Louisiana news briefs
Lawmakers blast Jindal’s $4M efficiency study
BATON ROUGE (AP) — It doesn’t make sense for the state to pay a consulting firm $4.2 million to find ways to save money, lawmakers said Wednesday, heavily criticizing the contracting decision by Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration.
Jindal’s Division of Administration hired Alvarez & Marsal to spend four months combing through state government, looking for efficiencies. The firm’s report is due in mid-April.
“Even the best PowerPoint presentation isn’t going to cut government. We’re going to have to cut government,” said Rep. Tim Burns, R-Mandeville, chairman of the House and Governmental Affairs Committee.
Several committee members questioned why the administration needed outside help to come up with ideas. They objected to the price of the contract. And they asked what else the governor expected to find after spending his five years in office repeatedly talking about a long list of efficiencies his administration has enacted.
Ruth Johnson, overseeing the contract for the Division of Administration, said the consulting firm is expected to find ways the state can save $500 million to $1 billion annually. She said Alvarez & Marsal can provide new insight and has extensive experience working with state and local government agencies on similar projects around the nation.
Orleans prisoner, let
go by mistake, back in jail
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — An Orleans Parish Prison inmate who was mistakenly released a month ago is behind bars again.
Dwayne Jefferson was arrested Dec. 8 on a charge of possession with intent to distribute marijuana and was let out of jail after a court hearing three days later because of a “clerical error.”
Philip Stelly, an Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office spokesman said Jefferson had been arrested Oct. 28 on the same charge and later bonded out of jail. After his December court hearing, a release document that should have been attached to his October arrest was instead applied to his December arrest.
The mistake was discovered this week and Jefferson was found and brought back to prison.
White says technology improving at La. schools
BATON ROUGE (AP) — Nearly all of Louisiana’s public school districts have the capability to administer online tests, while about two-thirds reach the minimum student-to-computer ratio sought by the state, Superintendent of Education John White said Wednesday.
White outlined to the House and Senate education committees how Louisiana’s school systems were faring in upgrading to the computer networks needed for testing tied to the new Common Core educational standards.
Of Louisiana’s 69 school districts, 58 have the Internet capacity to run online tests, according to the education department data. White said 47 districts have the desired ratio of seven students to every one computer, up from only two school systems two years ago.
The superintendent touted the improvements, saying districts have made significant strides in recent years. He estimated it would take from $6 million to $20 million to get all districts upgraded to a basic standard of technology.
That doesn’t include ongoing maintenance costs and network fees, however.
Concerns about school technology have gained heightened attention with the state’s ongoing shift to the Common Core standards, a tougher set of grade-level benchmarks adopted by most states for what students should learn in English, reading and math.
The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education agreed in 2010 to use the standards in Louisiana, and they are being phased into public school classrooms and testing.
School boards and superintendents have said they need more funding to help with upgrading technology to coordinate with the use of the toughened teaching standards and the accompanying computerized tests.
2 arrested, accused
of trafficking girl for sex
BATON ROUGE (AP) — After seeing men visiting a hotel room at all hours of the day, employees at a Baton Rouge motel alerted police to the suspicious activities, setting in motion an investigation that led to the arrest of two people on child sex-trafficking.
Cpl. L’Jean McKneely says 21-year-old Taniya Smith and 28-year-old Dominick Sims are accused of prostituting a 16-year-old girl using the website Backpage.com.
The arrests were the latest in a surge of arrests related to child sex-trafficking in Baton Rouge and the surrounding areas in recent months, with other cases involving girls ages 12 and 14.
Sims is being held in lieu of a $115,000 bond while Smith is being held in lieu of a $117,000 bond.
It was unclear whether the women have attorneys.
Nicholls State makes progress in accreditation
THIBODAUX (AP) — Nicholls State University is continuing to make internal changes on issues raised in a warning from its accrediting agency in June.
The warning issued by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission concerned the institution’s number of faculty and education success. Nicholls has until April 15 to submit its paperwork.
Rene Hicks, Nicholls executive director of planning and institutional effectiveness, said the reason the school was put on warning was because it did not demonstrate that adequate full-time faculty were driving specific programs.
Since receiving the warning, several changes were made including revamping their reporting and review process.
Now, the university has implemented a new system that will help improve its learning outcome reporting, which addresses education success.
Task force wants tax hike for Terrebonne teacher raises
HOUMA (AP) — A task force recommends Terrebonne Parish schools should start an improvement program with increasing the pay of teachers and other school personnel through a higher sales tax.
The starting teacher salary in Terrebonne is $37,909, which ranks in the bottom third in the state.
The task force wants to change that with an election for a higher sales tax, but not before December to allow enough time to educate the public about the need for higher pay, challenges the school system faces and the effect on student performance.
In July, the school board and the Houma-Terrebonne Chamber of Commerce agreed to create the task force to map out the needs and related financing for the schools after a 31-mill property tax was soundly defeated.