The obstructionist sentiment among some members of the Lafayette Parish School Board has reached new heights, most recently in the form of resistance to a Turnaround Plan program that would benefit teenage mothers and their children, one that has been in preparation for more than a year.

Photos by Robin May
 The Lafayette Parish School Board

Last year, the board unanimously OK’d the teen parenting center program when it approved Superintendent Dr. Pat Cooper’s Turnaround Plan. In addition to students' regular coursework, the program, which was set to be housed at Northside High School, would include classes on parenting and sexual abstinence, and upon graduation, the teen mothers would receive certification qualifying them to work in child care. The program also would act as a day care for the children of the teen mothers, and would academically prepare them for kindergarten.

On Tuesday, however, the board voted 5-4 to pull $100,000 from this year’s proposed budget, money that would have funded two portable buildings to house the 16 students slated to enter the program at the start of the upcoming school year. Originally, plans called for four portable buildings to house 32 students at a cost of $200,000, but that was later decreased by the administration to reduce the school system’s budget shortfall, which was close to $4 million at the time.

“There have been no details about this program,” says board member Greg Awbrey, who was one of the five voting against the program Tuesday.

Mark Cockerham

According to board member Mark Cockerham, however, a lack of details is not the reason for the outcome of Tuesday’s vote.

“It wasn’t that we didn’t have enough information or that we couldn’t bring it back up," Cocherham says, also referencing a comment by board member Rae Trahan that the board “technically” couldn’t vote on the $100,000 allocation since it had already weighed in on the issue when it voted against the original request for $200,000 in funding a week earlier. "It’s because certain board members are looking for any reason they can to not bring it back up.

“They’ve been against Cooper from the get-go, and they’re not going to start supporting his Turnaround Plan, despite the great things it calls for,” continues Cockerham, who spoke with The IND by phone Wednesday. “They’re really slowing down the process of accomplishing what we need to do for this school system, and the public is angry. I hate that it’s come to this point, but come election time, these board members are going to have the public to deal with, and I think they’re going to get crucified at the polls.”

Not only has the board been aware of the program for some time, it being the focus of a recent workshop, but when the Turnaround Plan was approved last year, planning for the teen parenting center immediately got under way, says Cooper. He notes that the 16 students have already been identified and notified of their selection for the program.

 Rae Trahan

“This project was started last year, and this money was just to finish what was started last year and get those buildings over there. I know they got the information on this, and if they didn’t understand or something, it seems like they would’ve said something before we got more than a year into finishing this,” Cooper tells The IND. “We’d already identified these girls, did all the work telling them what it’s about, and they were expecting to be able to move into those buildings come September and start the program. Now that’s going to be delayed unless the board stops trying to fight me and starts fighting for these kids.”

For Cockerham, what’s even more surprising is that Chassion voted against a program with countless benefits for a school in his district.

“I can’t believe Tehmi voted against something that would benefit his own school,” says Cockerham. “I would’ve never voted against something going to my own school. This is just unheard of.”

For Cooper, the board’s resistance is something he’s grown accustomed to. But resisting a program that will benefit the school system’s underprivileged students is proving too hard to swallow.

“Some board members have been against me and the Turnaround Plan since day one, and this is just another round in the fight,” he says. “In my mind, this is just a raw deal, not for me, but for those girls.”

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