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Three Things to Know About the Teacher Layoff Case

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This morning the Louisiana Supreme Court will hear arguments in the appeal of Eddy Oliver, et al. v. Orleans Parish School Board, the lawsuit brought on behalf of teachers terminated in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. In January, the Fourth Circuit of Court Appeal unanimously upheld an earlier ruling that teachers were wrongly terminated by the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) in March 2006. The appellate court also affirmed that the Recovery School District (RSD) – and, by extension, Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) – were partially at fault for failing to give former OPSB teachers “priority consideration” for employment when staffing the schools they took over after the storm. (For more background and details, see my previous post here.)

Danielle Dreilinger of the Times-Picayune will be liveblogging the proceedings from the courtroom starting at 9:30am, but in the meantime, here are three things to know about the case:

I. OPSB lawyers won’t be able to argue their way out of this one.

The plaintiffs’ case against the Orleans Parish School Board begins and ends with one incontrovertible fact: OPSB did not follow the reduction-in-force (RIF) process set forth in the contract with the United Teachers of New Orleans when they laid off tenured teachers in March 2006. To be clear, even if OPSB conducted a RIF, the outcome for the overwhelming majority of teachers wouldn’t have changed: they would have lost their jobs after a drawn-out process. Nevertheless, counterfactuals won’t enter into the Justices’ decision. The only thing that matters is that OPSB didn’t conduct a RIF.

II. The grounds for holding RSD and LDOE liable are unconvincing.

In his opinion [see full text below], Fourth Circuit Judge Roland Belsome held that the RSD/LDOE did not give former OPSB tenured teachers “priority consideration” for employment in the schools taken over after storm:

“There is absolutely no evidence that qualified Appellees were provided the consideration mandated by the statute. To the contrary, the record clearly shows that the State advertised for these positions nationally and contracted with Teach for America to hire inexperienced college graduates that did not have teacher certification.”

Fourth Circuit Judge Roland Belsome

Fourth Circuit Judge Roland Belsome

As I’ve noted previously, there are a few problems with Belsome’s argument:

  • One of the reasons why the RSD recruited nationally was that New Orleanians were exiled in cities and towns across country for months, and in some cases, for years after the storm.
  • There was no preordained plan between RSD/LDOE and Teach For America (TFA) to fill the district’s teaching vacancies with corps members.1 In 2006-07 school year, for example, TFA only brought 12 teachers to the region, most of whom ended up teaching in surrounding parishes.
  • On January 12th, just three days before the Fourth Circuit issued its opinion, Judge Belsome tweeted a link to a highly inflammatory anti-TFA article entitled, “How the Corporate Class Is Using Teach for America to Turn K-12 Teaching Into a Temporary, Low-Paying Job,” and asked, “Is this true? Could some locals weigh in on this issue to give us some perspective?” After I called him out for it on Twitter, he deleted the tweet, although I saved a copy (see below).
Belsome's original anti-TFA tweet (above) and my response below. Belsome soon thereafter deleted it.

Belsome’s original anti-TFA tweet (above) and my response below. Belsome soon thereafter deleted it.

  • While Belsome says there was “absolutely no evidence” former OPSB teachers were given “priority consideration” for employment, a February 2007 article in Education Week noted that 86% of the teachers working in the RSD’s direct-run schools at that time were OPSB veterans.

III. When all is said and done, the legal battle over the layoffs may end up a nine-year exercise in futility.

Immediately after Fourth Circuit’s decision, a claim circulated in the press that plaintiffs stood to reap as much as $1.5 billion in back pay and damages, although that number was later revised downward to $750 million. However, former OPSB member Leslie Jacobs was quick to point out that:

“School boards are ‘political subdivisions’ of the state, and both the Louisiana Constitution and the Governmental Claims Act protect political subdivisions from having their property or assets seized in execution of judgments rendered by state courts.”

Therefore, even if the Justices affirm the Fourth Circuit’s decision, the school board probably won’t be cutting checks to teachers any time soon.


  1. Again, full disclosure: I worked on staff at Teach For America – Greater New Orleans during this time and was involved in corps member placement discussions. 

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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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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