In its first full meeting of 2013, the Orleans Parish School Board sent a clear message to the community: You would be insane to return schools to our control.
Over the past year, advocates for a return to local control have sought to portray OPSB as a model of bureaucratic rehabilitation. They pointed to the board’s clean financials, shiny A+ bond rating, and the high academic performance of their handful of schools (while conveniently neglecting to mention their selective-admissions policies) as evidence of OPSB’s turnaround. The basic message of OPSB proponents, often served up with a side of schmaltzy democratic ideals, has been: “All we are saying, is give OPSB a chance.”
On Tuesday night, that message crashed headlong into the ego of OPSB President Ira Thomas, in one of the more entertaining – and at times, painfully awkward – board meetings in recent memory. Admittedly, the outcome of the meeting was less than disastrous: Thomas’ plans to exact revenge on Stan Smith and Kathy Padian died an embarrassing death, thanks to Sarah Usdin’s uncompromising refusal to allow Thomas to push through his misguided agenda. Furthermore, thanks to Usdin’s efforts behind-the-scenes, the Wheatley tax credits deal will hopefully be approved at a special board meeting later this week.
On the other hand, one could not watch the proceedings without an uncomfortable sense of déjà vu, punctuated by nightmarish visions of Ellenese Brooks-Simms and Mose Jefferson. The fact that OPSB’s president would so blatantly play self-serving political games at the expense of the school system was something that most of us had hoped was behind us. Perhaps we should instead put aside any illusions that OPSB, as it’s currently structured, can manage our public school system and build upon the substantial progress we’ve made in the past 7+ years.