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Here We Go Again…

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Members of the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) are embroiled in bitter infighting once again and (surprise!) the issue at the center of the dispute is the allocation of district construction contracts.

The recent strife began after the district announced its plan to award a $51 million contract to Woodward Design + Build for the construction of Edna Karr’s new high school. Soon thereafter, it was revealed that about $7.5 million of that contract would be subcontracted to Nolmar Construction LLC, a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) owned by the half-siblings of OPSB President Nolan Marshall, Jr.

It was revealed that part of the contract awarded to Woodward Design + Build would be subcontracted to Nolmar Construction LLC, owned by the half-siblings of OPSB President Nolan Marshall, Jr.

It was revealed that part of a $51 million contract to be awarded to Woodward Design + Build would be subcontracted to Nolmar Construction LLC, owned by the half-siblings of OPSB President Nolan Marshall, Jr.

For his part, Marshall has stated he was not aware that his family’s firm was involved in the bidding process and formally asked U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite to investigate the Nolmar contract matter in an effort to clear him of any wrongdoing.

Nevertheless, that hasn’t stopped former OPSB President Ira Thomas from exploiting the situation to publicly attack Marshall, even going so far as to call on him to step down as board president. When asked why he was seeking Marshall’s resignation, Thomas told the Times-Picayune :

“Mr. Marshall’s letter to the U.S. Attorney asking him to investigate does not absolve him from suspicion…[Marshall should] strongly consider stepping down as president until this investigation is concluded. At this point I have no confidence in him.”

OPSB President Nolan Marshall (left, with Supt. Stan Smith), who has sought to unify the board, is being attacked by Ira Thomas, who has been a divisive force on it.

OPSB President Nolan Marshall (left, with Supt. Stan Smith), who has sought to unify the board, is being attacked by Ira Thomas, who has been a divisive force on it.

In an interview on WBOK-AM last Thursday, Marshall fired back at Thomas, accusing him of having “…a hidden agenda where he’s doing everything he can for certain contractors.” Marshall continued, “What he wants is leadership that demands from contractors that certain subcontractors get the work.”

As I’ve noted previously, several companies and individuals with ties to OPSB construction contracts have contributed to Thomas’ election campaigns, including his failed bid to unseat Sheriff Marlin Gusman in February. Some raised the question of whether those connections played a role in Thomas’ unsuccessful campaign to fire Interim Superintendent Stan Smith last year.

Pat Bryant (right), a vocal supporter of Thomas’ effort to oust Stan Smith last year, has reemerged to join in Thomas' recent attacks on Nolan Marshall.

Pat Bryant (right), a vocal supporter of Thomas’ effort to oust Stan Smith last year, has reemerged to join Thomas’ attacks on Nolan Marshall.

Interestingly enough, a vocal supporter of Thomas’ effort to oust Stan Smith has reemerged to join in his attacks on Nolan Marshall: Pat Bryant. Bryant, a community organizer with the Coalition for Justice and Beyond, led what he termed a “citizens filibuster” during last week’s board meeting, in which he repeatedly abused the requisite public comment periods to raise the Nolmar contract issue and accuse Marshall of malfeasance. Ironically, Pat Bryant was investigated by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 2005 on suspicion that he bribed a sanitation official to secure a DBE contract connected to the city’s trash hauling agreement.

On Monday, the sniping descended into a full-scale shouting match when Thomas and Bryant appeared on WBOK-AM’s “The Good Morning Show,” hosted by none other than former City Councilman Oliver Thomas, who himself was convicted and sentenced to prison for corruption in 2007. Thomas and Bryant used the airtime to resume their attacks on Marshall, who immediately called into the show to dispute the accusations, and needless to say, things went downhill from there.

Marshall and Thomas traded accusations of corruption on the radio show of former City Councilman Oliver Thomas, who actually was convicted of corruption in 2007.

Marshall and Thomas traded accusations of corruption on the radio show of former City Councilman Oliver Thomas, who actually was convicted of corruption in 2007.

If history is any guide, it’s likely that we haven’t seen the end of the current melodrama, in spite of the fact that the Nolmar contract is now a moot point. Interim Superintendent Stan Smith has since announced that after re-scoring Woodward Design + Build’s proposal, the company was no longer the recommended contractor.

Nevertheless, the fight between Marshall and Thomas has no doubt only further eroded the public’s confidence in OPSB’s ability to manage the city’s schools. As the Cowen Institute’s recent public opinion poll made clear, there is little enthusiasm for returning RSD schools to local control anytime soon.

A recent public opinion poll showed little enthusiasm for returning RSD schools to OPSB.

A recent public opinion poll showed little enthusiasm for returning RSD schools to OPSB.

Given all the nonsense that’s taken place on the school board over the past two years, who could blame them?

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 Cook mentioned this Article on lalegeeducation.com.

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Peter Cook mentioned this Article on peterccook.com.

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NOLA

PSA: It’s Millage Time Three School Taxes Are Up For Renewal On October 14th

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Voters in New Orleans will be heading to the polls next month for the first round of several high-profile citywide races. While the contests for mayor and various city council seats have drawn plenty of attention, three important school board millages are also on the ballot (literally at the very bottom, so don’t miss them).

The millage proposal language on an Orleans Parish sample ballot from the Louisiana Secretary of State.

The three proposals simply renew existing property taxes for another decade and will provide our city’s public schools with approximately $38 million annually. Funding from these millages will benefit both charter and traditional schools, whether they’re under the oversight of the Orleans Parish School Board or the Recovery School District. If they are not renewed, schools will receive $850 less per student each year, resulting in cuts that will negatively impact our kids.

Public schools in New Orleans have made tremendous gains over the past 12 years and the revenue generated by these taxes will help ensure that progress continues.

That’s why New Orleanians should vote YES on all three school board millage proposals when they head to the polls on October 14th.


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Charters

PSA: NAACP Charter School Hearing Tonight Don't Let Critics Distort The Story In New Orleans

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Tonight, the NAACP will be holding a hearing on charter schools at the New Orleans City Council Chambers (1300 Perdido Street) starting at 5:30pm. It will be the sixth hearing that the NAACP has held in cities across the country following their inexplicable call for a moratorium on charter schools last fall.

Flyer for tonight’s NAACP hearing.

The NAACP’s call for a moratorium has been roundly criticized by education reform advocates, as well as by the editorial board of The New York Times, which called the move “a misguided attack” by an organization that “has struggled in recent years to win over younger African-Americans, who often see the group as out of touch.” The Washington Post was even more scathing in their take on the moratorium, linking the NAACP’s recent turn against charters to the substantial financial support the group has received from the American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association.

Angry charter school parents from Memphis confronted NAACP officials at their national meeting in Cincinnati last fall.

In any case, NAACP officials have apparently decided to dispense with any pretense of objectivity at tonight’s meeting by inviting a number of outspoken charter opponents to speak, including:

  • Bill Quigley, a law professor at Loyola who filed a specious civil rights complaint against a local charter network that was eventually dismissed by the Louisiana Department of Education for lack of evidence;
     
  • Walter Umrani, an anti-charter candidate for the District 4 seat on the Orleans Parish School Board who received only 13% of the vote;
     
  • Willie Zanders, the lead attorney in the class action lawsuit against the Orleans Parish School Board and State of Louisiana over the layoffs of school board employees following Hurricane Katrina that was dismissed by the Louisiana Supreme Court;
     
  • Adrienne Dixson, a former education professor from Illinois who recently compared the education landscape in New Orleans to “The Hunger Games”;


  • State Rep. Joe Bouie who has used his position on the House Education Committee to spread misinformation about charter schools and engage in obstructionism, as seen below.

Charter school supporters need to attend tonight’s NAACP hearing to ensure that the truth is heard and that the positive impact that charters have had on the children of this city is not denied.

I hope to see you there!

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