LAFAYETTE — Some of the candidates for Lafayette Parish School Board, in a forum Tuesday, weighed in on issues ranging from how they’d tackle the district’s financial woes to how to balance the needs in their specific districts with those of the entire parish.
The Lafayette Parish Education Stakeholders Council, an advocacy group of business, civic and educational organizations, hosted the forum — the first of three — and asked candidates about their vision for the school system, district leadership, charter schools, how to address critical facilities needs and how they’d assess the superintendent’s performance.
District 2 candidate Simon Mahan said that if he doesn’t champion the needs of his district, then the “northside ends up suffering.”
Mahan and candidate James Chavis are challenging incumbent Tommy Angelle to represent District 2, which covers the northern part of the parish.
Tuesday’s forum also involved candidates Don Gagnard and Mary Morrison for District 1 and candidates Elroy Broussard and Shelton Cobb for District 3. District 1 candidate Redell Comeaux Miller declined to participate in the forum.
Asked how they would have addressed the district’s shortfall of $23.5 million, Morrison proposed a midyear review of the budget to re-examine funding priorities and spending.
On issues of facilities, Chavis said he’d like to see a new school building for Carencro Heights Elementary — if the public supports the project.
Angelle said he would support a tax dedicated to facilities.
Cobb, the incumbent in District 3, suggested the district consider revising school enrollment zones to ensure balanced school populations.
“We have facilities that are jam-packed in Lafayette,” Cobb said.
His challenger, Broussard, said the district should consider the impact of its schools-of-choice programs because he believes it’s shifting students from their neighborhood schools and could be exacerbating the district’s achievement gap.
The program enables students to attend specialized schools outside of their school zones.
“(We) bring kids of District 3 all over the place,” Broussard said. “We’ve got an achievement gap by our own selection.”
Angelle said he thinks the district could help improve student success by supporting additional help to students who need it through home visits to foster relationships between the school and family, tutoring, special sessions on Saturdays and health services.
His opponent, Chavis, proposed an extended school day or year-round classes.
Gagnard criticized Chavis’ ideas to extend the school day or school year and said teachers likely would feel the same way. Gagnard also asked what message the school system is sending when it provides services or programs that are the responsibilities of families, such as a program that offers child care to teen parents.
“We’re constantly pushing (that) there’s no family, yet we’re pushing them away. We’re putting them in schools at a year old,” Gagnard said.
He said the answer is discipline.
“Discipline in classrooms. We need to grab our classrooms back,” he said.
This school year, three charter schools opened in the district. The current School Board opposed the charter schools; however, the schools received approval from the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Morrison said the school system should work with the charter schools that are here now because a common goal is shared.
Chavis said he supports the schools if they help to close the achievement gap among at-risk students; however, his goal is to improve all schools in Lafayette Parish.
Mahan said the district needs to examine why parents are choosing to send their children to the new charter schools. He stressed the need for more community involvement in schools and focusing on the positive programs in the district. He said the district also needs to advocate for its special programs, such as French immersion and specialized learning academies.
“These are really great things that we have in our public schools that you can’t get anywhere else,” Mahan said.
The forums continue Wednesday with candidates in Districts 4, 5 and 6 and on Thursday with District 7, 8 and 9 candidates.