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Ira, Stan & Much Ado About DBEs

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On my honor, I swear to make a mockery of the Orleans Parish School Board

On my honor, I swear to make a mockery of the Orleans Parish School Board…

Orleans Parish School Board President Ira Thomas is playing racially-charged, self-serving political games on the school board and the target of his machinations is once again OPSB Superintendent Stan Smith.

On Thursday, the Times-Picayune reported that Thomas was trying to schedule an emergency meeting aimed at demoting Smith and possibly installing Armand Devezin as superintendent. However, Thomas was unable to secure the quorum needed to hold the meeting because, as board member Sarah Usdin bluntly put it, “There’s not an emergency.”

Unfortunately for Stan Smith (and those of us who subscribe to the crazy idea that elected officials actually serve the public interest) it’s unlikely that this setback will deter Thomas’ effort to replace him [In fact, Thomas announced this morning (6/25/13) that he plans to address the superintendency issue in the next two days]. It all started at OPSB’s first full post-election meeting in February, when Thomas filed a last-minute item to the agenda seeking to nullify Smith’s superintendent contract. Thomas’ attempted coup de main almost immediately fell apart, however, when board members balked at his suggestion that Smith’s contract was never actually approved by the board. Instead, they passed a substitute motion put forward by Seth Bloom asking Thomas and Vice-President Leslie Ellison to revise the contract and bring it back for ratification at a later date [As of 6/25/13, the board has yet to receive a revised contract from Thomas and Ellison].

While one would expect that Thomas would give up this crusade after its spectacular failure in February, his behind-the-scenes maneuvers over the past week indicate otherwise. So why is Ira Thomas so hellbent on replacing Stan Smith? Have schools fallen into disrepair? Are the district’s finances in shambles? Has student performance plummeted? Nope. In fact, to Smith’s credit, things in the district have hummed right along under his leadership. Rather, Thomas is seeking to oust Smith over an issue that has nothing to do with the actual educational mission of OPSB: district construction contracts.

Board member Cynthia Cade, the Robin to Ira Thomas' Batman

Don’t let the smile fool you: Cynthia Cade has strongly supported Thomas’ effort to sack Stan Smith

As noted in a recent article in the The Advocate, both Thomas and board ally Cynthia Cade have focused much of their energy over the past year on “ensuring that district contractors hire minority-owned businesses for construction work.” Last summer, Thomas and Cade successfully pushed a resolution requiring that 35% of the value of each district contract be directed toward toward minority-owned contractors, certified as Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (DBEs). In spite of this success, Thomas and Cade again raised the issue at OPSB’s September meeting, when they hijacked board’s agenda to interrogate Smith and comptroller Wayne DeLarge (video: starts at 26:40 here and continues here) about the decision to allocate additional funding and staff to the district’s charter school office rather than the DBE office. When Smith attempted to offer an explanation, Thomas simply ignored him and instead insinuated that prejudice somehow played a role in the Superintendent’s decision.

Ensuring that DBEs receive a fair share of district contract work should be a priority for OPSB’s administration and although they have sought to portray the Superintendent as an opponent of the program, neither Thomas nor Cade have produced a shred of evidence indicating that Smith has sought to undermine it. Ultimately, it’s become clear that the motives behind these attacks have more to do with power than with the fair allocation of OPSB contracts. Thomas has seized upon the DBE program, intended to promote inclusivity in the district’s business practices, and twisted it into a divisive issue to strengthen his position on the board and install one of his own in the district’s top post.

One issue that has not been explored in the course of this ongoing drama is who stands to possibly benefit from Thomas’ bullying over the DBE program. Interestingly enough, a review of Thomas’ 2012 campaign finance reports surface a number of individuals and entities that are directly or indirectly connected to DBEs:

To be clear, the mere fact that so many supporters of Ira Thomas’ reelection campaign have connections to DBE contracts in no way constitutes evidence of wrongdoing by either the donors or by Thomas. But, it certainly is a coincidence, isn’t it?

In the end, Thomas’ campaign against Stan Smith is ultimately self-defeating because his unscrupulous behavior on this issue, especially since becoming OPSB President, is so reminiscent of the board’s troubled pre-Katrina past. It’s clear that New Orleanians oppose a return to the days when our schools suffered while board members engaged in infighting and corruption. Yet, Thomas’ example undermines any notion that the Orleans Parish School Board, as currently structured, is capable of governing in a way that puts the needs of its students first. When the issue of local control is raised in the future, hopefully we’ll keep this lesson in mind.

For reference, here are links to the Candidate Reports filed by Ira Thomas and referenced above:

In addition, here are the lists of Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (DBEs) in both Orleans and Jefferson Parishes:

Pete became involved in education reform as a 2002 Teach For America corps member in New Orleans Public Schools and has worked in various capacities at Teach For America, KIPP, TNTP, and the Recovery School District. As a consultant, he developed teacher evaluation systems and served as a strategic advisor to school district leaders in Cleveland, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. He now writes about education policy and politics and lives in New Orleans.

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Peter CookThank You, Stan | PE + CONow Playing: Irascible Ira & the Ghosts of Politics Past | PE + CO Recent comment authors
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Thank You, Stan | PE + CO


While we’re told “the cream always rises to the top,” when one considers the rogues’ gallery of corrupt and/or incompetent public officials who have brought disgrace to New Orleans over the years, it’s not unreasonable to believe the opposite is true in the Crescent City. In fact, New Orleanians have become so inured to failures in leadership that we tend to view our local government institutions with skepticism, if not outright cynicism.
Perhaps no public body is viewed with as much distrust as the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB), thanks to a series of embarrassing management and corruption scandals in the years prior to Hurricane Katrina. Although things have improved somewhat since the storm, over the past few years OPSB has been wracked by power struggles and infighting, particularly around the issue of district construction contracts. Even worse, the district has been without a permanent superintendent since April 2012 – that is, until now.
At its monthly board meeting on Tuesday, OPSB got itself together and finally selected a new leader, voting unanimously in favor of Henderson Lewis, Jr., who currently heads East Feliciana Public Schools. While it is yet to be seen whether Lewis lives up to the ambitious goals he’s set for himself, we should take this opportunity to recognize the person who’s been at helm of the district for the past two-and-a-half years: Interim Superintendent Stan Smith.
Stan Smith didn’t seek his current role and will no doubt be more than happy to hand over the reins to Lewis. At 68, one suspects Stan could have easily walked off stage and into retirement at any point, leaving OPSB to its own self-destructive devices. Who would blame him? He’s been disrespected and humiliated by board members. He’s been unfairly accused of racism and incompetence. He’s even been threatened by an individual with a shady past masquerading as a civil rights activist.
Danielle Dreilinger gave me flak for using her picture of OPSB here, so I’m using this photo as a placeholder.Nevertheless, Smith has doggedly stuck with it because the job simply needed to be done. For almost three years now, he’s managed the day-to-day operations of the district quietly and effectively, without the drama that has so often characterized the deliberations of the school board. Furthermore, Smith has managed to successfully steer the district while fending off repeated attempts by board member Ira Thomas to oust him from office.
When considered together, Smith and Thomas are a study in contrasts. Smith is modest, self-effacing, and has discharged his responsibilities as Interim Superintendent with a professionalism befitting the position. Thomas, on the other hand, is a self-serving bully who sees the school board as a stepping stone to higher office, but possesses neither the character, nor good sense to reach beyond it.
Although Thomas accused Smith of “fraud and deceit” and repeatedly called into question his “character, professional competence, and/or physical or mental health,” he produced zero evidence to support his claims. In the end, Smith refused to step down and Thomas failed to muster the votes needed to remove him from the district’s top post.
When asked why Smith refused to budge in the face of Thomas’ slanderous attacks, his lawyer said, “He thinks he’s benefiting the students, the district and the parish.” Many of us would agree with that assessment. Through it all, Smith has revealed himself to be an all-too-rare character in the New Orleans experience: a genuine public servant. For this reason, he not only deserves our respect, he deserves our gratitude.
Thank you, Stan.
Thank You, Stan</span> <span class="entry-subtitle">OPSB Interim Superintendent is a thankless job, that’s why we owe Stan Smith a debt of gratitude</span>’,url: ‘http://peterccook.com/2015/01/21/thank-you-stan/’,contentID: ‘post-3527’,suggestTags: ‘district,edreform,Education reform,Henderson Lewis,Ira Thomas,New Orleans,New Orleans Public Schools,Stan Smith,Superintendents’,providerName: ‘PE + CO’,styling: ‘full’ });return false”>  
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Peter Cook

Posted on 21 January 201522 January 2015 by Peter Cook comment image?iv=28″ title=”” rel=”nofollow”> While we’re told “the cream always rises to the top,” when one considers the rogues’ gallery of corrupt and/or incompetent public officials who have brought disgrace to New Orleans over the years, it’s not unreasonable to believe the opposite is true in the Crescent City. In fact, New Orleanians have become so inured to failures in leadership that we tend to view our local government institutions with skepticism, if not outright cynicism.Perhaps no public body is viewed with as much distrust as the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB), thanks to a series of embarrassing management and corruption scandals in the years prior to Hurricane Katrina. Although things have improved somewhat since the storm, over the past few years OPSB has been wracked by power struggles and infighting, particularly around the issue of district construction contracts. Even worse, the district has been without a permanent superintendent since April 2012 – that is, until now.At its monthly board meeting on Tuesday, OPSB got itself together and finally selected a new leader, voting unanimously in favor of Henderson Lewis, Jr., who currently heads East Feliciana Public Schools. While it is yet to be seen whether Lewis lives up to the ambitious goals he’s set for himself, we should take this opportunity to recognize the person who’s been at helm of the district for the past two-and-a-half years: Interim Superintendent Stan Smith.Stan Smith didn’t seek his current role and will no doubt be more than happy to hand over the reins to Lewis. At 68, one suspects Stan could have easily walked off stage and into retirement at any point, leaving OPSB to its own self-destructive devices. Who would blame him? He’s been disrespected and humiliated by board members. He’s been unfairly accused of racism and incompetence. He’s even been threatened by an individual with a shady past masquerading as a civil rights activist..u0a7860cac49d1645ad1572da8d0b96e4{padding:0px;margin:0;padding-top:1em!important;padding-bottom:1em!important;width:100%;display:block;font-weight:bold;background-color:#eaeaea;border:0!important;border-left:4px solid #E74C3C!important;box-shadow:0 1px 2px rgba(0,0,0,0.17);-moz-box-shadow:0 1px 2px rgba(0,0,0,0.17);-o-box-shadow:0 1px 2px rgba(0,0,0,0.17);-webkit-box-shadow:0 1px 2px rgba(0,0,0,0.17);text-decoration:none}.u0a7860cac49d1645ad1572da8d0b96e4:active,.u0a7860cac49d1645ad1572da8d0b96e4:hover{opacity:1;transition:opacity 250ms;webkit-transition:opacity 250ms;text-decoration:none}.u0a7860cac49d1645ad1572da8d0b96e4{transition:background-color 250ms;webkit-transition:background-color 250ms;opacity:1;transition:opacity 250ms;webkit-transition:opacity 250ms}.u0a7860cac49d1645ad1572da8d0b96e4 .ctaText{font-weight:bold;color:#E74C3C;text-decoration:none;font-size:16px}.u0a7860cac49d1645ad1572da8d0b96e4 .postTitle{color:#000;text-decoration:underline!important;font-size:16px}.u0a7860cac49d1645ad1572da8d0b96e4:hover .postTitle{text-decoration:underline!important}RELATED:  Don’t Bury The Lede: At-Risk Students Are Beating Expectations In NOLA High Schools [UPDATED 10/10/14]Danielle Dreilinger gave me flak for using her picture of OPSB here, so I’m using this photo as a placeholder.Nevertheless, Smith has doggedly stuck with it because the job simply needed to be done. For almost three years now, he’s managed the day-to-day operations of the district quietly and effectively, without the drama that has so often characterized the deliberations of the school board. Furthermore, Smith has managed to successfully steer the district while fending off repeated attempts by board member Ira Thomas to oust him from office.When considered together, Smith and Thomas are a study in contrasts. Smith is modest, self-effacing, and has discharged his responsibilities as Interim Superintendent with a professionalism befitting the position. Thomas, on the other hand, is a self-serving bully who sees the school board as a stepping stone to higher office, but possesses neither the character, nor good sense to reach beyond it.Although Thomas accused Smith of “fraud and deceit” and repeatedly called into question his “character, professional competence, and/or physical or mental health,” he produced zero evidence to support his claims. In the end, Smith refused to step down and Thomas failed to muster the votes needed to remove him from the district’s top post.When asked why Smith refused to budge in the face of Thomas’ slanderous attacks, his lawyer said, “He thinks he’s benefiting the students, the district and the parish.” Many of us would agree with that assessment. Through it all, Smith has revealed himself to be an all-too-rare character in the New Orleans experience: a genuine public servant. For this reason, he not only deserves our respect, he deserves our gratitude.Thank you, Stan. comment image?iv=28″ title=”” rel=”nofollow”> Related GET PE+CO UPDATES IN YOUR INBOXFill out the form below to subscribe to our newsletter and you will receive notifications of new posts by email. We will never share your information or send you unsolicited emails. Subscribe Please check your email inbox to confirm. Powered by&nbspRapidology

Now Playing: Irascible Ira & the Ghosts of Politics Past | PE + CO


The Ghosts of OPSB Politics Past. Haven’t we seen this movie before?Following the Orleans Parish School Board these days is like watching the remake of a lousy movie: the actors are different, but the protagonists are still boorish, the plot is still clunky, and you already know that it’s going to end badly.
For those of us who suffered through the slow-motion car wreck that was OPSB in the years leading up to Hurricane Katrina, the race-baiting, backbiting, and gridlock on display at OPSB’s meeting last Tuesday was uncannily reminiscent of the strife during the tenure of former NOPS Superintendent Anthony Amato. In fact, the similarities to that period are so pronounced that some are wondering whether the board’s recent troubles reflect a return of the cronyism and political patronage that many hoped were washed away in the storm.
As discussed previously [see: “Ira, Stan & Much Ado About DBEs“], much of the recent controversy on the board stems from OPSB President Ira Thomas’ ongoing campaign to oust Superintendent Stan Smith. Although his two previous attempts to replace Smith (at the board’s meeting in February and his attempt to call an emergency meeting in June) ended in failure, Thomas once again renewed his attacks at a press conference on June 28th. At that meeting, Thomas, joined by board allies Leslie Ellison and Cynthia Cade, reiterated accusations that Smith has sought to undermine the district’s Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) program, claimed the Interim Superintendent may be guilty of “fraud and deceit,” and again called for his removal.
More Background: Campaign Filings, Other Documents For reference, here is a link to a collection of several documents related to this story, including candidate reports filed by Ira Thomas, previous articles, and documents from NOLA OIG & Jacobs/CSRS. This collection is updated on an ongoing basis.
While his statement was met with applause by the roomful of supporters invited to the press conference [N.B.: Cade rudely ordered a staff member from OPSB’s Charter School Office – a department deemed insufficiently deferential to the Thomas-Cade-Ellison faction – to leave the room before the event started.], Thomas once again failed to produce any hard evidence to support his accusations. Instead, Thomas attempted to bolster his position by claiming that “the community” is demanding Smith’s resignation, as heard in this audio clip recorded by the Times-Picayune‘s Danielle Dreilinger:

[soundcloud url="http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/98912889"]

Thomas’ inability to articulate any substantive basis for his near obsession with removing Stan Smith has left many board observers scratching their heads. As Andre Perry, former professor and WWNO education commentator, told the Times-Picayune, “I don’t know what he stands forNobody does. Why get rid of these people? What’s the point?” Karran Harper-Royal, a community activist who generally supports the board, also questioned Thomas’ approach in the same article saying, “He’s kind of like a bull in a china shop instead of being more like a ballerina. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” Meanwhile, others have questioned the motives of the two community groups  – the Coalition for Justice and Beyond and the Alliance of Minority Contractors – that have appeared from the shadows to support Thomas’ crusade and this is where things get interesting…
Pat Bryant’s “embargoed” statement from the June 28th press conference.From the very beginning, Pat Bryant, a “community organizer” with the heretofore unknown community organization, the Coalition for Justice and Beyond, has been an outspoken supporter of Thomas’ effort to oust Stan Smith. As reported by the Times-Picayune, Bryant even went so far as to threaten Smith at last month’s groundbreaking ceremony at McDonogh #35, telling him, “We are going to run you over with a Mack truck.” While Stan Smith was rattled enough to file a police report after the incident, Bryant circulated a statement at the June 28th press conference that claimed he only used the Mack truck statement “figuratively” before listing a number of unsubstantiated claims intended to illustrate Smith’s incompetence.
Who is Pat Bryant and why has he suddenly emerged as one of Thomas’ biggest supporters? Perhaps unsurprisingly, a look at his background reveals other shady encounters. In 2005, Bryant was investigated by the US Attorney’s Office in regard to a high-priced consulting contract he was awarded for “community outreach” connected to the city’s trash hauling agreement with BFI by former city Sanitation Director, Lynn Wiltz. Bryant, then President of Urban Strategies, LLC, shortly thereafter paid Wiltz’s docking fees at South Shore Marina. Unfortunately, like many of the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Morial-era corruption probes, the investigation into Bryant and Wiltz was sidelined by Hurricane Katrina, and apparently, charges were never filed.
A 2005 corruption probe involving Pat Bryant’s (left) and Lynn Wiltz is just the tip of the iceberg.But questions surrounding Bryant’s past involvement with Lynn Wiltz is just the tip of the iceberg. What’s even more interesting is Lynn Wiltz’s connections to Ira Thomas and several of his campaign supporters, in particular those from the construction industry. To start, according to documents from New Orleans Office of the Inspector General, as well as her LinkedIn profile, Lynn Wiltz is now consulting for Jacobs/CSRS, the construction & engineering partnership that currently holds a contract with OPSB. In addition, Wiltz – along with several individuals and organizations directly or indirectly linked to Jacobs/CSRS – contributed to Ira Thomas’ 2012 OPSB reelection campaign, as shown in the table of Ira’s selected contributors below [See the full list of contributors here]:
Filing Date
Filing #
Contributor Name
Amount
Notes
10/29/12
32854
Imre Hegedus & Associates
$2,500.00
Hegedus & Associates has been retained as architects on several OPSB projects, according to reports from Jacobs/CSRS
2/14/12
30154
Circular Consulting, LLC
$2,500.00
Circular consults with Jacobs/CSRS on OPSB & RSD contracts according to their website.
2/14/12
30154
Imre Hegedus & Associates
$2,500.00
Hegedus & Associates has been retained as architects on several OPSB projects, according to reports from Jacobs/CSRS
10/29/12
32865
Curtis Soderberg
$1,000.00
Director at CSRS . Jacobs/CSRS contracts with Circular Consulting, LLC & OPSB
12/6/12
33641
Jimmie Woods
$500.00
Owner of Metro Disposal, Inc. Metro Disposal has received contracts from OPSB for the renovation at Colton, according to reports from Jacobs/CSRS. The US Attorney’s Office also subpoenaed records from Metro Disposal regarding contracts that they received from the city sanitation department while Lynn Wiltz was Sanitation Director, in particular, a generous contract with the AMID/Metro Partnership that allowed the company to run the Old Gentilly Landfill and keep 97 percent of the proceeds.
12/6/12
33641
Brian Egana
$500.00
President, CE/FO, Circular Consulting, LLC. Circular consults with Jacobs/CSRS on OPSB & RSD contracts according to their website.
10/29/12
32865
Hewitt-Washington & Associates
$200.00
According to documents from Jacobs/CSRS, Hewitt-Washington has been retained as architects for several OPSB/RSD projects.
10/29/12
32865
Michael Rice
$100.00
Recovery Coordinator at Jacobs/CSRS. Jacobs/CSRS contracts with Circular Consulting, LLC & OPSB
10/29/12
32865
William Rousselle
$100.00
President & CEO of Bright Moments, LLC. Manages DBE outreach for OPSB/RSD according to documents from Jacobs/CSRS and recently created the OPSB DBE team’s School Construction Newsletter that suddenly appeared on the district’s website on July 15.
10/29/12
32865
Lynn Wiltz
$100.00
In 2005, former city sanitation director Lynn Wiltz was investigated by the US Attorney’s Office for awarding high-priced consulting contracts to Pat Bryant, then owner of Urban Strategies, LLC & now with the Coalition of Justice & Beyond. Bryant later paid Wiltz’s docking fees at South Shore Marina. No charges were ever filed. According to her LinkedIn page and documents from the New Orleans Office of the Inspector General, Wiltz currently is currently a consultant for Jacobs/CSRS.
10/29/12
32865
J.C. Patin Group, LLC
$100.00
Owner Joseph Patin is Vice President of the Alliance for Minority Contractors. According to the J.C. Patin website, the company has been involved in several OPSB/RSD school related projects.
10/29/12
32865
Marvin Daniels
$100.00
Works with Jacobs/CSRS. Jacobs/CSRS contracts with Circular Consulting, LLC & OPSB
OPSB President Ira Thomas poses with a member of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club BandFinally, it has been rumored that Smith and Herman Taitt, OPSB’s Facilities Director who oversees the district’s capital projects, have been at odds for the past several months. As noted in a recent article in The Advocate, Taitt appears to have openly allied himself with Thomas, as evidenced by the fact that Taitt attended the June 28th press conference and afterward approached Thomas to shake his hand and say, “Thank you.” A senior district administrator recently confirmed the close relationship between Thomas and Taitt and claimed that the duo were colluding to remove Smith from office.
Clearly, the more one digs into the murky depths of alliances, records, and relationships, the shadier and more complex things become. And while certainly not conclusive evidence of illegal or improper conduct on behalf of OPSB President Ira Thomas, the fact that so many of his supporters have connections to construction contracts raises red flags about Thomas’ otherwise inexplicable fixation on firing Superintendent Stan Smith over the DBE issue. In the meantime though, Thomas continues to shamelessly present his actions as a righteous crusade to right historical wrongs, all the while maintaining he has the best interests of children at heart. However, as his recent performance at OPSB’s July meeting demonstrates (see video below), it’s little more than a hackneyed routine from a bad actor. Instead of watching and waiting for this show’s inevitably regrettable denouement, the New Orleans community needs to step in and simply rewrite the script.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U5ojasNmp_Q?version=3&rel=1&fs=1&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&wmode=transparent%5D
 
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After Janus, The Drought? LAE & LFT are downplaying the impact of the Janus v. AFSCME decision, but both are subsidized by their national unions

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The United States Supreme Court handed public sector unions – including the teachers unions – a major defeat on Wednesday with their decision in Janus v. AFSCME, in which a majority of justices agreed that mandatory agency fee laws violate the First Amendment rights of non-union public employees.

In the 21 states with agency fee laws, public employees covered by collective bargaining agreements were required to pay fees to the union to cover bargaining costs, even if they refused to join. Because agency fees only offered a small discount when compared to union dues, many individuals felt compelled to become members.

Screenshot from Education Next.

Now that the Supreme Court has struck down those laws, many observers expect that public sector unions will lose anywhere from 10-30% of their members, and by extension, a big chunk of their revenues. In a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, National Education Association (NEA) president Lily Eskelsen García admitted her union expects to lose at least 200,000 members over the next 18 months, depriving them of around $28 million in funding.

What about Louisiana?

Louisiana, of course, is a right-to-work state, meaning that public sector unions here are unlikely to see a drop in their membership, but the Janus decision could have a significant financial impact on the state’s two teachers unions, the Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE) and the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT).

In an article in The Advocate on Wednesday, officials from LAE and LFT sought to downplay the potential fallout from the ruling, insisting that any impact on their organizations would be minimal. They also wildly exaggerated the size of their respective unions, with both LAE and LFT claiming around 20,000 members.

LAE president Debbie Meaux and LFT president Larry Carter.

Mike Antonucci, a researcher who has been writing about teachers unions for decades, released figures on Wednesday showing that LAE had 10,461 members in 2016-17, of which only 9,416 were full dues-paying members. While precise numbers are not available for LFT, data from tax filings and public records requests show that the union receives far less in dues payments than their counterparts at LAE, while charging their members more on an annual basis. Therefore, it’s safe to assume that LFT is even smaller than LAE’s 10,000 members.

Those tax filings, along with annual reports filed with the U.S. Department of Labor, also reveal that both LAE and LFT are heavily subsidized by their national unions. According to tax returns, LAE reported $3,291,199 in revenue in F.Y. 2016, although Department of Labor reports show that nearly 30% of that money came from the National Education Association.

Data from IRS 990s and U.S. Department of Labor annual reports.

Likewise, LFT reported $1,809,239 in revenue in F.Y. 2016, but nearly 27% of that total came from its parent union, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Moreover, as I’ve noted in previous posts, AFT also provides substantial funding to its local affiliates, like the United Teachers of New Orleans, Jefferson Federation of Teachers, and Red River United.

Will the money dry up?

Up to now, LAE and LFT could depend on their national unions to provide a substantial portion of their annual budgets, but the Supreme Court’s decision this week means that steady stream of funding could begin to dry up in the not-too-distant future. While It’s unlikely that AFT and NEA will completely cut-off subsidies to their affiliates in right-to-work states like Louisiana, there’s no escaping the fact that there will be less money to go around.

How that will ultimately impact the activities of Louisiana Association of Educators and Louisiana Federation of Teachers is yet to be seen.

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The Red River Ripoff Shreveport's AFT Affiliate Uses Bureaucratic Obstacles To Keep Dues Coming in

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Red River United (RRU), the American Federation of Teachers-affiliated union representing educators in Caddo, Bossier, and Red River Parishes, is using bureaucratic hurdles and subterfuge in an attempt to prevent members from leaving the organization.

A reader forwarded me a series of emails regarding three of the union’s current members who submitted a union drop request to Red River officials in October, indicating that they wished to end their affiliation with RRU and stop the monthly deduction of dues from their bank accounts.

The sign outside Red River United’s offices in Shreveport.

The receipt of those forms was acknowledged by the union. Nevertheless, when the three teachers checked with their banks at the end of the month, Red River United had once again deducted dues payments from their accounts. On November 1st, an email was sent to RRU officials notifying them of their mistake and requesting that the union refund those dues to the three individuals.

An emailed response from RRU’s in-house counsel, Elizabeth Gibson, flatly refused to refund those payments, explaining that the three teachers “executed a confidential agreement with Red River United (Membership Form), wherein the individuals authorized Red River United, or its designee, to draft their bank account each month for the amount indicated in the agreement for each billing period.”

She continued:

“Further, they acknowledged that they must give at least 30 days written notice to Red River United to cancel future automated debits. Red River United did not receive written notice at least 30 days in advance personally from the individuals indicating they had chosen to cancel their automated debits/membership. They must physically come to the offices of Red River United to cancel the bank draft due to the confidential nature of the information contained therein. These individuals have not done so. Accordingly, they are not entitled to a refund of the monies they authorized to be withdrawn from their bank accounts.”

Gibson added that the teachers needed to physically go to the union’s offices to provide a so-called “wet signature” in the presence of a Red River United employee in order to officially withdraw from the union and stop the monthly bank withdrawals.

Gibson’s emailed response in which she refused to refund dues to the three teachers.

A ridiculous (and dishonest?) response

Gibson’s response is not only ridiculous, but possibly dishonest. It’s also clearly an attempt by Red River United to make it as difficult as possible for current members to dropout of the union.

To start, the union’s “confidential agreement” – i.e., RRU’s membership form – isn’t all that confidential (in fact, I’ve included a copy of it at the bottom of this post). Nowhere on the membership form does it say anything about the requirement to provide a “wet signature” in the presence of an RRU employee to leave the union and stop monthly payments.

The small print from Red River United’s membership form.

Moreover, Gibson’s contention that the three teachers needed to physically go to RRU’s offices to cancel the bank drafts “due to the confidential nature of the information contained therein” is laughable. Anyone who has ever had a subscription to a newspaper or magazine can tell you that you don’t need to go to their offices to cancel it. Plus, there’s nothing “confidential” about the process. All Red River United needs to do is notify their bank to stop the monthly automatic withdrawals for those three individuals. End of story.

So why is Red River United trying to make these three teachers jump through bureaucratic hoops when they clearly don’t want to be part of their organization anymore? I suspect the union is trying to force them to come to their offices so they can pressure them to remain members, which is the kind of behavior you might expect from a dodgy timeshare broker, not a teachers union.

Nevertheless, teachers unions in other states have increasingly employed similar tactics to stem the departure of their members. For example, after Michigan became a right-to-work state in 2012, the Michigan Education Association (MEA) changed their opt-out policy to mandate that teachers withdrawal in August and force them to send their resignation requests to an obscure P.O. box address hidden on their website. The union subsequently refused to honor opt-out requests that were sent directly to MEA headquarters or were received outside of the month of August.

The United States Supreme Court is set to decide Janus v. AFSCME this spring.

I expect that we’ll see even more of these sort of schemes in the coming months. In September, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Janus v. AFSCME, a case which argues that requiring public employees to pay agency fees to unions (including teachers unions) is unconstitutional. It is widely expected that the Court will end up striking down the laws in the 22 states that currently mandate agency fees, meaning that teachers unions across the country will soon be scrambling to come up with ways to keep their members from dropping out.

Because Louisiana has long been a right-to-work state, the Janus case should have little direct impact here. At the same time, that’s exactly why Red River United’s efforts to make it as difficult as possible for members to leave their organization needs to be called out. Louisiana’s public school teachers have the right to join a union or not. Therefore, they should be able to leave a union just as easily as they signed up. If Red River United wants to salvage some of its integrity, it should immediately accept the resignation of the three educators in question and refund their dues as soon as possible.


Read Red River United’s membership form:

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Peter C. Cook
Peter C. Cook @petercook
New Orleans, Louisiana peterccook.com
Education Reformer • New Orleanian • Progressive • Democrat • Proud TFA alum • Check out my new side project: @retortonline
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