Critics Still Want John White’s Job

The following story was originally published on April 21, 2017, for subscribers to LaPolitics Weekly. Wish you would have seen it then? Sign up now!

A small handful of influential political players and legislators, including at least one chairman, are making a hard push to remove Education Superintendent John White from his position. Both sides of the building conflict point to state and constitutional laws that are somewhat open to interpretation.

White, whose political brand is rooted in championing Common Core, charter schools and vouchers, has found himself at odds with two governors in recent years. That includes former Gov. Bobby Jindal, who urged the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to hire White in January 2012 before the two men went to war over over Common Core, and sitting Gov. John Bel Edwards, who campaigned on the notion that White should be replaced.

According to several sources, a move is afoot to either have White re-confirmed by the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee (where the votes are against him) or re-appointed by BESE (where it appears he has the votes). The question is whether senators can get White into the Capitol for a ratification vote without BESE first acting.

White’s contract with BESE expired last year and he has since been serving on a month-to-month basis.

Senate President John Alario said he has his legal team looking into the question. He also said he has concerns about setting a precedent that would be based partly on politics. “I don’t like the idea of the Legislature, if we don’t like them for one reason or another, calling someone up like this,” said Alario. “He works for BESE, and if they have a problem with his job performance it should be addressed there.”

Neither option — either a BESE or Senate committee vote — offers an easy route for critics of White. BESE needs a super-majority to oust him, and that math would likely be favorable to the superintendent. The ability of lawmakers to bring him in front of the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee, meanwhile, is muddled due to differing interpretations of state law.

High-level meetings have been taking place in the Capitol to determine the best approach, as recently as this week. Even if nothing comes from this latest round of anti-White chatter, it’s a signal nonetheless that the drive for a new superintendent has not been muted — and might not go away.

Contacted for comment, White said, “I’m going to continue to serve the children of Louisiana until BESE tells me not to.”

The politics and mechanics of it all have been kept quiet in a building not known for keeping secrets; many of the lawmakers serving in key positions said in interviews that they had heard rumblings about the coup attempt, but were not directly involved.

Technically, White was hired by the previous BESE, but is allowed to continue serving in this current term “until the succeeding board has made an appointment,” according to state law. BESE members, though, have been reluctant to bring the matter to a vote, which is why some lawmakers are exploring the idea of sending a letter to the board asking it to act before the session adjourns on June 8.

“BESE is aware of the discussion, but we feel like we've acted in accordance with the Constitution and the law on it,” said Dr. Gary Jones, the BESE president.

Citing another provision of state law, others like Sen. John Milkovich, who has long railed against

White’s stance on Common Core, believe that the superintendent must be reconfirmed by the Senate before the end of this regular session or his position will be vacated — regardless of any action by BESE. “We are not attacking Mr. White personally,” Milkovich said in a statement that can be viewed in its entirety on the LaPolitics website. “However, we are concerned about his agenda, and believe it is time for a new direction.”

While that provision does specify as a deadline for Senate confirmation the second regular session of a term, it also applies to “all persons who are appointed to a position on a board, commission, committee or district.” Whether that pulls in White, who holds an executive-level position, is a legal question, but the superintendent’s supporters contend it does not.

The matter could very well end up in court, both the judicial kind and that of public opinion. White has deep-pocketed interests behind him and individuals connected to those interests, in two off-the-record interviews, said they were ready to cut checks and go to the mat.

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