Judge meets with parish officials
Supporters of Pointe Coupee Central High School in Morganza expressed outrage Thursday over a proposal to close the school this summer and send its students to Livonia High School.
Residents voiced their opposition at the Russell B. Long Federal Courthouse in Baton Rouge after Pointe Coupee Parish school system officials met with state officials and U.S. District Judge James J. Brady about the school’s future.
The state-run Recovery School District filed motions in federal court March 14 asking Brady to return control of Pointe Coupee Central High and St. Helena Central Middle School to their respective parish school boards.
The RSD’s motions call for both schools to be closed following this school year.
Pointe Coupee Central High’s students would be absorbed into the higher-performing Livonia High School, and St. Helena Central Middle’s students would be split between St. Helena Central Elementary and St. Helena Central High schools.
Both Pointe Coupee and St. Helena’s school systems remain under federal court supervision because they have not fully complied with desegregation orders stemming from federal lawsuits filed decades ago. Brady oversees both cases.
The RSD had to ask the court for permission to take over the academically failing Pointe Coupee Central High and St. Helena Central Middle in 2008 and 2009, respectively.
Brady held a private status conference Thursday with school officials from Pointe Coupee, St. Helena and the RSD.
The judge did not yet approve the RSD’s motions because attorneys for all parties want to clean up some language in the transfer agreements, RSD Superintendent Patrick Dobard said Thursday.
“We’re going to continue to do that and present something back to the judge very shortly,” Dobard said. “We then have an expectation that he will sign off on the orders.”
While St. Helena Parish Superintendent Kelli Joseph lauded the proposal as a boon for her parish, the Pointe Coupee Central High supporters met the proposition with animosity.
A crowd of about 30 people from Pointe Coupee gathered in the hallway near Brady’s chambers to await the judge’s decision. The crowd had hoped Brady would agree to keep the school open.
When Nelson Taylor, the attorney for the plaintiffs in Pointe Coupee’s desegregation case, delivered the news, the crowd gasped in anger.
Taylor said Brady worried about the integrity of the Pointe Coupee Central High facility.
Brady wants the School Board to place temporary buildings on Livonia High’s campus to handle the influx of new students, or even build a new high school, Taylor said.
The residents are concerned about the smaller size of Livonia High School and the school’s location at the south end of the parish, said the Rev. Carl Terrance, pastor of Greater St. Peter Baptist Church in New Roads.
“We never had a problem with consolidation” of the two schools, Terrance said. “But what are you going to do with this building over there (in Morganza)?”
Terrance said Brady is catering to the white population in Pointe Coupee Parish that is refusing to relocate its children to Pointe Coupee Central High.
“They’re afraid of white flight? Let’s see what black flight looks like,” Terrance said.
Both Pointe Coupee Parish Superintendent Linda D’Amico and School Board President Frank Aguillard said they would not comment on the proceedings until they see the judge’s written ruling.
“We’re meeting next week and we have an item on the agenda dealing with this, so we’ll be discussing it at that time,” Aguillard said.
After the RSD’s takeover, Pointe Coupee Central High opened as a charter school in the summer 2008 under the management of Advance Baton Rouge, a nonprofit organization.
At the time, 549 students attended the school. But after one year under Advance Baton Rouge’s operation, the school’s standardized test scores and enrollment plummeted, and reports of disorderedly student conduct and several administrative changes emerged.
Things never improved after the RSD assumed operational control in fall 2012.
The RSD, in its court filings, says Livonia High offers a more effective educational opportunity than Pointe Coupee Central High.
Within the past five years, Livonia High has raised its school performance grade from a D to a C, court records show.
In 2013, Pointe Coupee Central High received an F from the state.
In St. Helena Parish, the School Board has agreed to hire a third-party consulting organization approved by the RSD to help turn around its schools’ poor academic performances.
The parish’s elementary and high schools must reach at least a D on their school performance grades by fall 2016 or face state takeover once again for the 2017-18 school year.
Data from the Louisiana Department of Education show St. Helena Central Middle’s performance hasn’t changed much since the state took it over in 2009.
In its first year under state control in 2009-10, the middle school earned a 55.2 school performance score, or an F. The school never scored above an F since the takeover.
Advocate staff writer Terry L. Jones contributed to this report.