It was like a tale of two cities Thursday night for Lafayette Parish School System.
|LPSB member Mark Allen Babineaux|
At the LITE Center a group of about 80 civic and business leaders gathered to unveil a report called “Common Vision for Our Future,” which lays out 12 priorities for the superintendent and school board, including a renewed focus on the school system’s 100% In/100% Out turnaround plan, early childhood education, school wellness programs and student-based initiatives.
Across the highway, however, inside the school system offices, a much different story played out as Superintendent Pat Cooper and the school board attempted to hammer out a budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
The school system is faced with a budget deficit of more than $18 million (with about $70 million in its reserve fund). Despite Cooper's suggestion that the board dip into its rainy day fund to keep the turnaround plan alive, the board voted 6-3 against the idea.
Since Cooper took over as superintendent in 2012, some board members have been setting up roadblocks wherever possible to undermine the success of the turnaround plan.
But perhaps the most flagrant attack on the turnaround plan came with a set of suggested budget cuts recently submitted to the school system from board member Mark Allen Babineaux. (Read more on Babineaux's resistance here.)
“We need to take a ‘picture’ of what we were doing before the ‘turnaround’ plan was initiated, take count of how many people were doing what and at what cost and use that as a benchmark to start any cuts or reduction in force,” writes Babineaux in his letter dated May 30.
So Babineaux wants to gut the turnaround plan and revert to a status quo that existed before Cooper’s arrival, when the school system was C-rated.
His suggested cutbacks include doing away with the health and wellness program (a key component of the turnaround plan), the community relations department, the mental health department, new textbooks for getting the school system in line with the new Common Core curriculum, and a complete dissolution of the alternative program at N.P. Moss.
In response to Babineaux’s suggestions, Cooper — who starts out by noting that some of Babineaux's suggestions would violate state and federal laws — writes:
I would ask the question of motivation to Mr. Babineaux. Is it quality education or some other reason for suggesting that we break state and federal law by not providing an alternative site thereby making life more difficult for teachers by sending the troubled students back into the regular classrooms to disrupt instruction?
Do you really want to cut out a very successful Community Relations Department that has done more to give transparency to the system than any other single thing?
Do you really want no textbooks and materials to carry us into common core?
Too many of our children are sick, mentally, emotionally, physically, and you want to cut out what is some of their only access to health care? We have had several suicide attempts and many threats, and you do not want us to provide for our children’s mental health needs even though experts agree that is the most troubling problem for our youth?
As I stated in the beginning, some board members thoughtfully approached the task at hand, but these requests from Mr. Babineaux are absurd. I sincerely hope that we can keep personal animosity out of deciding what our children, teachers, and employees need and deserve.
We reached out to Babineaux hoping for an explanation (actually we wanted to know if he was serious or if his letter was some kind of sick joke), but Babineaux called our question “petty” and hung up the phone.
So we're left to wonder: Just what is Mark Allen Babineaux smoking?
The Lafayette superintendent insists the budget is illegal and vows to fight on.
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