Walter Pierce

Hardy tears into LPSS then approves funding

by Walter Pierce

State Rep. Rickey Hardy, D-Lafayette, approved roughly $750,000 in grant funding for the Lafayette Parish School System — funding he had denied the parish’s public school system last month in a snit over a perceived lack of communication between the central office and him.

The release of the Educational Excellence Fund money was made this morning at a joint House-Senate Education Committee meeting. Last month, Hardy unexpectedly blocked the funding for Lafayette Parish, saying he had been essentially disrespected by school system administrators. Parish school systems statewide have been receiving the funding, derived from the state’s settlement with Big Tobacco, for about a decade. LPSS Chief Information Officer Billy Guidry said last month that the school system was not aware that it needed to contact Hardy ahead of time.

Before releasing the cash today, Hardy took aim at LPSS administrators who attended the meeting at the Capitol, telling Superintendent Burnell Lemoine that the central office’s failure to contact him before last month’s meeting was “a direct slap in the face to the children and taxpayers I represent, to the office I hold, and to me personally. I find it strange that LPSS either cannot or will not follow procedure and protocol but yet requires our students as well as their parents to do so. That’s quite a double standard.”

But Hardy saved his most pointed criticism for Louise Chargois, LPSS director of curriculum and instruction:

Ms. Chargois, you are the Director of Curriculum and Instruction for the Lafayette Parish School System. With that in mind, the LPSS has been receiving this tobacco money for 10 years with the monies geared toward at-risk students and the schools they attend.
Ms. Chargois, all the schools in academic decline in the LPSS are in my legislative district. All of them continue to decline with little, if any, improvement.

The monies in question are used for dropout intervention as well as dropout reduction. Northside High School had a dropout rate of 44 percent for the ’07-’08 school year. Forgive me, but I’ve seen no reduction here.

State employees are no longer handed a yearly 4-percent salary increase. Now they must earn it. They are now accountable should they desire a raise. The same holds true for these EEF monies. You must show positive results! We cannot continue to do business as usual. I will continue to be a voice for the children and their schools in my district. This is what I was elected to do. This is my job.

Ms. Chargois, you are on record stating that I have set the children of the LPSS up for failure by not approving the EEF monies outright with no questions asked. I resent that accusation. You, the LPSS, have been receiving this funding for 10 years with no accountability and no positive results. There are now more schools in academic decline in my district than there were ten years ago! It seems as though you had more success with less money than you’ve had with more money. I ask you, who are the ones setting our children up for failure? We see no positive results. When the LPSS appears before this committee next year, I would suggest that you have positive results for us to justify renewal of the awarding of these Educational Excellence Funds. We cannot and must not continue to reward failure.

However, LPSS Marketing Coordinator Angie Simoneaux disputes Hardy’s claim that all of the schools in his district continue to decline, pointing to improvement at Alice Boucher Elementary, which not only increased its school performance score over the last year but actually met its target SPS. According to the state Department of Education, Lafayette Parish showed a healthy improvement over the last year in its base (parishwide) performance score — climbing from a 91.5 to 96.1.

(Editor's note: The INDsider learned late Tuesday that the above statement Rep. Hardy delivered to Chargois, according to his legislative aide J.P. Stoshak, was a prepared statement from which Hardy excerpted parts during a question-and-answer period with Chargois. Hardy did not deliver the statement, uninterrupted, in its entirety.)