Wuestemann, left, and Cooper

Funding has been pulled from PACE — a learning-focused arts program designed to spark creativity among the elementary students in the Lafayette Parish School System — according to a letter sent Tuesday to Superintendent Dr. Pat Cooper from Acadiana Center for the Arts Executive Director Dr. Gerd Wuestemann challenging the LPSS' decision.

Since its inception 14 years ago, PACE — which stands for Primary Academic Creative Experience — has been paid for by the school system’s annual cut of federal Title I dollars. The program is administered through a partnership between the school system and the AcA, which oversees hiring and training of the program’s teaching artists. Fifteen such teaching artists slated to begin teaching next week have been given their pink slips.

In Tuesday’s letter, AcA Executive Director Dr. Gerd Wuestemann writes:

Back in April AcA expressed great concern to the [LPSS] administration for the need to be able to communicate to our teaching artists whether they’d have a job in the fall. It was not until August 5th that AcA finally had to inform artists that PACE was dead. AcA is astounded by LPSS’ level of disorganization and miscommunication during this process. If Dr. Cooper and LPSS are indeed focused on pursuing Arts-in-Education as part of a turn-around plan, AcA would applaud the effort and would do anything to assist. We are extremely concerned about this recent development and greatly saddened by the loss of this program.
When the June edition of IND Monthly featured the article “Keeping P.A.C.E?,” we reported Cooper saying the program’s fate was not 100 percent sealed at the time. Yet, he also didn’t mince words when saying the only real chance it had of survival would be nothing short of a miracle, meaning an unforeseen increase in the LPSS Title I fund allocation. (The Ind was unable to reach Cooper for comment on this story.)

The Title I fund drop will affect school systems nationwide, stemming from the failure by Congress and the White House to reach agreement on a budget. That resulted in sequestration, which meant the implementation of massive spending cuts in January, impacting everything from Medicaid to Head Start and even the Department of Defense.

For LPSS, sequestration equals a decrease of about 10 percent in the Title I funds it receives yearly from the feds, which according to a previous interview with Cooper, will equal a decrease of about $1 million from last year.

Though Cooper didn’t immediately return a message in time for today’s story, here’s what he said back in late May:
We have to prioritize our school level funding first, then we have to use a certain amount of the Title I money for parental involvement, and we have pre-K funded through Title I. Those are all mandated priorities. PACE is like fourth on the list. I hope we’ll have enough money left over, but right now we still don’t know.
According to Tuesday’s letter from Wuestemann, the situation — especially AcA's receiving notice of the program’s end so late in the game — could have been handled better by school system officials, including Cooper.

Wuestemann writes that promises were made in late February by the administration that PACE would be included in the budget for the next fiscal year, Title I funds or not. By May, he states, promises changed and PACE was eliminated from the school system’s budget proposals.

According to Wuestemann:
We asked for an explanation but were never afforded one, only given a statement that LPSS was still ‘exploring options.’

Over the following two months AcA was promised on multiple occasions ... that the system was piecing together $100,000 in the arts specialist’s cost center to preserve some form of PACE. In addition AcA would link to another existing arts grant to flesh out offerings and save the core of this program, keeping it on life support.

In a message from ... July 24th we were instructed to prepare contracts for some version of PACE for $100,000. However, this instruction was rescinded on [Aug. 2] and we were told to hold off on preparing contracts. The suggestion was made by the administration that the $100,000 in funding was based on matching funds by AcA. This is a false claim: at no point in the discussion of the budget was this part of the conversation. AcA’s education department by this time had already spent much effort on designing a scaled down curriculum, discussed jobs with teaching artists and produced budgets based on $100,000.

On [Aug. 5] AcA was finally informed that LPSS would attempt to bring the program ‘in-house’ for this year — a week prior to the start of the new school year. No longer was there talk of having any money for PACE in the budget, or of AcA running the program.

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