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Keep Technical School Reforms, PAR Says

A proposed constitutional amendment co-authored by 15 Senators aims to undo a major 1998 reform that created the combined Louisiana Community and Technical College System. This reform created a new board to manage seven community colleges and the 42-campus technical college, which was formerly under the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE). The Senate proposal (SB 192 and SB 287) would create a separate system for the technical schools under a new Board of Supervisors of Technical Colleges.

The history of the vocational-technical schools is rife with mismanagement. For nearly three decades the schools were under BESE, whose members took a very personal interest in the operation of the schools in their districts. The schools also looked to their area legislators for protection. Directors were politically selected, and legislators often intervened to protect “their” schools and programs, regardless of the justification. Over the years, a number of legislators or members of their families were vo-tech school employees.

For decades, the schools, which once numbered 52 campuses, operated under a very loose system of controls. At times the schools had separate budget appropriations and functioned with a great deal of independence and little accountability. Even after the schools were renamed as campuses of the Louisiana Technical College under BESE, an adequate management system never fully emerged. The new Louisiana Community and Technical College System is only five years old, but it has begun to provide centralized management of the technical schools with equitable formula-based funding.

The ostensible argument for the proposed separate system of technical schools is to better relate the vo-tech school programs to the needs of the employers in their communities. It might also be argued, although unfairly, that the schools are treated as a step-child in a system with the more academically oriented two-year colleges. However, the real motivation behind the proposal may be the loss of control over the schools that rural and small town legislators have experienced. The direct impact on the local economy of the schools as employers is often considered as important as their training function. Because there is no local buy-in, the state-funded schools can serve as cash cows for their communities.

The name of the proposed new Board of Supervisors of Technical Colleges is particularly telling. Whereas the technical schools are now campuses of one over-arching college, the proposed system apparently contemplates a number of colleges. In addition, the companion legislation was careful to give the proposed board authority regarding intercollegiate athletics.

A House bill (HB 414) proposes returning the technical schools to BESE, a system that proved unmanageable but allowed more input from individual legislators. Three other bills by the same author represent the type of legislative micro-management that is contemplated. These bills would set criteria for technical school teachers; require a seniority-based, statewide bumping system for down-sized teachers; and exempt certain students from taking remedial classes.

The creation of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System was a significant improvement in the management structure for the technical schools. The system should make it much easier to achieve articulation between the community and technical college programs. The system promises a data-based accountability system that never existed before.

Creating yet another education management board would reverse the progress that has been made thus far. It would further fragment post-secondary education efforts and create a costly duplication of administration. Potentially, the proposed system would revert to the traditional, good-old-boy politics, with the technical schools becoming the personal fiefdoms of individual legislators.

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