“They’re throwing this stuff out there because it sounds good, but they really don’t know what’s happening in our school system,” says school board member Greg Awbrey about the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce. The District 6 representative is at a firing range, guns blazing in the background, and his voice rises the deeper he goes into the issue of school board reform.
School performance in Lafayette, as The Independent Weekly has reported, has been a bur under the saddle of several current and former members of the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, who are chafed by the system’s measurable inability to reach its own goals. Perhaps those goals were too ambitious, but a deal is a deal, according to chamber members, who in 2001 agreed to support a half-cent sales tax to increase Lafayette teacher pay in exchange for the school system setting performance goals.
Now eight years later, the chamber wants to cash in its chips. Armed with two recent performance assessments by former chamber Chairman Greg Davis and advancing with a column of reform advocates like the Public Affairs Research Council, the Council for a Better Louisiana and state school Superintendent Paul Pastorek, the chamber is calling on the Lafayette Parish School Board to reform itself. The chamber is asking the board to reduce its pay to $200 per month and leave personnel decisions (hiring/firing) to the superintendent, among other requests.
Chamber President Rob Guidry believes the local school system simply is not keeping up. “The system is out of date,” Guidry asserts. “We dress differently today than we did 40 years ago. We travel differently than we travelled 40 years ago. We communicate differently than we did 40 years ago. Yet, our school system operates in basically the same fashion as it did 40 years ago.”
Awbrey is having none of it. “They stated on the radio — I was listening, I was furious — they’re saying that our school system is not progressive and has not progressed in 50 years,” Aubrey says, indignant. “In the last eight years we’ve added the academies; we have an academy of science in middle school, we have a medical academy, we have an engineering academy. Just last year we added a degree program where high school students can go to the community college as freshmen and gain an associate’s degree and a high school diploma at the same time. That’s not progressive enough for the chamber apparently.”
In fact, most of Awbrey’s fellow board members have openly and publicly rejected calls for reform, and the movement to reform how school boards operate is already misfiring in the Legislature’s spring session: Two of four reform bills were cut down last week — one (term limits) rejected in committee, the other (strengthen nepotism laws) voluntarily pulled by its author. The two remaining bills — one to cap board member per diems at $200 per month and the other to remove school boards from hiring and firing decisions — were considered before the session began to be the hardest to pass.
“You ask the chamber, ‘What do you expect to accomplish by reducing board member pay?’ They won’t answer the question. Ask them,” Awbrey insists.
Lafayette school Superintendent Burnell Lemoine is likewise opposed to the idea, also pointing to initiatives such as academies and the parish’s preschool program as proof of innovation by the school system. “You take Shreveport, New Orleans, you take Monroe and Baton Rouge, how many of the schools have now been taken over by the state?” Lemoine asks. “We don’t have those. Do we have one that’s a possibility? That’s true. We do have one. We certainly are addressing the issue.”
Lemoine is referring to Alice Boucher Elementary, Lafayette’s lowest-performing school. In 2001 when the deal between LPSS and the chamber was struck, Boucher’s performance score was 43. In the document “Lafayette Parish Public School System and Workforce Literacy Performance Measurement Model” — presented to the chamber by the school system following a rigorous peer-review process that same year — LPSS’ goal for Boucher was to have a performance score of 100 in 2008. The actual score was 56.70. In fact, only two Lafayette Parish elementary schools — Green T. Lindon and Ernest Gallet — exceeded the performance goals set by LPSS. Fourteen schools, however, improved over the seven-year span, according to Davis’ assessment; six schools showed declines (five of those six are predominately white schools). However, none, save for Lindon and Gallet, met the 2008 performance goal set by LPSS. That lack of progress is what prompted the chamber’s call for school board reform.
“In the same way that this school board adopted term limits for themselves, why can’t they adopt any other issue for themselves? I think they can,” says current chamber Chairman Kam Movassaghi. “When we look at our position with regard to other school systems in the state we don’t fare well, at least for a community like our community, we don’t fare well. We think there’s nothing wrong with setting those goals and trying to achieve those goals.”
The performance goal document generated in 2001 was indeed ambitious: “... for all schools to achieve at least Academically Above Average according to the state accountability guidelines” it reads on Page 8. School system leaders say Lafayette Parish was improving until 2005 when hurricanes Katrina and Rita caused major disruptions to many Louisiana parishes, Lafayette included. “With the hurricane and redistribution of students and in some cases the elimination of some schools and some school systems,” says Louise Chargois, LPSS’ director of curriculum and instruction, “a lot of districts went down and started to recover from that beginning in the 2006-2007 school year.”
“The chamber is not quarrelling with the school system’s administrative leadership,” says Guidry, “but it continues to question and challenge the mode under which the school board operates. The system has talented, dedicated people. However, the system hampers their innovation and their ability to take risks.”
It’s as if the school system and the chamber exist in alternate universes, and all indicators suggest the school board has no intention of moving into orbit with the chamber.
“If I’m going to be held responsible for the condition of the schools and the employees who work in them and the superintendent we have running our schools, then I need to have the authority to make changes,” Awbrey insists.
Movassaghi, meanwhile, is philosophical. “If the entire package fails this year,” he says of the reform bills the Legislature is considering, “I don’t think the entire issue is going to go away in coming years. This is a good-government issue, and I think if we don’t succeed this year, there’s always the next year, and I think this is not going to go away.”
MAY 22 This post was written the day after the second line shooting in NOLA, by Brentin Mock. Mock is a friend of Deb "Big Red" Cotton, a blogger who was shot in the back and was seriously injured. It is a raw, emotional piece of writing, something the writer obviously felt he needed to get off his chest. But it raises questions that can't be easily dismissed, and might give some insight into where the source of these events truly is.
MAY 22 In this Baton Rouge Business Report post, Rolfe McCollister considers the privatization of bus service in Baton Rouge. After decades of under-funding, it is a mess, and although a tax (partially) passed last year, improvement hasn't happened yet. McCollister apparently feels it is time to let private business get in on the transit business.
MAY 22 This post on Bayou Buzz by Jeff Crouere urges the defeat of a bill that would grant modest pay increases over the next several years to the state's judges and clerks of court. The state is in no position to fund pay hikes, Crouere argues, with the pay increases costing a total of $9 million over several years. It sends the wrong message to the (proverbial) hard-working people of Louisiana, he says.
MAY 22 The Advocate reports here that State Treasurer John Kennedy is complaining about a meeting of the corporation that oversees the state's tobacco settlement. The Governor wanted it restructured, and he has some support, but not a lot. The corporation agreed with his plan, but Kennedy didn't, and it appears that the meeting was noticed in a manner completely different than that of all previous meetings. Kennedy's given to hyperbole, but in this case the fish don't smell too fresh.
MAY 22 In this Advocate story, Carencro Police Chief Carlos Stout says the recent federal indictment of a strip club owner is all wrong. The indictment alleges that drugs and prostitution went on with impunity because club staff made arrangements with "local" police. Stout says it never happened, and while his cops do work security in the parking lot, they're not allowed inside.
MAY 22 This amusing post in DIG Baton Rouge recounts an ad that ran on Craig's List recently; the advertiser was seeking tenants for a Beauregard Town house. He knew his market, and wrote an ad that the most ironical hipster couldn't resist. Apparently, he really did know his market, because the ad worked like a charm.
MAY 22 In this post in The Lens, Mark Moseley comments on the rhetoric Gov. Jindal employed in trying to save his tax "reform" package. One interesting point concerns Jindal's use of his brother, Nikesh, in a little story. Nikesh left Louisiana because of his inability to get a decent job, the story goes, but the story won't hold water: Nikesh lives in DC, which has an income tax level comparable to Louisiana, Moseley says. If income taxes caused the dismal situation, it should exist in DC too. Right?
MAY 22 This post by columnist John Maginnis traces the trajectory of the bill that would fund construction at community and technical colleges -- and bypass the Board of Regents and traditional higher ed funding mechanisms. Sure, it will bust the legislature's self-imposed debt limit, but some leges feel that there's more need (because there is more growth) in the community and technical college area than in the university area, he says.
David Calhoun and Elizabeth “EB” Brooks are the first two employees of Lafayette Central Park Inc., the nonprofit charged with turning Lafayette Consolidated Government’s 100-acre Johnston Street Horse Farm property into a passive public park. Calhoun was named executive director, and Brooks is director of planning and design.
There will soon be a whole lot of shakin’ going on at Benny’s Sportshack Supplement Depot, a new concept by Opelousas native Benny Nele. Located at 2002 Johnston St., the supplement shop, smoothie bar and café, featuring hot off the press paninis and wraps, plans to open in late May.