What's LPSB's problem with LaPESC?

by Patrick Flanagan

Some Lafayette Parish School Board members just don't like the Lafayette Parish Public Education Stakeholders Council and want the school system out of its membership.

Maybe it's the initiative to get community feedback on school board member performance, or the school system's membership, but whatever the reason, some Lafayette Parish School Board members flat-out don't like the Lafayette Parish Public Education Stakeholders Council.

Photo by Robin May

LPSB President Hunter Beasley has introduced an agenda item for Wednesday's meeting to discuss the school system's membership in LaPESC

The board's distaste for LaPESC surfaced during the May 21 meeting, when the group's members distributed surveys aimed at sparking public feedback on how board members are handling themselves.

Board member Mark Allen Babineaux considered it an affront to him and his fellow board members, calling the surveys an exercise in "propaganda," saying the only acceptable forum for public input should be held during each board meeting's public comments period.

Another issue raised during the May 21 meeting centered on the school system's membership in LaPESC.

While LaPESC does take positions on issues affecting the school system, like closing the achievement gap for students of poverty and raising graduation rates, it does not endorse candidates for the board. The school system is a member of LaPESC, as is a diverse list of community groups all with a shared focus of improving public education in Lafayette Parish.

Along with the school system, LaPESC membership includes: Citizens Action Council, Concerned Citizens for Good Government, the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Southwest LA Black Chamber of Commerce, 100 Black Men of Greater Lafayette, the Lafayette Parish Sheriff's Office, Pugh Family Foundation, the State of Greater Black Lafayette, the705, United Way of Acadiana, UL Lafayette and the Upper Lafayette Economic Development Foundation.

Wednesday's meeting agenda reveals that board president Hunter Beasley is also concerned with the school system's involvement with LaPESC.

Beasley's agenda item recommends: "That the Board continue discussion as to what degree the Lafayette Parish School System is involved with LaPESC."

"I have an agenda item on the agenda, but it is not a resolution," Beasly tells The IND in an emailed response to questions about the matter.

That's all he said.

"I'm not really sure what it's about," says LaPESC chairman Stephen Bartley. "I don't know if they want to sever the school system's connection, or maybe they just want insight into what we do."

LaPESC chairman Stephen Bartley

Bartley explains that the purpose of LaPESC is to advocate for research-based initiatives aimed at closing the "achievement gap" and making LPSS an "A-plus" school district. The organization does host candidate forums, but Bartley is clear when he says, "We do not support political candidates; at all."

If history is any indication, it's likely Beasley isn't very interested in learning more about LaPESC. He's more interested in severing ties with the group.

In 2009, the school board was supportive of LaPESC during its formation, even voting to approve of the group's by-laws. Within a year, however, with school board elections coming up, an unsigned letter was submitted to LaPESC stating that the school system would no longer be a member.

"[A]s 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," the letter reads, referencing a March 2010 article in the Daily Advertiser with comments from LaPESC members Greg Davis and Gary McGoffin on the organization's plan to host a series of school board candidate forums.

It wasn't until the hiring of Superintendent Pat Cooper in 2012 that LaPESC reunited with the school system.

With the election season upon us once again, it's highly likely the school board wants out for the second time.

And that's probably because some of its individual members are politically active. And they don't like what they see from this board.