School Board, Cooper meet to outline district goals

The Lafayette Parish School Board met Thursday with Superintendent Pat Cooper to outline the progress members want to see in the school district in the upcoming school year.

They discussed student test scores, drop-out rates, young students’ readiness for school. They also touched on district funding and the lack of it. The board, which faces a $23 million shortfall in its general fund, hasn’t decided how to close that funding gap.

This was the first meeting Cooper and the board have had to formally outline goals and objectives for the upcoming school year, though Cooper’s contract states he and the board should meet annually to lay out the board’s expectations. Cooper’s contract took effect Jan. 1, 2012, and ends Dec. 31, 2015.

Board members’ evaluation of Cooper is now underway, with individual members’ ratings of his performance due at the June 18 meeting. In Cooper’s initial evaluation last year, board members scored his performance a 4 out of 8. At that same meeting, the board hired an attorney to investigate alleged complaints against Cooper. The board’s investigation stalled and only began earlier this month. Board members have not publicly disclosed what those complaints are, despite Cooper waiving the privacy rights he’s afforded as an employee.

At the start of Thursday’s meeting, board President Hunter Beasley encouraged members to stay focused on goals for the upcoming school year.

“I know we have trouble behind us, but that’s not the purpose of this meeting,” he said.

Cooper said he views the goal-setting exercise as an opportunity to work together with the board to tackle the district’s concerns, particularly the forecasts for continued budget shortfalls.

“We’ve got some big problems here. Whatever issues we have among ourselves … we’ve got to come up with some strategies,” Cooper said.

Two years ago, the board approved a district turnaround plan created shortly after Cooper took over as superintendent. The goal of the plan, called 100 Percent In, 100 Percent Out, is to move the district to an A rating by the state. The district is now rated B.

Board member Shelton Cobb said he wants the board to continue to support the plan and to provide the necessary funding; otherwise, it would be unfair to hold Cooper accountable for performance-based objectives.

Board member Kermit Bouillion agreed: “If we keep cutting (funding) and the test scores go down, we’re going to blame the superintendent for that?”

Board members have been warned that a more than $20 million deficit is forecast for next year and that additional revenue will be needed.

Board member Greg Awbrey reminded board members that voters “crushed” a tax proposal put forward a few years ago.

Last year, a community advisory group recommended the board again consider a tax plan, such as some combination of sales and property tax increases, to help fund not only facility needs but support instructional programs. The board failed to move forward with the recommendation.

“If we don’t have any money, it’s as much our fault as anyone else,” Cobb said.

Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.