LAFAYETTE — The Lafayette Parish School Board may soon decide how much weight — if any — the district’s facilities master plan bears on future school, spending with some board members and the superintendent saying it should be a guide and not a mandate.
In the past few months, some board members have questioned why recently proposed projects, such as renovations of the N.P. Moss Annex site, are taking precedence over priority projects identified in the district’s master plan, which was adopted by the board in 2010 but not funded.
The master plan issue arose most recently during the board’s Tuesday meeting after board member Mark Allen Babineaux questioned why a campus-by-campus survey of principals’ facility to-do list was being gathered. The district has a master plan that outlines those needs, he said.
“What is the purpose of doing all this again?” Babineaux said during the meeting.
Superintendent Pat Cooper told Babineaux that the fact-gathering for the facilities master plan “was done some time ago” and the survey will be used to identify projects that could help principals boost their school performance scores.
Under Cooper’s district turnaround plan, those principals who do not boost their school’s state accountability label by one letter grade lose their principal’s post. The facilities master plan differs from Cooper’s turnaround plan in that Cooper’s plan includes improvements in academics and facilities.
Cooper then asked the board for direction related to the facilities master plan.
“I would like some clarity from the board because I thought that the master plan was not a viable document anymore,” Cooper said.
The superintendent said it was his understanding that the facilities master plan “was something we would pay attention to but the plan would not be one we’d follow strictly — because it’s not still a viable plan.”
The master plan outlined $1.1 billion in facility needs school-by-school and recommended that some schools, including Lafayette and Northside High schools, be rebuilt, based on the amount of money it would cost to renovate and repair them.
The document was prepared by CSRS Inc. of Baton Rouge and was compiled with community input, as well, at a cost of $900,000. Last year, 69 percent of voters rejected a property tax bond proposal to fund $561 million in the first phase of the plan.
Even though the plan was not funded, it was adopted by the board, Babineaux said.
Board member Hunter Beasley said he would like the board to make a decision at a future meeting on how or whether it will use the master plan in making facility decisions.
The board’s next regular meeting is July 11.
Babineaux said the plan takes the politics out of decision-making and offers a sense of “neutrality” when considering the needs of one school over another.
“I think the value of the master plan was that the priorities were set in a neutral way,” Babineaux said. “What school doesn’t say, ‘my school needs this more now.’ ’’
Board President Shelton Cobb said the board is not under any obligation to follow an unfunded plan.
On Thursday, Cooper said the facilities master plan is being used more as a “guide” since it provides a detailed list of facilities needs, but he said also does not think the district should be “bound” by it.
Cooper said items in the facilities master plan are being reviewed to determine how improvements may be done more economically. He referenced the nearly $2 million in renovations ongoing at Northside High, including new flooring, paint, light fixtures, exterior aesthetic changes and overhauls of the restrooms and widened hallways.
For another $3 million to $4 million, Cooper said, Northside could be “perfectly viable.”
“If we can do it at Northside, we can do it at Lafayette High School, too,” Cooper said, adding that some schools may still need to be rebuilt but could be overhauled for less than the estimated costs in the facilities master plan.