The sweeping changes to Louisiana’s public education system wrought by Act 1 of the 2012 Legislative Session have impacted school districts throughout the state in different ways, especially for the Lafayette Parish School System, according to a panel discussion held Tuesday night.

panel  
From left are panelists Scott Richard, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association; Debbie Meaux, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators; Patrice Pujol, president of the Louisiana Superintendents Association; and Nathan Roberts, an education professor at UL Lafayette.  

The Act 1 forum was sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Lafayette, along with several community education groups, including Parents Empowered, Lafayette Public Education Stakeholders Council and Power of Public Education Lafayette, and was held at the AOC studio in Downtown Lafayette. Tuesday’s panel featured Scott Richard, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association; Debbie Meaux, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators; Patrice Pujol; president of the Louisiana Superintendents Association; and Nathan Roberts, an education professor at UL Lafayette.

Act 1 essentially changed superintendent contracts, it transferred personnel decisions from school boards to superintendents, and it impacted teacher salary scales, tenure and evaluation procedures. Since its passage, the law has been challenged on a number of fronts, and has been deemed unconstitutional by two district court judges, both of which await treatment by the Louisiana Supreme Court.

During Tuesday’s forum, panelists detailed the multiple layers of Act 1 and its accompanying issues, but one trend above all others became clear: the Lafayette Parish School System has weathered the legislation differently than most school districts in the state.

For most districts, it seems the main issues caused by Act 1 center on its impact on teachers, whereas in Lafayette, the struggle has centered primarily on the transfer of hiring and firing powers from school boards to supers, which has left school boards with the sole purpose of policy making. That, however, has been a difficult pill to swallow for the Lafayette Parish School Board, as seen with its fight — one that consumed a majority of 2013 — against Superintendent Pat Cooper over his refusal to fire Thad Welch and his decision to pay four principals at poorly performing schools at a higher pay grade by adding more days to their school year.

“Superintendents now have the ability to hire and fire teachers and staff — they don’t need that approval from the school board anymore,” explains Richard, adding superintendents also have the power to structure the school system’s salary schedule as they see fit. “This is not a novel issue. There’s been laws on the books for quite some time stating school board members should not have a lot of individual authority. It’s clearly delineated in Title 17 that school board members should never be involved in compelling or coercing in personnel matters.”

From Pujol’s perspective — she’s also the superintendent of the Ascension Parish School System — the greater flexibility Act 1 bestows on superintendents ultimately allows for more efficiency, though she adds communication with school board members is a must.

For the most part, Pujol says Act 1’s transfer of hiring and firing powers hasn’t affected many school districts.

“In many districts, superintendents had a lot of autonomy, which gave them greater flexibility and allowed for more efficiency,” notes Pujol. “But I know in some districts school board members were very involved and [Act 1] was a big change.”

Tuesday's forum will air on AOC at the following time slots:

Jan. 16, 6 p.m., AOC 1
Jan. 17, 8 p.m., AOC 1
Jan. 21, 2 p.m., AOC 1
Jan. 22, 5:30 p.m., AOC 2
Jan. 25, 10 p.m., AOC 1
Jan. 26, 7 p.m., AOC 1

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