Reality Check: Passage of SB 432 is Clear Evidence of Unresponsive, Co-Opted Leadership

SB 432 has passed. We are disappointed. Last month, we loudly and clearly expressed our reservations regarding this bill to “return” schools to the Orleans Parish School Board.

Still, it appears that the well-funded, pro-reform movement has managed to push forward its agenda. What saddens us most is that it has done so by co-opting trusted members and leaders—elected and otherwise—of OUR community who have been all too happy to do their part to support these efforts despite their deleterious impacts on those who rely on them to protect our interests. We are saddened; but we are hardly surprised. Gaining the cooperation and complicity of trusted leaders has always been a part of the reform playbook. In fact, it has worked so well that they have even managed to mask their agenda as the people’s agenda by offering a “return the schools” bill that doesn’t even return schools. That’s disgustingly clever.

We are talking about this now because 20 years from now we don’t want any lawmaker or leader to say they didn’t know or couldn’t have anticipated the impact in the same way the Clintons have used those crutches to brush off their responsibility for the mass incarceration of African-Americans that has decimated communities.

Twenty years from now when public education in Orleans Parish is in chaos and another generation is lost, those responsible will not be able to say they were not warned. You knew because we warned you. And “sorry” won’t cut it.

Those who have supported this legislation—from Gov. Edwards, who recently signed the bill into law, on down—have done so to the detriment of our children.

Our contention about SB 432 has always been what “return” looks like and what it means. And even this bill could have been fixed to address its most problematic areas. But it wasn’t.

We stand by our assessment that SB 432 was written to serve the needs and desires of the charter school movement and the predators and profiteers that have unapologetically gained from this experiment, not the people, parents, students, voters and taxpayers of school systems that are being hurt by a so-called reform movement that has done far more harm than good.”

This bill changes nothing. In fact, it solidifies the status quo. In a recent New York Times article, state Superintendent of Schools John White is, in fact, quoted as saying so.

All of the schools—even those that have been dismal failures—will return to OPSB as charters and the law pretty much spells out various and sundry ways that the elected body designated to govern our local public education system CANNOT exercise any control, direction or management over what these charters operators get to do.

But that’s all okay, because at least these schools will operate under the umbrella of the Orleans Parish School Board, an elected body that responds to the people of Orleans Parish.

Well, not really.

Here is one of the most dangerous part of this bill. Every last one of these charter operators will have the right to petition to become their own local education agency (LEA). And if a charter school or operator is granted LEA status that means it will be recognized by the state as the governmental agency for the schools it operates. In short, LEA is synonymous with school district. New Orleans could soon be cluttered with dozens of “school districts.” But we are betting that none of these “school districts” will have elected boards. If so, how will their jurisdictions be defined? No doubt, the well-funded machine pushing this flawed reform will figure out a way to persuade our leaders to convince us to allow these “governing” bodies to continue to operate with un-elected board members.

All of this wreaks. If it is not unconstitutional, we don’t know what is!

Rest assured. We will continue to harp on this issue, to repeat and draw attention to it over and again—because we think, NO, we know we are right. Even though many of our leaders, elected and otherwise, have failed us we will not acquiesce to the so-called education reform movement.

We will remain a voice for the voiceless even in the face of opposition and seemingly insurmountable challenge. See we’ve been at this for 30 years—providing the unfettered truth even if we have to stand alone in doing so—and we have no intention of stopping now.

Six Flags Appraisal Bid Is No Conflict of Interest

This business surrounding who gets the contract to appraise the old Six Flags New Orleans site so that the Industrial Development Board can finally sell it is just about the most senseless and contrived dilemma we have seen in some time. Thorns Consulting submitted the lowest bid for the project. However some members of the Industrial Development Board are concerned that Thorns’ role as a member of the IDB eight years ago is a little “too close for comfort.” At least that is how board member David Thompson described it according to a local media report.

Of course, there are some board members that don’t agree with Thompson’s assessment. Hell, the board’s attorney doesn’t even agree with him, according to media reports. The board is expected to choose an appraiser at its June meeting.

It should have chosen one in May. It should have chosen Thorns Consulting. Jim Thorns, owner of Thorns Consulting has operated a reputable appraisal business in New Orleans for many years. He submitted the low bid on the project. And there is nothing shady about his bid proposal, as far as we can see. His association with the IDB dates back nearly a decade. Even the board’s attorney says Thorn’s former position on the board does not present a conflict of interest. So why is it bothering Thompson so much?

It seems to us that this so-called “conflict of interest” presents a scapegoat—a real handy excuse—for some folk to use as a reason to not give Thorns the job despite his low bid. Now here’s our question? Why is it that any time a local Black-owned business stands to gain from a government contract to render some goods or services, there always seems to be a boll weevil attempting to destroy any progress or gain?

We’ve seen this play out before. We recall how some city leaders set their sights on the sanitation contracts held by two large Black-owned firms just a few years ago and remember how these business owners had to defend themselves against unsubstantiated claims that they were somehow hoodwinking the city of New Orleans and its residents.

Meanwhile, the world hardly winces as the Audubon Nature Institute Board approves a plan to allow the private, non-profit Carrollton Boosters to build a $4 million soccer complex in the section of the public Audubon Park, despite the fact that the agreement would require the Carrollton Boosters to purchase wine and beer from Crescent Crown Distributing and sell alcohol from the Sazerac Company, which are owned by Paul Fine and Jeff Goldring, members of the Audubon Institute Board. FYI: That is what a conflict of interest looks like.

Thorns Consulting is a local Black-owned business. His bid of $22,500 was the lowest—it was $1,000 less than the second lowest bid submitted by the local McEnery Co., which demonstrates, in our opinion, that the bid is accurate representation of what it should cost to perform the services. It was $3,500 less than the Metairie-based Stegall, Benton & Associates’ bid. The two highest bids came from Truax & Robles Appraisers at $30,000 and Valbridge, a Florida-based company with an office in Metairie, at $38,000. Of course, this makes us wonder exactly what Valbridge’s bid includes—maybe they included airfare from the Sunshine State.

Look, if businesses—Black or White—in New Orleans were barred from doing business with government entities or agencies because one principal or another served on a board eight, or 10 or 20 years ago, no business, firm, consultant in this city would ever get work. New Orleans is 169 square miles—the smallest parish by land in the state. Everyone knows someone who at least knows someone. Everything is “too close for comfort.” To call Thorn’s opportunity to get this job that he fairly bid on into question is petty-minded and duplicitous.

More directly, these double standards and questions of conflict that seem to arise anytime a Black businessman or woman is involved are getting old.

Maybe some IDB board members need to be reminded of Louisiana bid law.

“An award shall be made to the responsible offeror whose proposal is determined in writing by the governing authority of the political subdivision to be the most advantageous, considering price and other evaluation factors set forth in the RFP.”

So unless the IDB has some legitimate reason supported by the state’s public bid law not to award this contract to Thorns Consulting, let’s cut this out and get to business. Because we see it for what it is.

But hold on while we look at the law again…looking at it real good—with a fine tooth comb—nope, still don’t see anything about arbitrarily rejecting bids from proposers because someone appointed them to a board that they haven’t served on in almost 10 years…looking for it, looking for it…nope, still don’t see it, nope, not there.

The New Orleans Tribune

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