When it comes to public facilities, it seems like the standard in Louisiana is “almost anything will do.” Drab and drabber, anything will do.
Yet in the new era of competition in public education, Lafayette Parish leaders are showing an understanding of what real estate agents call curb appeal.
Painters, custodians and others spent the summer preparing school buildings for what one principal called “an entire climate change.” Floors and hallways and restrooms — “200 percent better,” said Paul Breaux Middle School’s principal — have been given a makeover.
Sure, it’s not the giant facilities improvement such as that down the road in Baton Rouge: The iconic facade of Baton Rouge High was preserved, and a shining new facility was built within it. It was expensive but preservation of the historic structure was worth it.
Yet if such a new facility is good for morale at an elite magnet school, the Lafayette fix-up is much lower-tech but can improve the appearance of schools dramatically.
New superintendent Pat Cooper in his first school year on the Lafayette job pushed custodial staff to work later in the day — initially at 11 schools — so more work would not disrupt students’ class time. The district also hired a consultant to help train custodians on new cleaning equipment and techniques.
While summer school cleaning typically involved cleaning floors and other routine preparations, painting was not always a priority before classes started, principals said Monday.
We would argue that much basic maintenance is neglected in many public facilities, and it shows to the customers.
Not all schools were painted in time for the start of classes, Cooper said, but they will be painted this school year. “All of them are getting the clean-up treatment throughout the school,” he said.
This is the only sensible response to an environment in which state leaders are pushing an era of “choice” in education. That means that traditional public schools cannot rest on the assumption that their customers — schoolchildren and their parents — have nowhere else to go.
A coat of paint can’t solve deep-rooted problems, of course. But it’s an outward and visible sign of seriousness of purpose.