Cooper urges panel on turnaround plan

The Lafayette Parish school system needs a new “road map” that considers the educational needs outlined in the district’s turnaround plan as it charts future school improvements, Superintendent Pat Cooper said Monday.

Cooper told the district’s community education plan committee that much of the district’s facilities master plan completed in 2010 must be altered “simply to do what we want to do” in terms of education programs.

The master plan outlined $1.1 billion in needed repairs and construction projects. In October 2011, voters rejected a property tax proposal to fund $561 million for an initial phase of priority projects.

Cooper said there are “good things” in the facilities master plan, but it was not designed with the district’s educational programs in mind. “We can’t rely on that to be our road map,” he said.

The facilities master plan set ideal grade configurations and enrollment capacity: elementary schools with preschool through fifth grade, 750 students; middle schools with grades six through eight, 850 students; and high schools with grades nine through 12, 1,500 students.

The document also was based on no major increase in parish population and no rezoning.

Cooper said he has not found research that supports the grade configurations adopted in the plan.

“We’ve got 2,400 in Lafayette High School. … To get it down to 1,500, we’ve got to rezone,” Cooper said. “There’s no way to do this without rezoning. … The turnaround plan — it’s all research-based and says this is what we need to have and construct the buildings around that.”

The committee also will make funding recommendations on how to pay for facility improvements and educational programs outlined in the district’s six-year turnaround plan.

Cooper pitched two tax proposals in January as potential solutions for the committee to consider: a 10-year, 15-mill property tax to pay for educational programs and a temporary one-cent sales tax for up to six years for facility improvements.

The panel will make its recommendations to the School Board by June.

District Facilities and Planning Director Kyle Bordelon told the group that the master plan does not consider new programs, such as health and wellness initiatives, a component of the turnaround plan.

“That was not addressed in here because we weren’t talking about that at the time,” Bordelon said.

Principals identified a list of campus projects last year, which totaled about $3.4 million, that the district is working on with existing funds, Bordelon said.

However, a list of major facility needs compiled this year from principals totals $325 million and “we do not have funding for that list. ...,” Bordelon said.

As part of its contract, the consulting firm that developed the plan, CSRS Inc. of Baton Rouge, could still receive a program management fee if a bond issue passes for facility improvements, Cooper said.

The superintendent and his staff will meet with CSRS next week to discuss the contract since the proposed bond issue designed to fund the first phase of the facilities master plan failed, he said.