Jebney Lewis’ latest sculpture is a series of contiguous steel plates. But it’s also a map of the New Orleans ward system and a musical instrument that gives off an eerie, theremin-like hum.
The sculpture is part of a project called Songs of Home Songs of Change, created in collaboration with the composer Rick Snow and the writer Christopher Staudinger. For the project, the group asked area high school students to record sounds that remind them of home or that tell the story of the changing city. Using electronic transducers, the recordings are played through the ward-shaped plates to create resonant tones.
“They’re ordinary sounds, in some ways, or sounds that we’re familiar with, but these young people have a different way of looking at them,” Lewis says. “They’re pretty abstract when you play them through the plates, but they’re recognizable enough to be kind of evocative.”
A common refrain among some lawmakers in Baton Rouge these days is that we should “look forward” and stop blaming former Gov. Bobby Jindal for Louisiana’s unprecedented fiscal crisis. If those lawmakers were to read the latest annual report by the Legislative Auditor, they’d change their tune.
According to the auditor, the Jindal Administration failed to timely file the vast majority of statutorily required reports on more than $1 billion a year in tax incentive giveaways for fiscal years 2013 and 2014.
“We found that three of the six agencies that administer tax incentives submitted reports as of March 23, 2015. As a result, the Legislature only received information on five of the 79 tax incentives administered by these agencies,” the auditor’s report states on page 17.
“In addition, of the 79 tax incentive reports agencies were required to submit to the Legislature by March 1, 2014, 70 (89%) either were not submitted or did not comply with all of the reporting requirements. According to the Department of Revenue’s Tax Exemption Budgets, the revenue loss from tax incentives claimed in fiscal years 2013 and 2014 for which agencies provided no information or did not comply with reporting requirements totaled approximately $1.1 billion and $1.3 billion, respectively.”
You read that correctly: $1.1 billion for fiscal year 2013 and $1.3 billion for fiscal year 2014.
There’s our budget deficit right there, folks.
LSU President F. King Alexander made some bold statements recently about the impact on higher education of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s proposed budget. Alexander’s warnings are so dire some might call them shrill, which is exactly what Jindal and his few remaining supporters would like everyone to believe. Unfortunately, King is not overreacting. The numbers and the political realities back him up.
Alexander told reporters in several media markets this past week that Jindal’s answer to the state’s looming $1.6 billion budget shortfall contains reductions for LSU that are “so large we’d have to furlough everybody for the entire year.”
Alexander and several members of the Jindal-appointed LSU Board of Supervisors recently met with the governor to discuss the situation, to no apparent avail. Instead, several of the supervisors expressed vague confidence that somehow Jindal and lawmakers would find a way to muddle through. King responded that, yes, there’s always “divine intervention.”
Meanwhile, the earthly realities don’t bode well for higher ed. Here’s why:
Jindal’s proposed budget would reduce state funding to every public college and university in Louisiana by more than 80 percent — on top of the draconian cuts he has implemented over the past seven years. That’s not a misprint. The governor proposes to slash the current pathetic level of direct state support for higher ed by more than 80 percent. Those numbers don’t come from Alexander; they come from the Legislative Fiscal Office, which is nonpartisan.
Four years ago, the Jefferson Parish Public School System was in shambles. The previous school board had run up a $30 million deficit, nearly two-thirds of parish public schools were rated “D” or “F,” and the system overall scored a “D” — making it one of the worst in the state.
Today, some of Jefferson’s public schools rank among the best in the state. The $30 million deficit became a surplus large enough to give teachers a pay raise, Jefferson schools overall scored a “B” in the latest rankings, and the system is on track to become a national model for educational turnarounds.
It started with Jefferson Parish voters’ decision in 2010 to elect five reform-minded school board members — barely enough for a majority of the nine-member board. In 2011, the new board hired Jim Meza as schools superintendent — and let him do his job without political interference. Those decisions changed the landscape.
When the new board took office in 2011, fewer than 5,700 Jefferson Parish public school students attended schools rated “A” or “B.” Today, more than 22,400 students attend “A” or “B” schools in Jefferson — more than in any other parish in Louisiana.
Improvement on the lower end of the scale has been equally dramatic. In 2011, more than 32,000 students in Jefferson attended “D” or “F” rated schools. Today, fewer than 9,000 attend such schools. That’s still too many, but the trend is very positive.
Other statistics from the recent statewide rankings tell a similar story:
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