring an outside company to monitor a handful of the district’s schools during testing next week. They’re also the latest to do so by hiring test-security giant Caveon Test Security without going through a competitive bidding process, or seeking price quotes. … Testing starts Monday. The district follows the move of the Recovery School District, and its charter schools. Leaders of the charters pledged in February to hire third-party monitors for all state exams in the wake of two highly publicized cheating incidents. And like those organizations, the School Board is paying for monitors to visit schools on just one of several days of state testing, with two people visiting each school.  But unlike them, the board is only hiring monitors for about a third of schools it oversees or chartered. … But the department didn’t shop around before signing a no-bid contract itself for $49,500, just under the threshold that would require a formal process seeing proposals. Caveon is a nationally recognized company in this field, but its reputation took a hit when Georgia investigators said it vastly underrepresented the extent of the Atlanta Public Schools problems. Thirty-five educators were eventually indicted in what became the nation’s largest cheating scandal. … This week, we asked whether the district had hired Caveon. Good did not answer directly, and instead referred The Lens to the two-week old statement on the district’s testing plan. She said we could seek a contract through public records should one exist. So we did. The terms of the $32,000 no-bid contract were negotiated two weeks ago, and the contract was signed last week. The contract shows the district will monitor two of its direct-run schools and five charter schools, which are listed in the contract. The district operates six schools directly and oversees 18 charter schools.

Governments Struggle to Root Out Fake Minority Contractors

Source: Mattie Quinn, Governing, April 2016

It’s a problem that’s shown up all over the place. In Louisville, Ky., the metro sewer district banned two minority businesses from receiving future contracts after it was discovered that they were subcontracting with nonminority-owned businesses. An audit in Pittsburgh found the city didn’t even have a way to track how much work was going to DBEs. The city of Denver has also been dealt a blow by contracting scandals in recent years. … Nationwide data on DBE contracting programs is spotty. The National Association of State Procurement Officials doesn’t monitor them, and relies on state offices to track fraud and abuse. But states’ efforts vary widely. A report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) in 2011 found that the Federal Highway Administration did not have the right tools to properly monitor states’ DBE programs for transportation construction. The GAO has published a smattering of reports over the past 25 years on women- and minority-owned contracting programs with two main conclusions: More information was needed, and the contracting world in general lacks women and minorities. … Overhauls like the ones in New Orleans and Minnesota are cause for optimism, says the National Association of Minority Contractors’ Stemley. And while he says there’s plenty of room for improvement in DBE programs across the country, he believes the high-profile cases of fraud and noncompliance are the exception to the rule. Still, he says, the onus is on states and cities to step up their efforts to attract more minority- and women-owned businesses.

Civil Service staff takes issue with plan to consolidate 911 center dispatchers

Source: Charles Maldonado, The Lens, December 21, 2015

The New Orleans Civil Service Department on Monday came out against a key provision of Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s long-stalled proposal to bring the city’s 911 operations under one agency. Department staff members, asked to review the plan, said there is no need to remove Civil Service protections from workers once they’re moved into the consolidated system. Call-takers and dispatchers now work for one of three agencies: police, fire or EMS. To improve call response times, the Landrieu administration has proposed consolidating call-takers and dispatchers under the Orleans Parish Communication District, which runs the 911 call center.  They would no longer be city employees, but would instead work for the Communication District, under a contract with the city. … Civil Service staffers didn’t address the collective bargaining agreement. But they did offer a counter-proposal. Rather than taking approximately 130 employees out of the Civil Service system, designed to protect merit-based hiring and provide employees with disciplinary appeal rights, the city could simply create a new, consolidated city department. …

Meal Plan Costs Tick Upward as Students Pay for More Than Food

Source: Stephanie Saul, New York Times, December 5, 2015

…For the first time this year, the University of Tennessee imposed a $300-per-semester dining fee on Mr. Miceli and about 12,000 other undergraduates, including commuters, who do not purchase other meal plans…..Tennessee’s contract with its dining vendor, Aramark, is just one example of how universities nationwide are embracing increasingly lucrative deals with giant dining contractors, who offer commissions and signing bonuses to help pay for campus improvements and academic programs. It is part of a new model of raising money through partnerships with private vendors, officials say, and with state funding for higher education still below pre-recession levels, a way to replace lost revenue. Under its contract, which runs through 2027, Tennessee will get 14 percent of all food revenues plus $15.2 million in renovations to dining facilities. In exchange for signing a 20-year contract that runs through 2034, the University of Virginia recently got a $70 million contribution from Aramark, based in Philadelphia — in addition to $19 million in renovations and annual commissions increasing to $19 million a year. Texas A&M announced a 10-year deal in 2012 with Chartwells, a subsidiary of the British-based Compass Group, that included a $22.7 million signing bonus and $25 million in capital investments…. At South Carolina State University, a historically black institution, a 2014 audit found that students paid $343 a year in “hidden costs” for food. The money was rebated to the institution by its vendor, Sodexo, a French company, partly to pay for a $5 million wellness center, which was never built….. An audit this year at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette found that the food vendor catered free parties for children of a university employee while inflating bills to the university.

Faculty Senate deliberates Child Care Center

Source: Katie Burkes, LSU Reveille, November 9, 2015

LSU Faculty Senate grappled with privatization of the LSU Child Care Center at its Monday meeting in the Student Union’s Capital Chamber. It ultimately tabled the discussion before an internal committee’s December deadline to produce a decision. … Hachmann reported companies the university administration is considering include Bright Horizons Family Solutions — the largest provider of employer-sponsored childcare in the U.S. — along with nationally recognized brands KinderCare and Children’s Creative Learning Centers — both part of Knowledge Universe, a private company. … However, Hachmann also acknowledged brewing fears about what privatization could mean for the CCC. Common concerns included weaker curriculum designs, rising teacher-to-student ratios, letting go of qualified teachers, less professional development opportunities and increased teacher turnover. She said parents expressed worries that “inflexible policies from a distant corporation will not account for the unique needs of the LSU community.”

Closed New Orleans charter school may have violated state policy by selling computers, audit says

Source: Jessica Williams, New Orleans Advocate, November 2, 2015

A New Orleans East charter school that closed in June after subpar performance has come under fire again, this time for selling computers purchased with public dollars. From May 20 to June 24, officials at Miller-McCoy Academy for Mathematics and Business sold $15,760 worth of computer equipment to parents and teachers to help pay off the school’s debts. But doing so might have run afoul of the school’s charter and state policy, which prohibits schools from selling items purchased with federal or state funding, according to a report Monday from the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office. … The ensuing investigation found that the school had sold 86 computers, phones and projectors, all valued at less than $500 per item. Half were bought with Title I grants, federal dollars that schools receive for educating low-income students. Auditors said they could not determine how other items were bought because their serial numbers were missing or mismatched.

Read full audit.

La.’s hospital partners balk at contract restructuring

Source: Greg Hilburn, The News Star, October 29, 2015

Health care for Louisiana’s most vulnerable residents could face “dire circumstances” if the state reduces its financial commitment to the hospitals that took over for the former charity system privatized by Gov. Bobby Jindal, the chief executives of the medical centers warned Thursday. The Alliance of Private-Public Partnership Hospitals for Louisiana’s letter to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, follows a meeting this week in which Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Kathy Kliebert testified the contracts may have to be restructured.

Related:

Opinion: Financial risk of charity hospital ‘privatization’
Source: John Kennedy – Louisiana State Treasurer, shreveporttimes.com, October 25, 2013

The reason advanced by the Jindal Administration for privatizing Louisiana’s charity hospitals is that a private hospital like Lafayette General or Ochsner, for example, can manage a hospital more efficiently, and therefore cheaper, than the state.

That’s why I was taken aback when the chairman of the private entity taking over the Shreveport state hospital testified before the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget that the private contractor’s costs to run the Shreveport facility will be the same as the state’s. Where, then, will the Jindal administration’s promised annual savings of $150 million come from if not from achieving operational efficiencies?

Dig deeper into the details and it becomes apparent that the planned “savings” won’t result from lower costs but from getting more money from the federal government through an accounting change. This won’t make the charity hospitals or Louisiana’s Medicaid program, which pays for the hospitals, more efficient. It will just make them more expensive, fueled by additional federal (American taxpayer) money…..

…Louisiana’s track record with CMS is not good. CMS has previously rejected similar financing strategies designed to leverage federal money. In the early 1990s, for example, Louisiana and other states adopted financing strategies such as “provider taxes,” “provider donations,” and “intergovernmental transfers,” designed to launder federal Medicaid funds into state funds in order to draw down more federal funds. CMS and Congress spurned them all. …

Automatic Closure of Low-Performing Public Charter Schools

Source: Todd Ziebarth, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools

As part of these accountability efforts, a growing number of states have enacted laws that require charter schools to close if they do not meet certain performance benchmarks. In states such as Ohio, these laws have sometimes been borne out of state lawmakers’ frustration that authorizers have not been making the tough decisions to close charter schools that have failed to meet the academic goals in their charter contracts. In other states, including Mississippi and Washingon, state lawmakers have enacted such provisions as more of a precautionary measure to ensure that as public charter schools open for the first time in these states, if there are under-performing charter schools, they will actually be closed. This document provides a brief description of existing state policies regarding the automatic closure of low-performing public charter schools. As of September 2015, 15 states had enacted such policies: Alabama, California, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississipi, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington.

Audit reveals UL was over charged by catering company Sodexo

Source: KATC, October 5, 2015

UL is responding to new allegations that it may have overspent thousands of taxpayer dollars to a UL food service provider. According to a newly released legislative audit, UL was over charged nearly $5,500 for tailgating events by food service provider Sodexo, from October 10th, 2009 to November 7th, 2013.  During that time, the audit says Sodexo allegedly overcharged UL nine times.  However, both UL and Sodexo say they’re working to credit the university back that money.

Related:

Audit report: UL at Lafayette food services company catered parties for student union director for free
Source: Lanie Lee Cook, The Acadiana Advocate, October 5, 2015

An audit released on Monday revealed the company selling food services to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette overbilled the school on some occasions, provided free catering for non-university events involving a former school official and brokered unwritten meal deals with university employees in exchange for cleaning services and football tickets. The state Legislative Auditor’s findings come almost a year after university auditors discovered possible misappropriation of public funds in its dealings with Sodexo Management Inc. The school is now “reviewing its contractual relationship” with the company, according to a written response to the audit by UL-Lafayette President Joseph Savoie. … Sodexo also owes the university money for cleaning services, as the union’s housekeeping staff cleaned the student dining hall — which is under lease and operated by Sodexo — while on the university’s clock and in exchange for meal plans, according to the audit. Each employee who cleaned the dining hall received a meal a day from July 2009 to August 2014, costing Sodexo at least $33,213, yet part of Sodexo’s contract includes cleaning the facilities it leases.