J.W. Faulk Elementary is the last among the Lafayette Parish School System’s failing schools, so why is the school board resisting an allocation of money to fix the problem?
Superintendent Pat Cooper says he needs $1.8 million to address some of the school's major problems. Of that, $270,000 is for personnel additions that would bring the school back into compliance with the consent decree that convinced a federal judge to grant the system unitary status in 2006 and the remainder for building renovations.
When the request came up during a recent budget meeting, however, the school board opted against making a decision, tabling the issue. The school system is faced with a deficit of about $20 million, but it also has a reserve fund of about $70 million. Instead of dipping into its rainy day fund — a move that would keep Cooper's turnaround plan alive — the board has resisted, with some members calling for a range of system-wide cuts. (Read about some of the more outrageous suggestions here.)
The problem with J.W. Faulk is that the school has never been given the resources it needs to succeed. Student-teacher ratios hover between 20-to-1 and 23-to-1, and in some cases, like fourth grade, it’s as high as 25 students per teacher. The school has a majority population of black students, and was included among the schools targeted in the federal desegregation lawsuit, which stretched more than 40 years because of non-compliance by the school system.
The school system finally was granted unitary status from U.S. District Judge Richard Haik in 2006 — meaning it had met the terms of the federal consent decree and the lawsuit was lifted. Yet, as far as J.W. Faulk is concerned, at least one requirement of the consent decree remains unfulfilled. According to federal documents, the schools targeted by the consent decree must maintain a 15-to-1 student-teacher ratio:
Teacher-pupil ratios will be established at 15 to 1 at low performing schools, the level at which substantial educational research guarantees significant improvement in student performance, especially for ‘at risk’ minority students. K-5 class sizes for ‘at risk’ students will be capped at 18. In other words, if a class exceeds 18 students, another teacher will be provided.
“This school has never been fully resourced, and if you look back at the consent decree, it specifically says you have to take the low-performing schools and give them full resources,” says Cooper. “You have to do all the things you can to lift these schools up, and that’s never been done for J.W. Faulk, Alice Boucher [Elementary], and the other D schools.”
Since the school system has been granted unitary status, that means the federal desegregation lawsuit is over. The only way the issue can be resurrected is if someone in the community files a new federal lawsuit against the school system.
“The way this board wants to do all the cutting, those D and F schools will be the ones hardest hit,” says Cooper. “We need more people, that’s what the research says will work, but it’s also what the consent decree says we need to do. We’re not following the spirit of the law. These are the kids that have always been ignored, and these are the schools that have always been ignored.”
J.W. Faulk lies in school board member Tehmi Chassion’s District 4. We emailed Chassion asking if he would support more funding to help the school raise its accountability score. Chassion has yet to respond.
“The south side schools have always gotten a lot of dollars — it’s not that they don’t deserve it, it’s just been disproportionate from the north side schools,” says Cooper. “We know if we put the right resources in over there, all these kids can do it.”
Cooper is requesting an additional six to eight teachers, a parent liaison, an additional assistant principal, a full-time nurse and a full-time social worker. The proposed renovations would include overhauling the school’s restrooms, new ceilings and a paint job.
“That school is filthy. We need to do these renovations so those kids know they’re important and that community knows we care about their school,” says Cooper. “The board hasn’t denied the funding yet. We’re going to put those same items back on the agenda. We want them to vote either up or down on J.W. Faulk.”