May 10, 2016 03:01 PM

“We have to spread the wealth.” — School board member Mary Morrison on proposals to gut or relocate successful programs and academies at Lafayette High

Last Tuesday, members of the Lafayette Parish School Board met in committee to consider changes to parish high schools. The proposed changes included the following: 1) relocating one or more academies from Lafayette High to Comeaux, 2) splitting the Gifted Program between Lafayette High and Comeaux, 3) rezoning 900 students from the southern-most neighborhoods in the Lafayette High school zone to Comeaux, and 4) a surprise proposal to move the Gifted Program to Northside High.

Madeleine Brumley
The boardroom was packed with current and former students, parents, and teachers who spoke out against these proposals. Though, officially, these proposals were put forward to limit enrollment at Lafayette High and fill seats at Comeaux, many board members spent considerable time hitting on a different theme — a theme best captured by board member Mary Morrison, who said, “We have to change so we can spread the wealth.”

Forget for a second that the most straightforward way to distribute students evenly among area schools is to redraw attendance zone boundaries. Let’s instead debunk this ridiculous notion that outrage over the board’s unwarranted and unsound attack on academies and programs at Lafayette High comes from an unwillingness to “share the wealth” of Lafayette High’s success.

For one thing, the programs in question — the Health Academy, the Performing Arts Academy, and the Gifted Program — serve students zoned for schools across the parish. For another, there are many reasons to oppose this plan, not the least of which is the board’s misguided and counterproductive approach to achieving “equality” at the expense of excellence.

There are two ways to achieve parity between schools performing at different levels. The school board proposes one way — dismantling what is working at the most successful school and transferring it piecemeal to others. Their approach involves crossed fingers, hopes, and prayers that no unanticipated damage is done to the school losing programs and that 100 percent of the programs’ value transfers to recipient schools. The best possible outcome in this scenario is something like changing a 100-50 distribution to 75-75, creating two okay schools. The more likely outcome, given the school board’s lack of planning and inadequate understanding of these programs, is a disruptive transfer and an unsteady start that has the receiving school enjoy only modest gains while decimating what was formerly the flagship school in the parish (65-65). A better way is to use the taxpayer dollars that would have been spent taking apart what’s working at Lafayette High and spend that full amount improving other schools. (100-75+).

With the financial costs unknown, benefits hypothetical, and harm to Lafayette High guaranteed, it’s incumbent upon the school board to justify these drastic changes with educationally sound reasoning. Until that happens, opponents of changes need only to point to the success of the current arrangement of programs, which speak for themselves.

— Madeleine Brumley

Brumley is an alumna of LHS and Wellesley College. She is set to receive her juris doctor from Columbia Law School.

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