Board must decide on leadership

Decisions on who will lead the Lafayette Parish School Board in the coming year and whether to contract with a provider of services for students who have severe behavioral problems are a few of the first votes the board will make in 2013.

Board President Shelton Cobb and Vice President Hunter Beasley both said they plan to put their names on the ballot to retain their leadership roles this year.

At its 5:30 p.m. meeting Wednesday, the board plans to elect officers and to consider a proposed contract with AMIKids, a not-for-profit company that could begin offer interventional programs for troubled students as early as Jan. 14 if the board approval.

Cobb and Beasley may be unopposed, although board member Rae Trahan said she may consider a run for vice president, pending the nominations and selection of board presidency.

“At this point, that’s all up in the air,” she said. “As of now, only the vice president spot I would consider.”

The past year brought major changes to the Lafayette Parish School System with the advent of new leadership in superintendent Pat Cooper.

Some of Cooper’s proposed changes have been met with a divided 5-4 vote that created a majority block of Cobb, Beasley, Mark Cockerham, Kermit Bouillion and Tehmi Chassion and a minority block of Trahan, Greg Awbrey, Mark Allen Babineaux and Tommy Angelle.

In 2013, Cockerham said he’d like to see more support of the superintendent’s recommendations.

“He’s doing great work in the community,” Cockerham said.

“He’s helping restore confidence from the community and that’s been a concern of mine.”

The board will continue to provide oversight in 2013 on business started last year, including future implementation of the district’s turnaround plan and its integration with a facilities improvement plan.

Public support will be needed to turn the plans into reality, and the board will need to make a decision on whether a tax proposal should go to voters, Cobb said.

Major issues facing the board in 2013 include addressing facilities needs and the district’s deficient technology infrastructure, Beasley said.

The board did find consensus on selling $30 million in bonds to fund major school construction and repairs at six schools.

The agreement and focus on improving school facilities was one of the board’s major accomplishments in 2012, both Cobb and Trahan said.

“That we’ve come together and realized where the need is is a good thing, as well,” Trahan said.

Awbrey said he’d like to see more planning involved prior to any proposed changes. A lack of planning on some changes created issues for students and teachers, he said, citing as examples the elimination of one alternative program before the opening of its replacement and major changes to the school system’s discipline policy.

“I would like us to be more proactive in planning changes before we just execute them,” Awbrey said.

“I think we jumped into changes without laying foundation and I think its created some problems.”

The board enters 2013 facing unresolved issues related to recent court decisions on new state education reforms that took effect in the current school year, Babineaux said.

wThe court rulings affected a state voucher program, teacher tenure laws and the authority of the School Board in some personnel decisions. State officials have advised districts to adhere to current policies until clarifications on the rulings are provided.

“We’re going to let the dust settle before we decide where to go. We need clarification from the state and courts,” Babineaux said.