Garofalo defends Ed. reform vote

Aug 17th, 2012 | By | Category: Top Story

Several of St. Bernard Parish’s big issues in the 2012 Legislative Session were discussed
at State Representative Ray Garofalo’s August 14 Town Hall meeting.
Although debates on the controversial Education Reform Acts took the spotlight
for most of the meeting, Garofalo discussed pending Capital Outlay projects, BP claims, and the state budget, among other things.

Education Reform: Acts 1 & 2

Acts 1 and 2 were the highly debated and sometimes contested education reform bills. Both passed. Act 1 involved the teacher tenure process and is a “pay-for-performance” system. Teachers who are rated “highly effective” for five years within a six-year period are granted tenure, and those not award tenure will remain “at will” employees. Beginning 2013-14, a teacher rated “ineffective” immediately loses tenure.

Act 2 expands Louisiana’s current private school voucher program, which is limited to Orleans Parish, into a statewide initiative. Private school tuition would be paid from the Minimum Foundation Program, a state-approved funnel of money to local school districts that until now was distributed only to public schools. Critics have questioned the legality of using Minimum Foundation Program money to fund non-public school education and could challenge the
legislation in court.

“Right now, Louisiana has been rated 40th out of 49 states; knowing what I know about economic development, one of the biggest things businesses look at when they come here is whether or not they will have an educated work force and if they move, will their children get a good education,” Garofalo stated. “Some teachers said this legislation went too far, Ms. Voitier felt this went too far, but I felt like something had to be done.”

Many public school advocates in attendance, including Peggy Schwarz and Brenda Boleware—the two CHS educators filing a recall petition against Garofalo—argued that the legislation unfairly penalizes schools that are performing well.

Additionally, the vocal group of public school advocates and educators stated that repeated attempts to contact Garofalo before the vote were ignored.

Currently, St. Bernard Parish is in the top 10 best performing school districts in the state based on this Spring’s graduation exit exams scores. St. Bernard students were ranked first in Algebra, second in Geometry, and fifth in Biology.

“Fix the schools that are broken, don’t take money from one of the best districts and send it elsewhere,” exclaimed an audience member. “As our representative you have an obligation to take care of kids in this district first.”

Garofalo also said that he voted the way he did because an alternative plan was never presented to him, which many audience members took issue with.

“I met with Ms. Voitier three times, and an alternative plan was never presented to me… Ms. Schwarz, I asked you for alternative legislation and I never heard from you,” Garofalo said.

“It’s not my job to do research and write legislation for you, that’s your job,” Schwarz fired back.

Capital Outlay & St. Bernard Port
A seawall near at Associated Terminals near St. Bernard Port is near collapse, and Garofalo says the has requested an emergency allocation of $3.8 million to repair it. Drew Heaphy, Assistant Director of Administration at Associated Terminals said if the seawall were to collapse, 100 direct jobs would be affected.

“It’s the only section of the dock that has not been repaired in the last 15 years. The slip itself is a 100-year-old structure, and due to low river and the age of the slip, its been deteriorating at a rapid rate—that’s why we requested the emergency allocation,”
Heaphy explained.

Garofalo says the project has been moved to Priority 2 (a designation in the state capital construction budget), and he is working closely with state officials to ensure that the project continues to move forward.

“Also, if any government entity is in need of building improvements, I’m encouraging you to get on the website and start entering your projects,” Garofalo said.

The website, known as eCORTS or “Electronic Capital Outlay Requests” can be found at www.prd.doa.louisiana.gov.

“Right now St. Bernard has five projects in Capital Outlay— if we don’t put the projects in the work
will never be done.”

GCCF Oversight Committee
Garofalo was also appointed to the Gulf Coast Claims Facility Oversight Committee, which reviews problems related to claims filed against BP by both individuals and businesses, as well as the examination of the appeals process for denied claims.

In June, the Deepwater Horizon Claims Center was set up by federal courts to replace the Gulf Coast Claims Facility.

“Since the new claims process is set up by the court, it’s a much more objective process,” Garofalo explained. “If you haven’t filed a claim, or you’ve filed a claim and have been denied, I encourage you to file again through this process.”

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