The Lafayette Parish Public Education Stakeholders Council (LaPESC) lost one of its key stakeholders this week when the Lafayette Parish School System backed out of the organization. Three staff members of the Lafayette Parish School System — Katie Landry, deputy superintendent of instructional services; Mona Bernard, director of risk management and Angie Simoneaux, director of marketing and student recruitment —had joined the organization after the United Way of Acadiana reached out to LPSS last year. Along with the United Way, members of the LaPESC include representatives from the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, Concerned Citizens for Good Government, 100 Black Men of Greater Lafayette and UL Lafayette. The group formed last year with the stated goals of addressing the achievement gap, low performing schools and high drop out rates in the school system.

"When we were invited to participate in the committee some months ago by the United Way, we were excited and hopeful that this endeavor would produce real, meaningful community participation and support for our students and our schools," reads LPSS' unsigned statement regarding the split. "But as the activities of the group progressed, and in particular after reading statements in a local newspaper this past weekend, we have become concerned by LaPESC's intent to influence future school board elections. It is our opinion that staff members should not be put in positions to participate in the elections of their governing board. In addition, it appears that some members of this group desire to create a private, self-appointed board to which the system would answer. The system cannot support this type of effort to dilute the authority, voice and power of the citizens of Lafayette Parish."

The statement references an article that appeared in last Sunday's Daily Advertiser in which LaPESC members Greg Davis and Gary McGoffin stated that LaPESC intends to host candidate forums in the upcoming school board elections. The group says it will not endorse candidates but does also intend to promote certain policy issues and hold board members accountable with four year report cards for members based on promises made during their campaigns for office.

"We were surprised and disappointed," LaPESC chairman Greg Davis of LPSS withdrawing its membership. "We were off to a very good start. We have always thought that the Lafayette Parish School System was an important part of the group. We're about to get heavily involved in our program of work for 2010, getting into a lot of discussions about the achievement gap, about low performing, high poverty schools, and about high drop-out rates. So it's going to be some very interesting, lively discussions and we look forward to the school system being part of the discussion. They have withdrawn from LaPESC but we still will be inviting them to participate in those discussions and we're hoping that they'll agree to do that."

"LaPESC will be involved in the upcoming election," Davis continues, "not endorsing candidates, but participating in the public discussion that will involve candidates and we want to make sure that in that discussion candidates are responding to questions about the achievement gap, the high drop out rates and the under achieving schools of poverty. We most certainly intend to involve ourselves in that public debate and discussion and want very much for the general public to know how the candidates feel about those issues."

LPSS spokesperson Angie Simoneaux says the school system has no further comment on the issue beyond its Tuesday press release. LaPESC holds a board meeting Monday to continue its discussions. The board meetings are closed to the media and general public.

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