Lafayette groups lay out priorities for public schools

Report released just before School Board elections

Local business and civic groups issued a report Thursday urging the Lafayette Parish School Board to focus on priorities in three key areas: school governance, facilities and key tenets of the district’s turnaround plan, known as 100 Percent In, 100 Percent Out.

“For years, our kids have been marginalized,” said Patrick Williams, of 100 Black Men of Lafayette. “We’d like to see that changed by closing the achievement gap.”

The release of the report, called “Common Vision for Our Future,” comes two months before qualifying for the fall School Board elections.

“The School Board elections presented an opportunity to rally around a common vision,” said Jason El Koubi, president of the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce. “As a community, we have an opportunity to translate this vision into progress.”

The list of 12 priorities calls for a plan, developed with the superintendent, to gauge the district’s progress and asks for School Board support of student-focused initiatives, such as investments in school wellness programs, technology and early childhood education.

Long- and short-term plans to address the district’s aging facilities are also on the priorities list. Efforts in 2011 to pass a bond measure to fund a major overhaul of schools across the district failed. Opponents of the tax plan pointed the finger at the School Board for not managing its existing funds. Board members blamed themselves, citing public mistrust.

Talks last year of another attempt at a tax initiative were shot down by the School Board. Last week, the district’s chief financial officer, Billy Guidry, told board members that some new tax needs to be seriously considered because the district’s budget shortfall is expected to grow larger over the next few years.

Strong partnerships among the School Board, superintendent and broader community are also needed to build public trust and support for the school system’s needs, the report said.

The community priorities intentionally focused on major needs in the school system, rather than smaller, divisive issues, Margaret Trahan, executive director of the United Way of Acadiana, told a crowd of about 80 gathered Thursday at the LITE Center for the announcement.

A stop to board micromanagement and a focus on the district’s goals topped the priority list.

It’s been a rocky year for relations between Superintendent Pat Cooper and some members of the School Board. An attorney-led investigation into board member complaints about Cooper is now underway. What those complaints are remain a mystery; however, the board and Cooper have argued over several personnel decisions in the past year.

The report also calls for professional development opportunities for board members and an annual data-driven review of the district’s performance.

“We want the School Board to understand that they have a resource in these organizations,” Williams said. “Educating our kids is a community effort.”

Each organization plans to take steps to build community support for the initiatives, said Erin Marietta, of Parents Empowered, a districtwide parent organization.

The priorities were developed after roundtable discussions in March organized by a majority of the members of the Lafayette Parish Public Education Stakeholders Council, including: the705 young leaders group, 100 Black Men of Greater Lafayette, Acadiana Center for the Arts, Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, Greater Southwest Louisiana Black Chamber, Parents Empowered, Pugh Family Foundation, State of Greater Black Lafayette, United Way of Acadiana, and Upper Lafayette Economic Development Foundation.

El Koubi said he hopes that list grows. Those interested in joining the coalition and showing support of the plan can do so online at: commonvisionlafayette.org.

Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.