The District 2 BESE runoff between incumbent Louella Givens, supported by the state’s educational establishment, and reformer Kira Orange Jones is one of three general election races that will determine to a large extent how aggressive Louisiana moves toward a free market in public education.
Generally speaking, Orange Jones is a big proponent of teacher accountability and charter schools, while Givens carries water for teachers’ unions and the old way to structuring public schools.
But as it turns out, Givens isn’t an opponent of all charters. In fact, she had a great relationship with one of the more controversial ones in the state. That would be Abramson Science and Technology School, the troubled charter formerly held by the Turkish Muslim Fethullah Gulen movement which ran up against allegations of sexual and other abuse of its younger students earlier this year, not to mention an attempted bribe to make the state’s investigation go away. The state Department of Education revoked Abramson’s charter amid those allegations, which generated a good deal of press over the summer.
But Abramson was in Givens’ district, and she defended the school amid efforts to shut it down – and promptly got egg on her face when word hit about the attempted bribe.
From the Times-Picayune report about the shutdown…
Several board members expressed alarm on Friday that information about the state’s audit last year did not come before BESE ahead of a vote the board took last summer to renew Abramson’s charter. The state education department recommended that BESE give the school a one-year renewal with a “corrective action plan” to address deficiencies in special education services. But the board had not seen Dunbar’s memo about the offer of money. And they hadn’t seen records that provide accounts of classrooms going unstaffed for weeks at a time and potential cheating in science fair competitions.
“I certainly think I should have known this before now,” said BESE member Louella Givens after a reporter had described part of the state’s findings. “You’re blowing me over.”
That doesn’t sound like the BESE member in whose district the state’s most controversial school sat was particularly on top of the case.
But then again, Givens wasn’t unfamiliar with Abramson, or the Fethullah Gulen people. After all, she had traveled to Turkey in the spring as their guest on a tour of education in that country…
Givens and Linda Johnson, a BESE member from Plaquemine, also traveled to Turkey this spring at the invitation of the Pelican Foundation before the full findings of the state audit came to light.
Tevfik Eski, Pelican’s CEO, denied inviting BESE members on the trip. But a copy of the invitation obtained by The Times-Picayune shows that it was signed by Eski.
Givens said that she paid for the entire week-long trip herself. She said she saw the trip as an opportunity to learn more about Pelican and the way education is done in Turkey. She and others on the trip visited Turkish schools, as well as businesses, homes and cultural sites.
Besides the fact that Eski proved over the summer that absolutely nothing which comes out of his mouth can be trusted, it looks a bit like Givens was happy to get the red-carpet treatment from the Gulen/Pelican Educational Foundation folks but not all that interested in insuring there was quality education being offered at their facility in her district.
Such suspicions seem to have been confirmed when Givens was the lone dissenting vote when BESE voted to rescind Pelican Educational Foundation’s charter at Abramson. She said feedback from parents at a public meeting on the subject convinced her the school needed a second chance. That was two weeks after she said she was “blown over” by the news that Pelican had attempted to bribe state regulators to make the investigation go away.
Outrage doesn’t last long with Givens, it appears.
But with a $1.3 million IRS tax lien on property she owns and a DWI arrest in February, she’s probably in a mood to be somewhat forgiving of the foibles of others.
Orange Jones is regarded as a heavy favorite in the race. Both candidates are Democrats.