BESE agrees to do away with some school mandates

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Louisiana's state school board agreed Wednesday to shrink the number of mandates required of local districts,

despite concerns the move would let schools eliminate counselors and librarians to cut costs.

Superintendent of Education John White

proposed changes to 150 different sections of policies governing school

systems. They

included eliminating the statewide school calendar and changing

physical education standards to allow credit for extracurricular

activities like cheerleading and participation in marching band.

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education backed the changes with no discussion, after making modest adjustments a day

earlier in a committee meeting.

As approved, schools can sidestep requirements for how many counselors and librarians they must have, raising complaints that

it will let schools do away with the jobs altogether.

White said the changes will let educators decide what they need at their schools and remove outdated regulations.

"It is time to return the education

decisions to the educators, and that's what this policy is about," White

said during Tuesday's

committee hearing on the mandate changes.

Librarians and counselors worried it could

leave their jobs at risk as cash-strapped school districts seek ways to

limit spending,

and they defended their roles to the board's instruction

committee.

"I understand you're not trying to eliminate school counselors, but I feel that this would be opening the door to do so,"

said Cathy Smith, president of the Louisiana School Counselor Association.

As originally proposed by White, the

requirements for schools to have counselors and librarians would have

been removed altogether.

The board rewrote the changes to maintain the requirement but also

saying the provision doesn't apply to schools deemed capable

of providing the same services through "alternative" means.

Board members Lottie Beebe, Jim Garvey and Carolyn Hill each objected to various parts of the school mandate rewrite.

Garvey said he was concerned about making so many changes and "saying it's OK because we have accountability and we're going

to trust people to do the right thing." He said the state needed to have more oversight.

Incoming board President Charles "Chas" Roemer said the state can't have a rule that applies to every school environment and

student. He said school districts needed flexibility.

"Any school that thinks they can do without

counselors and librarians and P.E., they will not succeed and then we

have accountability

to deal with that," said board member Connie Bradford.

Also Wednesday, BESE gave White a favorable

annual evaluation, after grading his first year on the job. The

evaluation discussion

was held for more than an hour in a closed-door session, and board

members didn't release specifics about the review.

The board also gave final approval to modest

changes to the state's method for evaluating public school teachers.

Teachers

will receive more information at the start of the year about their

student growth targets, and principals will have the ability

to make slight adjustments to scores for teachers who rank in the

middle-range of performance.