Opelousas officials pressing for school reforms

The Opelousas Board of Aldermen unanimously approved a resolution Monday asking the St. Landry Parish school district to implement “aggressive reforms” for its failing schools.

Mayor Donald Cravins Sr. said the board’s action was a “shot across the bow” to school district officials that the city is prepared to approach state officials about creating a charter system or independent municipal school district if nothing is done to improve the educational level of schools in Opelousas.

The action by the Board of Aldermen came less than two weeks after the School Board voted to close Creswell Elementary by May 24.

Creswell has received academically unacceptable scores on state standardized tests for the past four years, which makes the school eligible to become part of the state’s Recovery School District.

At that Feb. 7 board meeting, interim Superintendent Joseph Cassimere said RSD officials have indicated they plan to make Creswell a state-operated charter school.

In September, the board identified four more schools in Opelousas that received F scores following the 2012 state tests. Those schools include Opelousas Junior High, South Street Elementary, North Elementary and Southwest Elementary.

Cravins said the educational condition of Opelousas schools has been deteriorating for several years, but district officials have not devised an effective plan for resolving it.

“This resolution advises the school system to get its house in order. It has to be improved,” Cravins said.

Those students attending Creswell might be sent to what Cravins called “marginal or other failing schools,” if Creswell is operated by the RSD.

Cravins said he and other city officials plan to meet with representatives of the RSD later this week about the state’s takeover of Creswell.

Patrick Fontenot, an Opelousas businessman who spoke at the meeting, said the school systems in Zachary and Baker were in situations similar to Opelousas several years ago, but each city created an independent school system, and their educational systems began to flourish.

“Your job is to take care of Opelousas. Don’t be afraid,” Fontenot told the aldermen.

School Board member Charles Ross, who also spoke at the meeting, said the proposed Creswell takeover has been personally embarrassing.

“There has not been a concentrated effort (by district school officials) to turn this around as it relates to Creswell. That school is less than a stone’s throw from my home. We’re going to lose Creswell,” Ross said.

School Board member Anthony Standberry said the district’s educational system has been jeopardized by other board members who Standberry said have “other personal agendas.”

Standberry said some board members, whom he didn’t identify, are placing their “personal wants, personal needs, personal agendas and their pockets,” ahead of prudent decisions that improve education.

Cravins told the aldermen that copies of the board’s resolution will be sent to each School Board member and central office administrator.