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Obstinate Caddo board must accept reality of its failure

It’s not as thick as with their East Baton Rouge counterparts, but nevertheless an air of unreality lies about the Caddo Parish School Board, unwilling or unable to understand that some major changes are coming to education in the parish because it couldn’t cut it.

Last year, the state could have taken over Bethune Middle School but chose instead to place special conditions on its operation. Another 10 schools in the parish, about 14 percent of the parish’s schools, this year were eligible for takeover of which the state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education opted to take two and allow the other eight the potential to be operated like Bethune. The two, Linwood and Linear, scored above 50 only twice since the accountability rating system was implemented in 2002-03. In other words, many years of warnings and possibility of the Caddo Parish School District to change the situation have gone by.
Yet now that the state finally is intervening, from the rhetoric coming from some policy-makers in the district it seems only now do they seem to realize the implications – among those who aren’t living in a state of denial over where things are and how they got to this point. Whining has emanated from several board members about how the state gets to dictate certain expenditures and reimbursements regarding the eight schools, including extra costs associated with improvement plans and their monitoring coming out of Caddo’s coffers.

The district also clings to the fiction that the so-called “Caddo Plan” will be the basis of improvement plans for the schools and that the state should pony up for its additional expenditures. As noted previously, the idea calling for academic-themed schools, an opportunity to change personnel among schools, and increased technology expenditures only tangentially addresses the real problems hampering achievement at these schools and stands little chance of making any substantive improvement. In any event, the strictures of the memorandums of understanding the state has presented to the District indicate major modifications of the plan would be needed for it to be accepted by the state.

And even if some portion of the plan does get adopted, Caddo will have to pay for it. Even as school board members moan and complain about being on the hook for costs, the state showed it did not let go by the fact that the district (by 2007) had a general fund surplus of over $46 million, about a tenth of its yearly spending, in its general fund, and total fund balances of almost $115 million. These balances make the state’s question about why wasn’t money spent years ago to intervene in these schools pertinent, its implication that Caddo can pay the estimated $11 million this year for changes salient, and the excuse given by the District that it needed cash on hand for contingencies questionable.

It’s quite clear from some of the comments coming from some Board members that not only do they not get it, but that the attitudes behind these comments demonstrate why the District has been unable to improve these failing schools. District 12 member Dottie Bell screeches about how the state shouldn’t come in and tell “us how we're going to spend our money.” It’s lamentable that even after a few years on the board (and many as a teacher) that Bell doesn’t yet understand that the vast majority of operating funds of Caddo schools come from the state. And it’s never been the district’s or her money to spend, it’s been mostly state taxpayers’.

And District 2 member Eursula Hardy put money before children when she publicly stated that parents should not enroll their children in the new Linwood or Linear not because they are failing schools, but because Caddo would lose money to the Recovery School District as a result. It is these attitudes reminiscent of children playing with toys and refusing to share with others instead of focusing what’s best for children that has gotten education at the schools into its sorry situation.

No doubt unfortunate domestic situations make it tougher to educate effectively, that there are too many incompetent in knowledge and/or methods in these schools, and too many incapable administrators are in place in them, but the fact is the buck stops with the Board. It, and it alone, ultimately is responsible for the quality of education in the district, and any member who throws up his hands and says some kind of extraneous condition made success impossible with these schools needs to tender his resignation now because why else serve in a job where you don’t think you can succeed?

Clearly, the Board has failed in this regard, and throwing a Hail Mary pass called the Caddo Plan doesn’t change this fact. Given its record of non-accomplishment with these schools, it is comical even to suggest that unfettered local governance could do a better job that what the state offers in these desperate situations. Its obstinacy to the change serves it poorly, and it needs to settle down, take its medicine, and with state guidance get on with finally doing its job right.

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