The Lafayette Parish School Board voted 5-3 Wednesday night to accept phase one of Superintendent Pat Cooper’s six-year turnaround plan for the school district, an overhaul that received overwhelming public support from the stakeholders who have been working for years to tackle the issues that Cooper’s plan addresses.
Board members Hunter Beasley, Kermit Bouillion, Tehmi Chassion, Shelton Cobb and Mark Cockerham voted in favor of the plan, the first phase of which will begin next year and include, among several other key changes, later start times for schools, nine-week grading periods, a new alternative school concept at N.P. Moss Annex, a model birth to 5 early learning center at J.W. Faulk Elementary School and a teen pregnancy/parenting program to be piloted at Northside High.
Board members Tommy Angelle, Greg Awbrey and Mark Babineaux voted against Cooper’s proposal, citing a lack of details on the plan’s implementation and uncertainty on how the plan will be funded. Rae Trahan was absent.
“The educational parts, I agree with 90 percent of them,” Awbrey told KATC following the meeting. “But I can’t [vote for it] responsibly as a board member without knowing where the money is going to come from.”
The vast majority of the meeting attendees who spoke out Wednesday night wholly disagree with Awbrey’s notion, as noted by Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce Board Chairman Jerry Greig, SLCC/Acadiana Technical College Chancellor Nathalie Harder, United Way of Acadiana Executive Director Margaret Trahan, Cajundome Director Greg Davis, 100 Black Men of Greater Lafayette President Patrick Williams, Upper Lafayette Economic Development Foundation Executive Director Jan Swift, as well as other civic leaders and concerned parents who echoed support for the turnaround effort.
“It’s exactly what you would see in a private sector business,” Davis told the board. “In order for him to do a budget, he has to know what his plan is, and the school board endorses his plan as he moves forth.”
Among the most compelling comments in favor of Cooper’s plan came from Comeaux High School teacher Cherie Beshears, who reminded board members that many teachers in the district are on board with bold changes.
“I’ve listened to Dr. Cooper discuss his turnaround plan on two occasions, and I find, and so do others I’m talking to, including a lot of the teachers, it’s quite comprehensive,” Beshears said as she addressed the board. “He has explained in a lot of detail to us what’s going to happen in the classroom, as well as the different schools. He’s talked about allowing us to do our job by giving our principals the ability to find what’s best for us. Listening to him both times, we’re in full support of change. Honestly, our kids, as hard as they try, as hard as they want to, we can only do what we can do with our hands tied. He’s giving us the ability to do more. And I’m ready for that change, and so are a lot of other teachers.”
Click here to download the turnaround plan in its entirety.
Listed below are a few notable excerpts from the public comments portion of Wednesday’s school board meeting:
“We’ve been going through this process for quite some time now, and I never thought I’d see an emotional night like tonight after all we’ve been through. As is with politics, these nights will come again. Let’s not get distracted tonight by what we’re hearing in opposition to this plan. This plan is solid. But to those who oppose it it’ll never be solid.” - Patrick Williams, 100 Black Men of Greater Lafayette
“The discussion tonight — we need to look at this as healthy. I think we have a plan in front of us, and the fact that board members are concerned about financial aspect of it is appropriate ... because the underlying tension in our community is how do we best hold ourselves accountable for public education. Rather than using this moment as a time to divide ourselves, to think about what we’re against, we need to be thinking about what we’re for, and what we’re all for is improving educational outcomes for the kids. This is step one, creating the strategic frame. A yes vote tonight in no way diminishes your responsibility or authority to exercise fiscal control. This plan deserves everyone’s support. I would urge you to make this a unanimous vote. The community deserves it.” - Margaret Trahan, United Way of Acadiana
“It kind of reminds me of the health care plan, you have to vote for it before we can tell you what’s in it. I guess Nancy Pelosi must have some influence around here. It’s not a complete plan. There are a lot of details missing. One of the issues I have, I don’t feel that spending a half a million dollars for a wing for unwed mothers is appropriate for this school district. There are a lot of other districts that need to be addressed first. There were a lot of promises made for repairing schools. We are entrusting you to do the best for the students, and we know that you are trying in that regard. I think this is an overreach. We want students to learn. We don’t want the school system to turn into a social welfare state. Parents that raise their kids and take care of them should not be required to take care of children from birth that belong to other parents. I know you can’t blame the kids all the time, but until you make parents responsible for their children when they have them, it’s not our responsibility as taxpayers.” - Patti Carter, parent