Ind urges LPSB to slow down career/tech process

by Walter Pierce

Thibodaux Career & Technical High School is a good idea. Purchasing property and moving forward with the project only weeks before a new school board is sworn in is not. The Lafayette Parish School Board will hold a workshop at 5 p.m. Monday to discuss, among other things, implementation of the $1 billion facilities master plan presented to the board and the public nearly six months ago by CSRS, the Baton Rouge planning firm paid $900,000 to analyze Lafayette Parish's deteriorating public schools. While the board has received the plan, it has yet to decide how to fund the ambitious project, which includes construction of several new schools in addition to maintenance and upgrades at virtually every other public school in the parish. CSRS has recommended a parishwide property tax.

The workshop will be followed by a 6:30 p.m. special meeting during which the board is expected to choose a proposed site for Thibodaux Career and Technical High School. The presumed location, based on publicized comments from some board members as well as a suspicious sequence of events, is the abandoned Super Kmart building and adjacent property at the intersection of Ambassador Caffery Parkway and Ridge Road. In addition to up to $8 million for the purchase of the Kmart and adjacent land, construction of the school is projected to cost more than $40 million, bringing the total project cost to roughly $50 million.

We're asking the public to attend today's workshop and meeting, and to urge board members to allow the next school board, which will be sworn into office in January, to make the final decision on the site for the career and technical high school, and, moreover, to decide whether proceeding with a $50 million project before the other critical needs within the master plan are undertaken is the most prudent course. In last Wednesday's news analysis, "Board Games," this newspaper asked the current board to do just that: slow down the process, allow the public more time to better understand the proposal for a career/tech high school, let the incoming board make the decision. The Daily Advertiser took a similar position in an editorial three days later.

We find it at least noteworthy that when the board finalized the 2010-2011 fiscal year budget last summer, it voted to pull $4.5 million out of the school system's maintenance fund and set it aside to purchase a site for the career/technical school. The asking price for the Kmart site is $4.5 million. And while the former commercial site on Ambassador Caffery had been rumored for months to be the desired location of some board members, the public didn't receive confirmation that the Kmart site was a candidate until mid October, more than three months after the board set aside the $4.5 million. This suggests to us that some board members settled on the Kmart location several months ago, but didn't let on until very recently.

We believe Lafayette Parish needs a sixth public high school, and that the proposed Thibodaux Career and Technical High is a good idea. We applaud the board for embracing the concept. But for outgoing board members to essentially ram this project through, to saddle the incoming board with a $50 million project while more than $1 billion in facilities needs wait in the wings, is not just reckless; it also threatens to further erode the ever-compromised trust the public has in the school board.