Ethics board: Kira Orange Jones can stay on BESE, run TFA


State school board member Kira Orange Jones will continue to serve after the Louisiana Board of Ethics ruled this morning that there’s no conflict of interest with her working as executive director of a nonprofit that contracts with the board.

Jones runs the Greater New Orleans office of Teach For America, which frequently enters into contracts with the state Education Department, and which is overseen by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Jones was elected to that board late last year.

Board of Ethics attorney Tracy Barker concluded in a draft advisory opinion that because Jones directs Teach for America and sits on the state education board, she would be essentially approving contracts in which her organization has a vested interest, which breaches state ethics laws. She also concluded that an exception the board ruled on in that case did not apply.

That exception states that there is no conflict of interest in a case where a person can prove that their salary is not directly affected by the contract, that the person owns less than a controlling interest in the company, and the person is not a director, officer, trustee, or partner in the company.

Because Jones is a director in Teach for America, Barker argued, that exception wouldn’t apply.

But James Babst, Jones’ attorney, pointed out that there are several people ahead of Jones in the chain of command.

“This is how TFA works. It is a New York based nonprofit…Jones is the head of (the Greater New Orleans) office. She is not an officer, or a director of the corporation, she is more along the lines of a branch manager,” Babst said.

Jones herself stressed the vast scope of Teach For America, and said that her decisions with the organization are not autonomous.

“I have a direct manager that I meet with every week,” she said.

Addressing the financial issue, Babst said that Jones’ salary “is not in any way dependent on the contracts that TFA gets.”

Barker agreed that Jones’ salary would not be affected. But she again emphasized that Jones was ”the effective head over that particular office, the office that will be doing the work for this particular contract.”

Despite Barker’s arguments, board members in the end sided with Babst, approving a motion to draft and adopt an advisory opinion saying Jones fits the exception, based on the facts she presented to the board.

Perhaps the most vocal Ethics Board member was vice chairman Scott Schneider, who saw Teach For America’s vast scope as proof that Jones would be considered a director, but only on the lowest level.

“The facts that to me scream loudest is that this is a large national corporation,” he said.

He said earlier that in assessing these issues, the board looks at the title of a person within a company, but most importantly, they look at their function. “If all these things are stemming from her title, then….this seems silly.”

After the board’s ruling, Jones received congratulations from several state school board members and staff who had accompanied her to the hearing, most notably BESE President Penny Dastugue, who came to testify on Jones’ behalf.


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About Jessica Williams

Jessica Williams stays on top of the city's loosely organized collection of public schools, with a special emphasis on charter schools. In 2011 she was recognized by the Press Club of New Orleans for her reporting on charter school transparency and governance. In 2012, she was part of a team that received a National Edward R. Murrow Award for their work following a New Orleans family's recovery after Hurricane Katrina. She graduated from Edna Karr Secondary School in Algiers, and she obtained her bachelor’s degree in journalism from Loyola University New Orleans. She can be reached at (504) 575-8191.

  • Ray Nichols

    There are some serious questions regarding the TFA approach.

    It does seem, however, that Louisiana is committed to it:

    “TFA supporters disagree. “It’s an incredibly good investment,” said John White, a TFA alumnus who now runs the education department in Louisiana.”

    My criticism since sharing a building with KIPP Believe in the 2006/07 school year mimics Huffman’s.

    “Huffman, now the education commissioner in Tennessee, recalls that he worked ferociously, 60 and more hours a week, to boost his students’ test scores. That was possible for a driven 22-year-old who knew he would only be teaching a few years. It would be much harder, he acknowledged, for a mid-career teacher with a family.

    Still, Huffman remains convinced the lessons he learned at TFA can transform public education, if he can just figure out how to scale them. It is, he said, “a heck of a challenge.”

  • Ashana

    This is JUST SAD!!!!! I feel so sorry for the children of New Orleans and all of Louisiana.

  • Janet

    Apparently ethics in Lousiana are relative – relative to whatever serves Jindal’s agenda.