…which is a fine idea. Taylor, the superintendent of the state’s most underachieving school district (it was that way when he arrived on the job, and it’s certainly that way now), is incompetent and corrupt – to such an extent that it’s being noticed by people who don’t pay attention to the school district’s workings.
The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board plans to determine Superintendent Bernard Taylor’s future with the district during its Thursday meeting.
Taylor, who started in 2012, has almost completed two years of a three-year contract, which expires in June 2015.
The board is considering whether to: extend the contract for a year or more; let Taylor’s contract expire as scheduled at the end of three years; or press for an early exit for the educator.
The trigger for the discussion is a provision in Taylor’s contract requiring that the board inform him before the end of his second year, which is June 30, whether it will “extend or not extend” his contract. The idea is to give the superintendent a full year to land a new job if the board doesn’t want him to stay.
Only two board members, Craig Freeman and Evelyn Ware-Jackson, have expressed interest in extending Taylor’s contract. That’s a sign of how far Taylor’s star has fallen in the 24 months he’s run the second-largest public school district in Louisiana, which has almost 42,000 students.
Nine of the eleven board members either want to run Taylor off now or make him a lame duck for the next year while they look for somebody better.
It needs to be understood that finding Taylor in the first place was a nightmare for the school district. Nobody else would take the job. And his predecessor basically went AWOL out of discouragement with the dysfunction all around him (not to mention his own questionable work ethic).
Eight of the nine dissidents on the school board have to agree on a buyout, per state law, in order to force Taylor out of his job. If he agrees to take the money and run he can be sent packing with seven votes. That puts Taylor in a perfect position; he’s not going to stay in his job much longer, but since he knows that and, having been fired from his last two gigs as a superintendent it’s pretty clear he’s not getting another job like he currently has any time soon, he’s almost completely free from accountability.
Taylor could basically retire on active duty for the next year, rip off the school district for whatever he could get and ride off while EBR schools burn. He knows that, and so does the board. Which means the alternative is him allowing the board to negotiate against itself for how much they’ll pay him to go away rather than stay on the job and play solitaire on his computer for the next year.
Another major issue is that there will be school board elections in Baton Rouge this fall, on the same ballot where the St. George incorporation is expected to appear. Taylor says that he’s happy to waive the one-year notification requirement in state law about his contract, which would mean that he’s willing to take his chances that a new school board might decide to keep him around.
That’s unlikely, and not just because the school board has engaged in an incumbent-protection racket. There is a push, most notably by Cajun Industries founder and CEO Lane Grigsby, to find candidates to unseat a majority of the school board’s members and promote change. But nobody thinks that if Grigsby is able to blow up the school board and bring in a bunch of reformers that it’s going to help Taylor’s cause much. His name and reform don’t exactly go together.
What this points to is a rough year for public education in Baton Rouge. You’ll have a greatly declining district owing largely to the impending loss of much of its tax base with St. George emerging in November, you’ll have a disinterested and disengaged absentee landlord in the superintendent’s chair, possibly a board with a bunch of new members who don’t yet know how to address the problems, an inspector general’s investigation into grade-fixing and corrupt diploma awards at several schools, a state Department of Education which has lost faith in the district and actively seeks to take over many of its failing or near-failing schools and a state legislature interested in changing the governing structure of the district in some form or fashion, egged on by the local Chamber of Commerce.
In such an environment, a Jack Welch or lee Iacocca couldn’t fix what’s wrong with the schools in Baton Rouge. And there certainly isn’t a Jack Welch or Lee Iacocca available to run them when Taylor is given his pink slip.
A suggestion for those prospective candidates Grigsby is interviewing, or otherwise: start talking about a radically different structure to schools in East Baton Rouge Parish. Start talking about things like making every school in the parish a charter, wide-open system-wide school choice, a parish-wide voucher system, wide-open course choice, experimental methods of education that may include homeschooling or online education.
Part of why the system is as dysfunctional as it is has to do with the fact that we’re trying to impose a 19th century model of schools on a 21st century population, using 20th century urban socialist bureaucracies to administer that model. There is little innovation, low public buy-in, miniscule political engagement and almost nonexistent incentive.
What’s needed is a shakeup. Not in personnel – Taylor’s replacement will come from another Dance Of The Lemons writ at the superintendent level – but in structure. Blow open the governing model, blow open the system and create an educational marketplace.
It won’t happen anytime soon, because there are too many livelihoods invested in the current model and change will disrupt those livelihoods. But it needs to happen eventually; as currently constituted Baton Rouge’s public schools are only going to get worse.