Week in Review: Fired New Beginnings ‘whistleblower’ asks board to rehire him

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Marta Jewson/The Lens

Runell King pleads with the charter board of New Beginnings Schools Foundation to investigate his allegations of grade inflation at a board meeting March 28, 2019.

Fired New Beginnings ‘whistleblower’ asks board to rehire him

A former New Beginnings Schools Foundation employee who raised a red flag on what he said are suspicious grade changes at John F. Kennedy High School asked for his job back at a special meeting of the charter school network’s governing board Thursday night.

Runell King hired employment lawyer Dorothy Tarver this week. As the board moved into a closed-door executive session to discuss misconduct allegations regarding the grade changes, Tarver spoke up on his behalf.

“We are here today to ask the board to consider putting Dr. King on suspension with leave, as opposed to termination without leave,” she said to board members in the school library.

As King later waited in the hallway with reporters and his lawyer during the board’s 30-minute executive session Tarver told The Lens she’s hopeful.

“I think after the investigations are over there will be no allegations against Dr. King,” she said. “He had the courage to come forward because he loves the school system.”

Moreno initiates process to overhaul how the City Council regulates Entergy

The New Orleans City Council has relied almost exclusively on outside consultants to regulate Entergy New Orleans for over 30 years. And it is those consultants that have largely decided what direction the city takes on a wide number of energy-related issues: How much can Entergy charge customers? How should the city generate or source electricity? How should the city prepare for hurricanes and deal with Entergy’s frequent outages?

But Councilwoman Helena Moreno — who chairs the council’s utility committee, which regulates Entergy — told The Lens she wants to break that structure. Specifically, she wants to expand the council’s in-house staff and expertise in order to become less reliant on contractors.

As The Lens recently reported, some of the utility contractors have held onto their lucrative contracts for more three decades. And three former council members said that political patronage has played a role.

Nathaniel Rich on ‘Losing Earth,’ climate change and the shifting political argument

In August 2018, The New York Times Magazine devoted an entire issue to a single story: “Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change.” The 30,000-word piece—by Nathaniel Rich, a writer-at-large for the magazine and the author of three novels — focused on the political machinations and the people involved in early efforts to battle climate change.

Rich’s approach, almost novelistic in feel, came in for some criticism from environmental activists, many of who found it lacking in immediate urgency and blame. The tale is, however, a compelling look at a particular moment in time, when some sort of real solution to the problem seemed not only possible, but inevitable.

Read our Q&A with Rich.

Behind The Lens episode 27: ‘Violently, ugly, viciously, for money’

This week on Behind The Lens, a former employee of the New Beginnings Schools Foundation who raised a red flag on what he said are suspicious grade changes at John F. Kennedy High School asked for his job back this week.

He and his attorney made that request Thursday night at a special meeting of the charter school network’s governing board. Lens education reporter Marta Jewson was there.

Also, former Lens staffer Bob Marshall wrote The Lens’ 2014 examination of coastal land loss, “Losing Ground” and the follow-up “Louisana’s Moon Shot,” on the Coastal Master Plan, award-winning collaborations with Propublica. Bob, a longtime Times-Picayune reporter before he came to The Lens, now writes an environmental column for NOLA.com.

He joined us by phone this week to talk about coastal erosion, warning that part of the problem is evident in the language we use to discuss it.

Kennedy High School voided 144 state exams last year, after giving wrong test

Last spring, 144 U.S. History exams at John F. Kennedy High School were voided after students were given the wrong version of the test, a state education department spokeswoman confirmed.

According to a recently issued state report on testing irregularities, the 144 voided tests at the Gentilly high school account for about one-fifth of all such problems statewide.

Students took the proper exam after the New Beginnings Schools Foundation — the charter network that runs Kennedy — reported the problem, according to Louisiana Department of Education spokeswoman Sydni Dunn.

It doesn’t appear the issue is related to the allegations of grade inflation the school and district are currently investigating at the 690-student high school, formerly known as Lake Area New Tech Early College High School. The network placed its CEO on paid leave last week pending the results of an independent investigation. The New Beginnings governing board has called a special meeting on Thursday to discuss “allegations of misconduct,” according to a board agenda.

In an email, New Beginnings’ attorney Michelle Craig said the network couldn’t comment on the voided exams. However, she added, “The Board will add this to the ongoing investigation.”

Opinion: Misconduct by prosecutors is rampant — how do we deter it?

Mike Fawer weighs in on the criminal justice system and how he would fix it: “I have been involved in the criminal justice system for almost 60 years, initially as a federal prosecutor, but for the greater portion of my career as a criminal defense attorney in both federal and state courts. I am no longer shocked by the frequency of blatant prosecutorial misconduct, but I am sorely troubled that such conduct invariably goes unpunished, even when it’s the basis for reversals of convictions.

Judges seldom if ever refer such conduct to the appropriate professional disciplinary authority – not that it would do much good if they did – nor do district attorneys or U.S. attorneys ever see fit to publicly discipline an offending prosecutor.

In effect, prosecutors are almost totally immune to punishment for their wrongdoing. That’s what needs to change.”

Opinion OPSB owes America—and our kids—smarter stewardship of school buildings

Lona Edwards Hankins weighs in on the district’s plan to divert facility money to academics: “I have been a public school parent for the last 21 years and for the last 11 of those years I managed the team of professionals and construction contractors who rebuilt our public school buildings for the Recovery School District (RSD).

OPSB has roughly three years of sales-tax data that they say puts the School Preservation Fund in surplus. But we cannot confirm whether the adequate revenue stream is a long-term trend or just another blip; it is foolhardy to make decisions based on data this incomplete.

I don’t dispute the need for more operating funds, but that should not be at the expense of facilities. The quality of a school building contributes to teaching and learning. Children need a building free of toxins such as lead and asbestos. Teachers should not have to yell over noisy air-conditioning systems.  A child should not be absent from school due to an asthma attack triggered by poor indoor air quality resulting from faulty building systems.  And, of course, deferred maintenance almost always leads to more costly repairs later on.”

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