The Baton Rouge Business Report School Board Candidate Questionnaire
On Tuesday, October 9th, I received a request from Business Report Publisher Rolfe McCollister that I complete a candidate questionnaire. My responses to his questions follow. McCollister endorsed my opponent noting only that I was a Democrat and that I was "no fan of charters."
Name: Tania Nyman
Address: P.O. Box 80313, Baton Rouge, LA 70898 (campaign)
Education: High School: Benjamin Franklin High School, New Orleans, LA
BA English Literature, University of New Orleans, New Orleans, LA.
MFA Creative Writing, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA
Education: Other: None
Public Office/Public Service: None
Instructor, Department of English, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA, 1999-2010.
Adjunct Lecturer, Department of Literature, American University, Washington, DC, 1998-99.
Creative Writing Instructor, Youth Slam League, Washington, DC, 1998-99.
Teaching Assistant, Department of English, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA, 1997-98.
Creative Writing Instructor, DC WritersCorps, Washington, DC, 1995-1997.
*The opinions I express are my own and are not necessarily shared by any organization listed.
Committee Member, Dialogue on Race Action Committee, 2016 to present
Vice President, One Community One School District, Summer 2012 to March 2018
Board Member, Southside Civic Association, Fall 2013 to Fall 2016
Organizer, Beyond Bricks, 2014-2015
Organizer, Better Together, Fall 2013 to Spring 2014
Main issues you are campaigning on:
Protect the local democratic control of our public schools: In order to fulfill our responsibility to provide all children regardless of race, socioeconomic background, or ability with a quality education, we must be able to elect meaningful representation to a local board that oversees a unified public school system. Our ability to do so has been significantly eroded if not essentially eliminated by laws and policies enacted at the state level. We must protect our public schools from the harmful effects of these laws while we simultaneously advocate for the repeal or amendment of the laws in question.
Advocate for Local Control of Taxpayer Dollars: The Louisiana state charter school law has effectively eliminated local taxpayers’ oversight of tax dollars. In order to fully address this erosion of local control, there must be changes at the state level. At the local level, we must oppose attempts to further divert our tax dollars to private companies and advocate for changes to our Planning and Zoning policies.
Protect Teaching as a Profession: We must protect the teaching profession. The privatization movement devalues teaching as a profession. High-stakes standardized tests, mandated curriculum, burdensome reporting requirements, unfunded mandates redirecting funds from essential resources, and low pay are undermining the profession and our students suffer as a result.
What are the EBR district’s top three needs right now?
For the past three years, the East Baton Rouge Parish School System has faced considerable deficits. These deficits are not due to any inefficiencies in the local system. Rather the primary causes can be attributed to state policy. State policy makers have failed to increase funding for traditional public schools for the past 10 years while requiring local school systems to adopt “reforms” that entail significant expense. Certainly the stagnant state funding and unfunded mandates have contributed to the budget shortfalls. However, the primary source of the deficits can be attributed to the Louisiana charter school law which has effectively allowed for the unchecked proliferation of charter schools in East Baton Rouge parish and diverts funding out of the traditional public school system and into national and multinational corporations. According to a recent article in the Advocate, EBRPSS is expected to lose $113 million to charter schools this year alone. This diversion of funds is unsustainable and will destabilize the traditional public school system and eliminate the very premise of public education itself.
School systems across the state and nation are facing a teacher shortage, but EBRPSS is getting hit harder than others by this shortage. This, too, can largely be attributed to policies enacted at the state-level and related to “reform” efforts that target majority-minority districts for privatization. The stagnant funding has prohibited any increase in teacher salaries. Salaries in EBRPSS have not kept pace with those in surrounding parishes. Equally significant are the effects of education “reforms” which are undermining teaching as a profession. Too much emphasis on high-stakes standardized testing and mandated curriculum inhibit teachers’ autonomy in the classroom. And since the Louisiana charter school law does not require charter schools to hire certified teachers, adhere to a salary schedule, or participate in the Teachers Retirement System, the attractiveness of teaching as a profession has been further diminished. Fewer people are entering the field.
Restoration of Local Control:
Currently if a charter school is denied a charter application by our local board, the charter school officials are allowed to apply for a charter from the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE). Too often BESE overrides the decision of the local school board and approves the application. The laws allowing this must be changed. Our local elected representatives cannot plan wisely for the future if BESE is continually creating uncertainty in enrollment projections and budget allocations.
List up to three questions that you would ask a candidate for district superintendent:
1. The Baton Rouge Area Chamber and other charter school proponents advocate for a “decentralized governance structure” which is the antithesis of a unified traditional public school system governed by a democratically-elected board. Which governance structure do you support and why?
2. The Baton Rouge Chamber and other charter school proponents have been lobbying for EBRPSS to adopt a common enrollment system, known as OneAPP in New Orleans. Proponents claim it will streamline the admission process for parents and “increase choice.” Opponents argue that a common enrollment system does not “increase choice,” but is designed to divert funding from the traditional public school system to guarantee charter operators a reliable revenue stream by assigning them students—and their related per pupil allocation—regardless of whether parents chose the charter school for their children. Would you require EBRPSS to adopt a common enrollment system?
3. The Baton Rouge Area Chamber and other charter proponents have advocated for the creation of a “portfolio office.” Few details have been provided, but it appears the office would be governed by an unelected official who would oversee all charter schools in East Baton Rouge Parish, essentially creating a separate system governed by an unelected board. This model appears reminiscent of the “separate and (un)equal” governance structure which thrived before the Civil Rights era and the passage of the Voting Rights Act. Do you support the creation of a portfolio office? Why or why not?
What is your view and position on charter schools and their future in EBR?
The charter school concept was a beautiful idea that has been hijacked by financial interests. The original vision of charter schools was ideal: parents and teachers would collaborate in order to design curriculum that would more effectively meet the needs of students. And if it worked, they’d take the new approach back to the administration and the school system could implement it in other schools.
But that’s not what we have now and even the charter schools which are trying to fulfill that original ideal vision are threatened by the state laws and policies that privilege the national and multinational corporate charter chains.
If you are unfamiliar with the current charter model, here’s a quick explanation for how it works. The school is designated as a non-profit, but it is required by law to hire a charter management organization. More often than not, the charter management organization is for-profit, and it often has affiliated companies which it enters into confidential business agreements with. These business agreements are not subject to public oversight as they would be if they were with a non-profit or a public institution.
The most insidious aspect of these corporate charter chains is their dismantling of voting rights. They do this by diverting the power of our elected board to that of the non-profit board, whose members are appointed not elected and who serve at the pleasure of the for-profit charter management organizations.
This diversion of power allows the corporate charter chains to then divert our tax dollars out of our community and to national and multinational corporations. Real estate agreements—capital lease agreements, specifically—are one of the most troubling ways this is happening.
We must change current laws in order to protect our voting rights and taxpayer oversight of public dollars. The final decision on charter school applications must remain with the local school board. If we are able to restore local control, then we must prohibit or severely limit the creation of new charter schools.
In recent years, statements calling for a moratorium on the creation of new charter schools have been issued by the National Education Association (NEA), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and Black Lives Matter. If the laws at the state level can be changed to give our local school board final authority, then we should place a moratorium on the creation of all new charter schools. Otherwise, we should at least severely limit the approval of new applications.
Do you support Teach for America being involved in the district?
The majority of those who work with Teach for America do so with the best of intentions. Unfortunately, the organization has contributed to the de-professionalization of teaching and fails to provide the most vulnerable students with a stable, qualified teaching force. The school system should steadily eliminate its reliance on Teach for America members and seek to employ certified teachers who intend to remain in the profession.
What are the outputs that matter most to you?
The output that matters most to me is protecting the premise of public education so that we can ultimately fulfill our responsibility to provide all children regardless of race, socioeconomic background, or ability with a quality education. That education should be free, appropriate to a child’s needs, and allow a child to fulfill his or her potential.
In order to fulfill that responsibility, we must have the democratic—small d, democratic—control of our schools. We must be able to elect meaningful representation to a local board that oversees a unified public school system.
Regardless of our political affiliation, we should all be alarmed that the local control—our ability to elect meaningful representation—has been significantly eroded if not essentially eliminated by laws and policies enacted at the state level. The legislature and BESE have severely limited local control, so voters have little to no power to influence education programs or to exercise oversight of tax dollars.
If we don’t start taking action, we are going to lose not only our public schools. We are going to lose our ability to have any say in the design of a public school system. And I would say even worse, we are going to lose our democracy. We are going to have the illusion of participating in a democratic process, but the results are going to be effectively meaningless.
We must protect the local democratic control of our schools and the premise of public education. Only then can we fulfill our responsibility to provide all children with a quality education.
You represent a specific part of the city. How will you balance the needs of your specific constituents with the needs of the overall school district?
There are a myriad of benefits of a unified public school system, particularly one as large as EBRPSS. If we were not under the threat of privatization, we would be able to draw upon the economies of scale created by the size of our district to meet the needs of every child in this parish—neighborhood schools with wrap-around services tailored to the needs of the immediate community; special services for students with disabilities; schools of choice to provide a variety of learning environments as well as racial and socioeconomic diversity. If the system were not being systematically dismantled, I wholeheartedly believe we could do it all. That’s the beauty of a unified public school system to me. When a community fully embraces its responsibility to provide a quality education to all children regardless of race, socioeconomic background, or ability, the needs of specific constituents are not at odds with the needs of the overall district. They are intertwined. The role of school board members is not understood to be adversarial. They are instead collaborators, depending upon one another to explain the needs of their specific constituents so that the board can decide together how best to design a system that meets the needs of every child.
I realize that this may sound hopelessly naive and idealistic to some, but I also know it’s the only way we can retain and ultimately fulfill our responsibility to provide all children with a quality education. It’s why I choose to put my faith in my community rather than in corporations. I hope others will as well.