Don’t let the sweet Cajun accent fool you: District 3 BESE Representative Lottie Beebe is a feisty grandmother — and she’s no stranger to fighting the state education powers that be.
Beebe, a former teacher and current supervisor for the St. Martin Parish School Board, has been referred to by The Times-Picayune as perhaps “the last voice of opposition” on a state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education that’s widely known for marching lockstep behind the agendas of Gov. Bobby Jindal and state Superintendent of Education John White.
And when The Independent reached out to the freshman BESE rep. this week for guidance on the newspaper’s two-week battle with the state Department of Education over sunshine laws the department is willfully ignoring, she immediately stepped up to help.
The Independent sent a public records request to LDOE’s public affairs office on April 24, asking for all correspondence the state agency has received from the U.S. Department of Education regarding Louisiana’s No Child Left Behind waiver application. The 26 states seeking relief from the onerous federal NCLB requirements received feedback on their applications from the U.S. Education Department April 17, critiques that came down in the form of a formal letter from the federal government. Read The Ind’s May 2 blog, “LDOE foot dragging tramples transparency,” for more on the significance of the state’s NCLB waiver application and the importance of the feedback from the federal government.
The newspaper has repeatedly asked for a copy of the feds’ critique letter, a crucial document that spells out both strengths and weaknesses in Louisiana’s alternative plan to improve public education at a state level without the cumbersome federal regulations. Last week, the state education department did not respond to The Ind’s inquiry until hours after LDOE officials surpassed the 72-hour legal deadline for fulfilling our records request — and only after we threatened to file a formal complaint against LDOE spokeswoman Rene Greer. The response from LDOE was that “there is no final document to release.”
But The Independent resumed its fight Tuesday for a document that DOE says does not exist. After further review of the state’s public record laws and discussing the issue with a media attorney, The Independent does not believe the document (and there is a document in the state’s possession) falls under any of our state’s public record exemptions. The paper also contends that DOE has been in violation of state sunshine laws for an entire week; a state agency should have full understanding of its own law books and what the public is entitled to see.
We contacted Beebe late Thursday evening after LDOE continued to ignore calls and emails from both The Independent and an attorney representing the Louisiana Press Association (As of 12:56 p.m. Friday, LDOE is still refusing to respond). Minutes after she received our email , she had this to say to John White:
I am writing to make you aware of a public record’s request made by Heather Miller, Staff Writer, the Independent. She has indicated her request has not been acknowledged by your staff. This is unacceptable since there is legislation that addresses public records requests in Louisiana.
Ms. Miller has informed me of the following: The Independent has called and emailed both Rene Greer and John White several times over the past 48 hours to no avail. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time the department has demonstrated to The Independent a complete disregard for transparency and the public records statutes that all government agencies in Louisiana must abide by.
Consequently, I am making a formal request that you honor Ms. Miller’s request. In fact, I am formally requesting the document outlining the US Department of Education’s response to the [NCLB] Waiver and any deficiencies that were identified in the proposal. As a member of BESE District 3, I believe I am entitled to have my information request acknowledged and this information provided to me as soon as possible. I also believe Ms. Miller’s request should be fulfilled, and at the very least, an explanation offered as to why her request has not yet been addressed. Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Sincerely, Lottie P. Beebe, BESE District 3
“It is disheartening to learn there is a lack of respect for the public records legislation which should be honored for those individuals making requests,” Beebe tells The Ind. “You are not the first to communicate the Louisiana Department of Education’s blatant disregard for public records requests. Mr. White and his staff need to be accountable to the public especially when the law dictates compliance.”
The Ind has also been in contact with District 7 BESE member Holly Boffy, the Lafayette area rep, as well as BESE President Penny Dastugue. Boffy tells The Ind that she “fully expects” DOE will comply with our records request. Dastugue says in an email Friday morning that she has forwarded the paper’s concerns to BESE Executive Director Catherine Pozniak.
The state Attorney General’s Office has not responded to The Ind yet on whether the office will assist in our efforts to obtain this public document. The AG’s office cannot accept a formal complaint against LDOE because if the newspaper decides to file a civil lawsuit against the state education department, which we may or may not do, the AG’s office must represent LDOE.
The Independent will continue to report on this matter until LDOE complies with state law. Check back with our website as the story develops.
MAY 23 Here's a story in the Picayune about some statistics that must come as a blow to folks who believe that any private school can do a better job of educating kids than any public school: Danielle Dreilinger reports that only 30 percent of the voucher kids are passing. That's less than half of the state wide average, she says. It's an interesting statistic because most of the schools (if not all) taking voucher kids have never had their students' standardized test scores released to the public before.
MAY 23 Stephen Sabludowsky blogs on Bayou Buzz about auditor requests here. Recently the state GOP started crowing about a request from the Legislative Auditor, claiming they were being targeted because of their anti-tax stance. (Uh, your what?) Denial and hyperbole aside, the state Democratic party blew holes in that theory with an email announcing they'd received the same request, Sabludowsky writes here.
MAY 23 Jim Brown blogs about the senate race in this post. He says that, given Bobby Jindal's "lack of traction" on the national stage, it might make more sense for the governor to consider running against Mary Landrieu for the senate seat. Since Tim Teeple left the Cassidy team, it makes sense he might land on a Jindal for Senate team, Brown opines.
MAY 23 In this Louisiana Voice post, blogger Tom Aswell writes of rumors that his nemesis, state Superintendent of Education John White, may be soon departing Louisiana for a federal post. It's hard to believe, given his performance, Aswell says, but stranger things have happened. An anti-White BESE member says that, if true, White is quitting before he can be fired.
MAY 23 In this post on American Zombie, blogger Jason Berry writes about the Mother's Day shooting. Mayor Landrieu said that "this is not who we are," but the fact is, this is New Orleans, Berry writes. The violence infused in the city is the result of a culture created by "sins of omission or sins of commission," Berry writes. It's not a problem that can be solved by legislating, policing, praying or publicizing, he says: Someone's got to understand what's happening first.
MAY 23 This post in the Westside Journal tells us what Port Allen Mayor Deedy has been up to lately: vetoing ordinances, apparently. This story is most interesting, however, when it delves into a petition that has been circulating around the city lately. It accuses the former mayor of a lot of nasty things; the former mayor says it is full of lies and "broken syntax" which may be a larger offense in his eyes.
MAY 23 This editorial posted in The Advocate is a bit confusing. The writing is poor - definitely not up to the usual editorial writing standard there - and the point is hard to grasp. Apparently, the writer is saying that privatization of state efforts is OK, as long as there is oversight and transparency, but Jindal's not good at that, and the legislature shouldn't over-react. Okey Dokey. Can't they get one of them Pulitzer-winning people to write an editorial?
MAY 23 This post on The Lens gives you links to a new Google Earth tool that allows you to see any spot on earth transform over the past 30 years. Bob Marshall, who covers the coast for the paper, says that in the case of Louisiana's coastline, it's possibly something you don't want to see, because it's not a pretty picture. There are several clips here, showing critical areas erode away. For Marshall, it was vindication for all those times he was met with eye-rolling when he talked about erosion.
There will soon be a whole lot of shakin’ going on at Benny’s Sportshack Supplement Depot, a new concept by Opelousas native Benny Nele. Located at 2002 Johnston St., the supplement shop, smoothie bar and café, featuring hot off the press paninis and wraps, plans to open in late May.
Philip deMahy Sr., a once respected New Iberia ad exec, was sentenced May 2 to spend the next two years (he faced up to 100 years) in a state penitentiary after state and federal investigators found dozens of images depicting children engaged in lewd sexual acts on his personal computer.