Nov. 7, 2014 10:25 PM

The Pat Cooper era ended ugly (and early). Can we still rally behind the Turnaround Plan?

 

Wayne Vasher, Michael Zolkowski. James Easton. Pat Cooper. We in Lafayette have a well-oiled superintendent grinder, and we might never find another like the one who just went through it.

As inarguably the most ardent media supporter of Cooper, we acknowledge that his tenure as superintendent is over. Thursday night's plodding, Inquisition-like hearing underscored that. We can't help but feel for Kermit Bouillion and Shelton Cobb - to end their board tenure on the losing side of this joyless victory for God knows what surely isn't what they imagined or wanted.

As promised, there will be litigation, although exactly what that entails remains to be seen. Cooper will probably make an appeal in district court that he didn't receive a fair hearing. That will need to be resolved before a breach-of-contract lawsuit can be filed. There remains the legal question of whether, by state law, the sitting board - which will be replaced in January - has the authority to enter into a contract with a new superintendent and how long that contract can extend into the next board's term. At the very least Cooper will want to restore his professional reputation, and at this point a lawsuit is the only remaining remedy.

Cooper could be Captain Bligh in how he handled relations with the board, but he was doing what we hired him to do: targeting the problems in our lowest-performing schools, which have been a persistent drag on Lafayette's overall educational outcomes. 
  

Cooper is ground beef. There's no denying it. But what of the Turnaround Plan? Many if not most of Cooper's opponents within the community support the plan, as do we. Most of the newly elected board members pledged support as well. Can it be saved? It will be a daunting challenge. Full implementation will require money and continued board support. The question of the budget is yet to be resolved, with the LPSS operating right now on 50 percent of last year's budget, and should the current board's budget end up being certified, the plan could be smothered in its crib.

Nov. 4's election suggests the next board could be 5-4 in favor of the status quo, in favor of not dipping into the rainy day fund for the sake of the plan. What are the odds that an innovator like Cooper will be hired? What are the odds that an innovator like Cooper would ever considering taking the helm of this ship considering its history of mutiny? Indeed, Cooper could be Captain Bligh in how he handled relations with the board, but he was doing what we hired him to do: targeting the problems in our lowest-performing schools, which have been a persistent drag on Lafayette's overall educational outcomes.

Should he have picked his battles better by firing Thad Welch after the board eliminated Welch's salary? Probably. But Welch was doing exactly what he was supposed to: ferreting out corruption and malfeasance in the maintenance department. Should he have ceded to the board's inexplicable demand that principals working in our toughest schools not earn more through extra work? Maybe. But if one supports equal pay for equal work, doesn't it follow that extra work deserves extra pay? Those principals were doing what we hired Cooper to do.

To those whose animosity toward Cooper was driven largely by his support for charters, where to now? The likelihood that voters in Lafayette Parish will support a tax proposition for new facilities any time soon is virtually nonexistent. We - all of us, pro- and anti-Cooper - have opened wider a wound into which the corporate charter operators will insert themselves like bacteria, because without public tax support for new facilities Lafayette students will remain in overcrowded, dilapidated facilities. The only argument for charters we found any merit with - to alleviate overcrowding - will continue to be a winning pitch before BESE. (It's worth noting that we at The IND are at the very least suspicious of charters if not hostile to them. Public education should be a public affair and not subject to profit margins, and some on our editorial board would have crammed students into butler buildings before allowing a single charter into the parish.) But more charters will come. This unnecessary acrimony that has just concluded ensures it.

To those of you who are anti-Cooper and anti-Turnaround Plan, you've won the battle but hopefully not the war. To those who are anti-Cooper but pro-plan, it's time we rally together around the plan and find a way to make it work for our children. Because no matter what you think of Cooper, you know the plan has proven its merits in St. Francisville and McComb, Miss., where Cooper successfully implemented similar plans. And to Dr. Cooper, we will continue to fight for the fundamental reforms you championed, with or without you.

Tehmi Chassion will probably get his facilities master key back so he can play basketball on weekends in the Northside High gym again - which if you think about it was the beginning of the end of yet another promising superintendent.

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