by bobby ardoin
Special to The Advocate
September 27, 2012
OPELOUSAS — The five candidates for St. Landry Parish superintendent explained to School Board members Tuesday how they would address the district’s financial and academic woes and fielded questions about vocational education and parental involvement, among other topics.
The School Board is scheduled to choose a superintendent at a Sept. 26 special meeting.
The candidates are Child Welfare and Attendance Supervisor Edward Brown, Port Barre High School Principal William Duplechain; Interim Superintendent Joseph Cassimere; Lafourche Parish Supervisor of Special Education Charles Michel and Stephensville High School Principal Daniel Rawls.
The school system’s problems are well-documented.
The district was assigned an overall score of “D” in district performance scores released by the Louisiana Department of Education in 2011-12. The district performance score is made up of test scores, attendance rates and dropout rates.
St. Landry also ended the 2011-12 fiscal year with a $1.4 million operating fund deficit. The board in June approved layoffs and is working with a financial consultant hired by the state to cut costs and improve efficiency.
And since November, the district also has seen the resignation of Superintendent Michael Nassif and the appointment of two acting superintendents, including Cassimere.
Cassimere said the district’s financial problems could be monitored by strict budgetary control. “Each department is given a budget and they are expected to stay within that budget,” he said.
Since becoming interim superintendent in March, Cassimere said he meets with the district’s financial director twice a day.
Brown said one solution to the financial crisis is to stop students from leaving the district’s schools.
Over the past few years, Brown said, 838 students have left St. Landry for charter schools, private or parochial schools or home schooling.
“That’s $4 million in state funding that is going other places. If you change the perception, they will come back,” Brown said.
Michel said all of the state’s public school systems are facing financial problems.
In St. Landry, Michel said he will look at the budget carefully, deciding if the money that is being spent is “going in the right places.”
Rawls, who has been a superintendent in Pointe Coupee and DeSoto parishes, said monitoring the hiring of personnel is the key to staying out of debt.
“The best way of doing that is not rehiring. Don’t get yourself into position to where you have to lay off people,” Rawls said.
Duplechain did not offer any specifics about solving finances, but he said the district needs to ensure there is enough parental involvement, especially in schools that have failing scores.
Michel and Brown expressed similar thoughts about parental involvement.
Cassimere and Rawls said the success of the school system lies with the parents and principals, who must hold teachers more accountable for student success and have a plan to improve learning.