Neither Lafayette Parish School Board members nor the community should be too surprised by the initiatives in Pat Cooper’s proposed district turnaround plan.
After all, the new superintendent of schools has pitched them before, during his interviews for the job.
Five board members liked what they heard and selected Cooper for the post.
The same board members also supported Cooper’s turnaround plan in an April 18 vote.
So, should jaws drop at the fact that they were the only board members to do so?
Board members Tommy Angelle, Greg Awbrey and Mark Allen Babineaux voted against the plan, but supported accepting it as a report until more details — such as funding — could be provided. Board member Rae Trahan, who had voted against Cooper’s selection in December, was absent from the April 18 meeting.
The plan includes hundreds of recommendations to improve student achievement.
The major recommendations — based on Cooper’s experiences as superintendent in West Feliciana Parish and in McComb, Miss. — involve coordinated school-based mental and physical health care, an early childhood program that works with community child-care providers, random drug testing, a single alternative school or program, a teen pregnancy program, an “eighth period” after school for students who need remediation, and a schedule of four nine-week periods of instruction with a break between each period to address students who are failing.
“I’m not against change,” Angelle said at the April 18 meeting.
“I realize that if you don’t change, you’ll die on the vine. I understand that. The thing that concerns me is that we make the change in a fiscally prudent way. That’s all. Let’s see where the money’s going to go.”
Opposing board members criticized the plan because it did not include cost or funding recommendations.
Proposed initiatives in the plan include estimated cost and suggested funding sources; however, no total breakdown of a 2012-13 cost impact was presented.
A plan of priorities has to precede the budget process, Cooper told the board at the April 18 meeting.
“We will give you this plan in a balanced budget,” he told board members.
The board begins budget planning for its general fund, which makes up the majority of the district’s funding, on May 15.
The board reviewed proposed budgets for capital projects and other non-general fund accounts on April 17.
During the meeting, Awbrey and Babineaux questioned a proposed change on $4.5 million that the board previously earmarked for renovations to Thibodaux Career and Technical High School.
The money was a start on funding for specialized labs and workshop space needed at the school.
The turnaround plan proposes changing the mission of the high school from career and technical education to a school with a specialized curriculum in science, technology, engineering and math.
It’s not clear at this point what type of renovations, under the proposed new mission, would be needed at the school.
Cooper, meanwhile, wants to use the $4.5 million, plus another $3 million, for turnaround projects across the district.
The board will have several more opportunities to address the issue: at the May 15 meeting, at a number of other budget workshops, and at the final vote on the budget, after a public hearing, on June 20.
Marsha Sills covers education for The Advocate’s Acadiana bureau. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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