Board of Elementary and Secondary Education member Kira Orange Jones, who represents New Orleans, may need to give up her state board post, according to a draft advisory opinion released this week by the Louisiana Ethics Board.
The proposed opinion, which the ethics board will consider in July, says Jones isn’t allowed to work as local director of Teach for America and serve as a state board member. That’s because the state education board approved a near $1 million contract with Teach For America last year – and they’re likely to approve a similar one this fall.
Teach For America, a teacher recruitment pool that pulls recent college graduates to work in public school classrooms, has been a staple in New Orleans education in the years after Hurricane Katrina. The Louisiana Department of Education contracts with the organization each year to train and place hundreds of teachers in public schools, and the department must get the education board’s approval before entering into these contracts.
Jones’ board seat would enable her to approve a contract her organization has a vested interest in, which isn’t in line with state ethics laws, the opinion says. Essentially, the opinion means that Jones must choose if she wants to avoid conflict—her livelihood, or her volunteer state board position.
But Jones’ counsel, Jim Babst, said that’s not the way he sees the law. His office requested the opinion in February, to make sure Jones wasn’t breaking any rules. He says that Jones should be able to simply abstain from voting on the contract, and that should take care of the issues raised.
“It probably wouldn’t come up again until the fall, and as we read the law, she gets to recuse herself at that time,” Babst said.
Babst said as much in his request to the ethics board, and added that although Jones would abstain, she could legally participate in the discussion and debate of a Teach For America contract, provided she makes her alliance with the organization part of the public record.
Still, the proposed opinion says Jones can’t receive compensation from Teach for America while serving on the state board. The ethics board was set to consider the draft proposal on Friday, June 15, but Jones requested that it be moved to the board’s July 20 meeting, because she is out of town this week, Babst said.