In this letter to the editor, Lafayette Parish Superintendent of Schools Pat Cooper addresses this year's budget crisis and a number of accusations being levied against the school system.
|Superintendent Pat Cooper|
As many of you know, the Lafayette Parish School System is facing tough choices in our budget process for the coming school year. The circumstances have caused some to begin to point fingers and go on the attack, unfortunately with some inaccuracy. I am the leader of the school system and I'm prepared for criticism. Decisions I make will not please everyone, especially with the changes that need to be made to create a superior school system which serves all of the students. That is what education leaders do ... collect accurate data and make decisions on what is best for the children regardless of criticism. However, there does come a time when gross inaccuracies must be addressed and facts brought to the public.
I have always completed my contract, never asked for or taken a contractual buy-out, and I would not accept one in Lafayette. I am here for the long haul.
Accusations of mismanagement and overspending are just not accurate. We have 100 less employees on the payroll now than in 2011-2012. We rank sixth from the bottom out of 70 school districts relative to the percentage of budget dedicated to central office.
Our current budget problems are not due to overspending. The problems are due to state unfunded mandates such as required textbook adoptions ($1,773,000), decreases in Minimum Foundation (MFP) funds ($1,613,000), state one time supplement to teachers ($1,209,000), charter school costs ($8,000,000), and retirement contributions ($1,000,000), as well as local costs such as rising health insurance premiums ($3,000,000), annual salary step increases for employees ($2,000,000), and repayment of Capital Funds transfers ($4,400,000).
Charter schools brought to BESE had the blessing of the Department of Education and BESE. They were going to be approved despite the school board's rejection. My statements to BESE were in reaction to people who misrepresented my words and actions. I am neither pro-charter nor anti-charter, but I am for anything that will help our children. Three new schools are being built so that at least some of our children won't have to be in moldy and unhealthy temporary buildings.
The Turnaround Plan represents positive change for our children and community, and it is working according to the data. LPSS has better academic outcomes, less discipline issues, and cleaner and better maintained facilities.
There has been mention by the Lafayette Parish Association of Educators of poor leadership based on too much testing. The assessments done today are those mandated by the state or federal government. Maybe there are too many, but I have little control over that. And, one needs to know that you can't fix an academic problem by just looking at it. If we could, then why do we have 4,000-plus overage students in the district and a third of our students dropping out?
Asking for input about the budget from teachers did not start last week with a survey. It started back in the spring with many meetings. Unfortunately, not many teachers or teacher leaders showed up.
Finally, if groups such as LPAE think the state has overstepped its bounds, then do something about it. Don't blame the superintendent. These groups are very capable of filing legal action. That is not the superintendent's responsibility.
We are now at crunch time with the budget. It is time for all parties to refrain from posturing and be solution oriented for the children, not for the adults. We cannot just cut our way out of this problem. We have to think our way out ... for the children.