School board looks to improve struggling schools while balancing budget

Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- J.W. Faulk Elementary School Tuesday in Lafayette. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- J.W. Faulk Elementary School Tuesday in Lafayette.

$18 million shortfall to be considered

When the Lafayette Parish School Board meets Thursday to decide how to balance an $18 million shortfall, it will also face new budget requests for nearly $1 million to help boost student achievement at the district’s lowest-performing schools.

The board meets at 6:30 p.m. Thursday to vote on proposed cuts and potential funding streams, such as its reserve fund and sales tax revenues, to close its shortfall and balance the budget.

At least $270,000 has been requested from the general fund as part of an academic plan for J.W. Faulk Elementary School, the district’s lowest-performing school. Faulk is the district’s only school rated an F by the state based on accountability standards.

The money would pay for personnel: six more teachers to lower class sizes to 15 students per classroom, a second assistant principal, an instructional strategist, a parent liaison and a full-time nurse.

Another request for $650,000 has been requested as a back-up plan to fund at least 10 instructional strategist positions to serve the district’s 10 D-rated schools should the board decide to eliminate funding for all instructional strategists in the district.

Last school year, 37 instructional strategists worked in the district’s schools to help support classroom teachers in developing student lessons. One of the decisions before the board Thursday is whether to cut the $2.8 million that pays for those 37 positions.

“We want to continue all of them, but for sure we don’t want to lose them in those D and F schools,” Cooper said.

The district’s 10 D-rated schools are Acadian Middle, Alice Boucher Elementary, Carencro Middle, Carencro Heights Elementary, Carencro High, Lafayette Middle, S.J. Montgomery Elementary, Northside High, Evangeline Elementary and Live Oak Elementary.

In the past few years, the district has proposed reconstitution plans at two of its low-performing schools: Northside High and Acadian Middle. The plans involved the principals picking their own staff and Northside High received a campus makeover.

Cooper said he wants to see the similar updates at Faulk; however, there are no plans to reconstitute the school. Faulk faced leadership turnover this school year and a search is on for a new principal.

“The whole plan for Faulk is $1.8 million — that includes personnel and renovations,” Cooper said.

Faulk has been on the state’s list of academically unacceptable schools based on scores from the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years.

Cooper said Tuesday it could take two years to improve performance scores from an F to a D at the school.

As it makes the transition to new learning standards and tests, the state plans to relax some accountability measures, which could offer the school a grace period for improvement, Cooper said.

“We think with the right people and the things we’re doing that either this year or next year, Faulk could move out of the F status,” Cooper said.

Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.