The Lafayette community came together just a few years ago to develop the 100 Percent In, 100 Percent Out Plan, also known as the Turnaround Plan, for the Lafayette Parish school system. The plan now faces an uncertain future in the current school budget debate, with our children’s recent gains and future progress hanging in the balance.
Adopted by the school board in 2012, the plan provides a research-based, results-oriented approach for better educating our children from pre-K through high school. The ultimate goal: 100 percent of students completing high school ready for college and careers.
Despite almost constant infighting within our school system, the plan is working. Our overall district grade has improved from a C to a B. The number of schools with an F grade has been dramatically reduced from four to one. The share of schools with A or B grades has improved by nearly 10 percent. Discipline has improved significantly, with 31 percent fewer minor incidents and 13 percent fewer major incidents.
We can expect to see additional improvements if we stay the course. However, with a gap of $23.5 million in the coming year, the looming school budget crisis could reverse these recent gains and any further progress by eliminating the programs that are producing these results.
Superintendent Pat Cooper and his team have proposed a sensible compromise that would preserve critical programs for the next two years by making difficult but manageable cuts, reprogramming revenues that have historically been used as a bonus check for teachers and tapping the system’s reserve fund. This two-year budget strategy would maintain a reserve balance in line with the standards of third-party financial experts.
Some argue that we should cut the full $23.5 million from the budget, arguing that we must “live within our means.” That’s like saying don’t tap the savings account or cut back on luxuries in order to keep food on the table; let the kids suffer.
There is a strong community consensus that we should put student achievement and preparedness above everything else. A recently unveiled initiative — a Common Vision for Our Future?— translates the community’s aspirations into a framework for action that articulates principles and priorities for moving forward, including clear support for the 100 Percent In, 100 Percent Out Plan.
Three things are clear at this juncture: The plan is making progress, the community wants to see this progress continue and we have a responsible way to prevent devastating budget cuts that would not only halt our progress but also reverse the gains we’ve already achieved.
The School Board has an opportunity to preserve progress by providing a responsible, two-year financial bridge to the future, giving the new board that will be elected on Nov. 4 a decent foundation on which to build a long-term solution.
It’s time to stop burning bridges and start building them.
Jason El Koubi
president and CEO, Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce