Over the last couple of months, I have been in constant contact with both the governor’s office and the senate in regards to the appointment of Superintendent of Education, John White. There is a general agreement that appointive positions are intended to be temporary extensions of the current administration. It isn’t uncommon for someone to be reappointed by an incoming administration; however, in White’s case, that has not been done. Some of the senate staff attorneys have differing opinions about how and when appointments should terminate. In order to resolve the matter, we have solicited the courts for clarity. On Tuesday, May 30th, a motion for declaratory judgement was filed in the 19th Judicial District of East Baton Rouge Parish. With myself listed as the primary plaintiff, fourteen other plaintiffs from across the state have joined me in asking the courts to declare the process and intent of the law. The intent is to establish a guideline for both BESE and the Louisiana Senate to take action.
If you have been following my blogs over the last couple of months, you know that an important deadline is fast approaching. In summary, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) is tasked with appointing a superintendent of education with a 2/3 majority vote. The appointment, and subsequent contract, can’t extend past the appointing authority’s term of election. Our current superintendent of education, John White, was appointed by the previous BESE board, and his appointive term ended on January 12, 2016.
As per his contract, and Louisiana law, White is permitted to continue in that capacity until BESE appoints a new superintendent. As per Revised Statute 24:14, if an appointing authority fails to appoint and submit an appointee to the senate for confirmation, the current appointee may continue to serve until the last day of the second regular session following the expiration of the appointed term. At that time, the position is considered vacant. Per the law, BESE has until June 8th to appoint and submit for confirmation, or the superintendent of education position is considered vacant.
I have made several personal pleas to BESE both via blog posts and personal communications. I have been told by several BESE members that there is no interest in addressing White’s appointment, and they believe they are within their rights to keep White on a month to month contract, indefinitely. There are a couple of misconceptions about this process that I want to clear up.
- BESE’s authority exists as a board; not any one member. The topic of White’s appointment has not been discussed in an open meeting, and one of its primary responsibilities has been neglected in an effort to derail the democratic process.
- The only discussion that needs to take place is the reappointment of White. There is no vote to get rid of him. He is already terminated. He is still here because he is waiting for a reappointment, or a replacement.
- If the position is declared vacant, and White refuses to vacate, the statute declares any action, or regular business, that he participates in, null and void.
- If the appointee wishes to challenge the vacancy, the challenge is against the appointing authority; not the senate that is simply carrying out its duty.
During the last elective term, several million dollars were spent on the BESE election, alone. The source of this money was out of state interest groups. The majority of the money was funneled through a political action committee set up by Lane Grigsby of Cajun Industries, but the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) controlled its fair share of the money. LABI representative, Brigitte Nieland, was quoted in this article published by the Advocate saying, “I’m counting on getting eight out of eight…(seats).”
The reason for these efforts to secure all 8 seats was to guarantee a 2/3 vote to keep White regardless of the outcome of the governor’s race. It also extinguishes the democratic process via the BESE board. Three of the eleven BESE seats are appointed by the governor and 8 are elected. In theory, the same people who elected the governor, elect the BESE, and a seated governor can carry out an education agenda.
Through the efforts of FlipBESE, and many other advocates across the state, the effort to secure all eight seats was blocked by one. The 8th seat was won by Kathy Edmonston. She was elected by the people, and essentially put White’s exit in motion. The problem is that the interest groups that control BESE believe that by blocking the democratic process they can continue with their plan. We believe that the courts will set the clear path, and we can begin the search for a new superintendent.