Cooper implores board to urge Beasley to sign off on $500,000 of instructional materials

Lafayette school Superintendent Pat Cooper is imploring School Board members to urge board President Hunter Beasley to approve $500,000 in instructional materials that teachers need to prepare for the start of the school year.

That purchase has been stymied by budget decisions currently under review, but Cooper said further delay could affect professional development set for Aug. 5 as teachers prepare for the start of classes on Aug. 12.

Cooper, in an email Tuesday, appeals to board members to urge Beasley to sign off on the $500,000 purchase so teacher training can continue as scheduled. If an order for math, social studies, science and English language arts materials and supplies isn’t placed by Wednesday, it’s possible the teacher training may be canceled, Cooper said.

Earlier this month, the board eliminated from the 2014-15 budget about $1.8 million for textbooks and other learning materials. Board members have culled the budget, reducing expenses in an attempt to close a $23.5 million shortfall in the general fund. As part of the budget process, the board plans a July 29 meeting for department supervisors to ask the board to reconsider the cuts.

Some expenses can’t wait, Cooper said.

“We have made this need known previously but have been given instructions to wait until the budget is balanced,” Cooper wrote in the email. “We cannot wait any longer if we expect to have any chance at all of getting our teachers ready.”

Cooper tells board members that Beasley has the authority to sign requisitions that exceed $5,000, but Beasley has refused to do so in this case because he doesn’t think the board will support the expense.

“I can see his point,” Cooper said in a phone interview. “He didn’t want to sign anything that the other board members may not agree with, but he’s been given the authority to sign for requisitions above $5,000. I realize it’s $500,000, but he understands the urgency of this.”

Beasley said Tuesday that he doesn’t feel comfortable signing off on an expense that a majority of board members voted against. “There was a clear vote by the majority that said no,” he said.

Beasley asked a few principals and teachers Tuesday afternoon about whether the absence of the materials would impact the start of school.

“They told me, ‘no,’ ” Beasley said.

He said he signed off last week on several smaller purchase orders and on Tuesday for reading books and math materials, but he felt it is inappropriate to sign a requisition for purchases the board specifically rejected.

It’s not the first appeal Cooper and his staff have made for the board to approve the purchases. The request for the full $1.8 million was made during regular board meetings, as well as during the formal budget meeting process. Cooper said the district needs only $500,000 to purchase the supplies to prepare teachers and start school, and he will request the additional funding at a later date.

Assistant Superintendent Sandra Billeaudeau said the district is required to spend a portion of the per pupil funding it receives from the state on textbooks and other materials for students.

Not giving teachers access to materials aligned to new learning standards is also a disservice to teachers, who face evaluations based on students’ progress learning the materials, she said.

“We have brand-new teachers hired in our district and we don’t have materials to give them,” Billeaudeau said. “We’ve waited to the very last minute, to the very last second to do this. It is not good business practice. It is not what’s in the best interest of our teachers nor our students to wait.”

Beasley said the board hasn’t completed the budget process and has time to allocate money for instructional materials.

Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.