In The News › In B.R., lobbying a family affair

In B.R., lobbying a family affair

Top Landrieu aide, son will press cases

Saturday, February 26, 2011
By Michelle Krupa and Cindy Change
The Times-Picayune

Andy Kopplin, Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s chief administrative officer, probably won’t be the only member of his family pressing a case in Baton Rouge this spring.

While the mayor’s right-hand man likely will trek up Interstate 10 to lobby the Legislature on city matters, his son, Baton Rouge Magnet High School senior Zack Kopplin, plans to push for the repeal of the Louisiana Science Education Act, a 2008 law that governs how local school systems can introduce supplemental materials into science lessons on topics such as evolutionary biology, global warming and cloning.

State Sen. Karen Carter Peterson of New Orleans has said she will sponsor the repeal legislation.

Though the act doesn’t mention creationism or “intelligent design,” wrangling since the bill’s introduction has revolved around those topics. Livingston Parish School Board members have cited the law in their push to mandate that creationism be part of the science curriculum.

In testimony in December before the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education committee considering adoption of new high school biology textbooks, the younger Kopplin went up against leaders of the Louisiana Family Forum, who argued that the proposed texts were too accepting of the theory of evolution.

Kopplin, one of several advocates, testified that up-to-date biology texts are crucial to preparing Louisiana students to compete in a global economy.

While there are plenty of jobs for biologists, he said, “there are zero creationist jobs. Zero.”

The panel recommended adoption of the texts.

Asked about his son’s political initiative, Kopplin called his eldest child “smart, courageous and relentless.”

“Every 17-year-old, you know, they are quite independent thinkers,” he said. “I’m extraordinarily proud of him. He’s a strong-willed young man, and I’m proud of him.”

The elder Kopplin also has served as chief of staff to two Louisiana governors and as executive director of the Louisiana Recovery Authority. As for whether father and son might cross paths in the halls of the Capitol this spring, “I suspect you’ll see him there,” Andy Kopplin said.

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BASED ON TRUE EVENTS: Since arriving in New Orleans a year before Hurricane Katrina, Andre Perry has donned many hats.

He is an academic and a CEO, teaching at the University of New Orleans’ education school while managing its network of charter schools. Raised in Pittsburgh by an adoptive mother after his father died in a jailhouse murder, Perry, who is African-American, sees himself as a bridge between the white-dominated school reform movement and the majority-black city.

The unique character composite makes Perry easy to recognize as Dr. Isaac Boyd, the protagonist of Perry’s new book, “The Garden Path: The Miseducation of a City,” a roman a clef that tracks the post-Katrina remaking of the New Orleans public school landscape.

Much of the book is devoted to two fictional students, Loren and Katura, who wage a battle for their classmates’ votes, in an echo of the black comedy “Election,” starring Reese Witherspoon and Matthew Broderick.

“If there is a theme, I think it’s that education is supposed to help the community,” Perry said. “It’s not to increase test scores. The ultimate aim is to make us safe, to make us secure, to give individuals the ability to self-determine. I’m hoping this book will change the conversation in a way that redirects our goals to helping the community.”

“The Garden Path” will be officially released on Sunday at a live taping of WWNO-FM’s “The Reading Life,” hosted by Susan Larson. The program, at NOCCA, begins at 5:30 p.m. and is open to the public, with copies of the book available for purchase.

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MORE HELP WANTED: The Landrieu administration last week put out a request for a contractor to produce a short video that chronicles “the city’s recovery in progress.”

This week, a new ad went up soliciting a firm to “organize, promote, and facilitate community meetings and neighborhood summits,” as well as to “communicate with the public through traditional media, social media and grass roots activities.”

Both deals are slated to be financed by the mayor’s communications department, a six-person office with a $1 million 2011 budget that includes about $460,000 for nonpersonnel expenses.

In bird-dogging Landrieu’s 2011 budget proposal, the Bureau of Governmental Research pointed out that the three-person Public Information Office in Jefferson Parish, which has nearly 90,000 more residents than New Orleans, was allotted just $200,000 this year, with no money earmarked for outsourcing.

Researchers also pointed out that the amount Landrieu budgeted for communications in 2011 is “roughly triple the average actual communications expenditures in the four years prior to Katrina.” The group said “significant belt-tightening, rather than expansion, is the appropriate response in this area.”

Nevertheless, proposals are due March 11 from firms that want to plan at least 20 community meetings and to handle outreach on topics “including but not limited to volunteer opportunities, public health information, emergency preparedness and others,” according to the request.

The winner is slated to be chosen March 16. The one-year contract includes an option of five one-year extensions, the ad states.

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