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No one requests 'red tape' waiver under new law

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Posted: Dec 20, 2010 2:05 PM
Source: Associated Press

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Topics: baton, rouge, school, district, red, tape, reduction, filing, wbrz, louisiana

BATON ROUGE - No school districts have filed requests for relief under Gov. Bobby Jindal's plan to let districts get waivers from what they consider burdensome restrictions.

Jindal called the measure the "Red Tape Reduction Act." It was signed into law in June. At the time, supporters said the change would answer years of complaints from public school leaders about meddlesome rules.

But nearly six months later, no requests to use the law have been lodged with the Department of Education, said Chris Meyer, special adviser to state Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek.

The law gives local officials the option to seek four-year waivers from various state laws and rules, such as the size of classrooms, instructional time and curriculum.

"We have met with a group of superintendents and we have discussed ways that we could make this process as easy and inviting to them as possible," Meyer said.

He said state education officials will make a push in January to solicit waiver requests.

Superintendents said districts have opted not to seek relief mostly because the law itself carries too much red tape.

Among other hurdles, districts have to win the support of half of the teachers affected - a late addition to the legislation to help placate critics - before they seek relief.

Ascension Parish School District Superintendent Patrice Pujol said rules that school leaders might want to get changed or suspended, such as tenure issues and retirement costs, would generate little enthusiasm from teachers.

In addition, school districts have to get the support of local school boards before they seek a waiver, which would be decided by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

John Sartin, president of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, said he does not expect many school districts to apply for waivers because of what they have to go through.

"That is just not something that school districts are interested in," said Sartin, who is superintendent of public schools in Caldwell Parish.

Jindal noted that the requirement for teacher support was not part of his proposal, and he said the law may need tweaking if that requirement is blocking its use. He also said he is confident school districts will seek waivers, especially amid state budget problems.

Brigitte Nieland, with the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, said the lack of waiver requests raises questions about just how burdensome school laws are for local officials.

"If everyone agrees it is a problem, it shouldn't be difficult to get everyone to sign off on requesting a waiver," Nieland said.

The law is the target of a lawsuit by the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, one of the state's two largest teacher unions, arguing the law is unconstitutional because it cedes legislative authority to a state panel.

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