The Undeclared State of Emergency in Caddo Public Schools

February 14, 2016

Taxes, taxes, taxes … ‘all over us, and more coming. Our new governor changes “tax it if it twitches” to “the hell with twitches, tax it!,” while our local taxers rev up for their own attack come spring.

Worse than the fact of our ever-rising taxes, some of the most urgent public services we fund – like the education of our children – fail, regardless.

Our Caddo Parish School Board has chosen April 9th for a re-up vote on a sizable chunk of its property taxes, 26.58-mills for brick and mortar, technology and salaries. And, yes, your memory is correct: we trekked to the polls a mere nine months ago to vote on yet another of its tax plans. We defeated that one because a majority of voters seized on this key fact:

… thirty years ago, taxpayers annually gave our school board and staff $2,600 to educate each child, equal to $5,700 today … and now we spend more than double that: over $12,000.

Such garish spending numbers veritably scream our commitment to these children, but even with shocking amounts of money – $490,000,000 this year – our school system cannot accomplish its most basic duty. When the new grades for all 1,303 Louisiana public schools were recently released by our Department of Education (LDE), we learned that our Caddo system has …

… not only Louisiana’s highest count and percentage of failed schools, by far, but more now than ten years ago.

That is a collapse. It is beyond money, and negates even the commitment and dedication of teachers and other frontline school-based personnel.

The cause? A school board divided against itself, focused on our school system as an engine of political patronage, rather than a provider of quality education for our children.

The two halves of our school board are opposing forces. One believes our schools exist to grow jobs, preserve buildings, and score all they can for their political / personal agendas. The other side functions, by default, as a check on that group, rather than a united force for reform.

Nothing changes, much less improves. Even our shocking – and still rising – count of failed schools commands no remedy …

… Our Plague of Failed Schools

The new public school grades by LDE are for school year 2014-2015, and grades for our 65 Caddo schools were (SEE reports here) :

“A” … 5 schools
“B” … 8
“C” … 11
“D” … 23
“F” … 18

We must let this sink in: 24 passing schools and 41 failing schools … nearly two-of-three, 63%, failing.

Now, compare that to the other nine of Louisiana’s top ten districts by number of public schools. (SEE footnote * for details.)

CADDO PARISH ….. 65 / 41 .. 63% Failing

E. Baton Rouge … 89 / 42 .. 47%
Orleans ……………. 73 / 29 .. 40%
Ouachita ………….. 55 / 20 .. 36%
Rapides …………… 47 / 15 .. 32%
Jefferson …………. 80 / 22 .. 28%
Calcasieu ………… 56 / 13 .. 23%
Lafayette …………. 40 / 8 .. 20%
Livingston ……….. 42 / 0 .. 0%
St. Tammany ……..55 / 0 .. 0%

By nearly twenty percentage points, Caddo has the highest incidence of failed schools.

That means our school system is in an undeclared state of emergency! How many failed schools before we act? … are two-of-three not enough?!

Now, and even worse, LDE scoring / grading confirms that the count of failed Caddo schools is growing.

We last approved a decade ago the same taxes up for renewal in April. Then, under that scoring system (SEE footnote ** for details), 27 Caddo schools had a failing score of “One Star,” and another 12 were scored the worst, “Academically Unacceptable.” In total, 39 of our 67 schools were then failing, 58%. We are now up to 63%.

The LDE reports that federal, state and local taxes taxes have given our system $4,462,228,065 over the past decade. The CPSB would have us believe even that is not enough money to provide each Caddo Parish student with a decent education. In fact, it is evidence of wrong priorities, and a failure of official duty.

Directly comparable to ours, the like-challenged East Baton Rouge school system acted in 2014. With hearts and minds laser-focused on the children, those leaders acted against race-based leadership. They reduced to nine the number of board members / districts, thus redrawing board district boundaries, followed by a major shake-up in administration. Public confidence was restored as necessary to finally test a list of improvements long asserted to be impossible.

Ignoring our “D” graded schools, there are 7,548 children who have drawn the shortest of straws, spending their days in our system’s “F” schools. These children never ask us for money or buildings or jobs with highest salaries. They, at least in the beginning, attend to be educated … to have the better life that almost guarantees.

Sickeningly, these facts about their schools are suppressed, including by some in our local media.

Such ignorance of them – and silence about them – is unconscionable.

… more later …

Elliott Stonecipher

* “Recovery School District” schools are included with those in the parent (parish) district, and City of Monroe district schools are combined with those in the “Ouachita Parish” district. The first number for each district is the total of schools graded A, B, C, and the second is the number of schools graded D and F.

** In 2005, LDE scored worst schools as “Academically Unacceptable,” then used a “star” system for five more categories, from “One Star” schools, one notch above “Academically Unacceptable,” up to “Five Star” excellent schools. (See data here.)

Correction: An earlier version of this article had a typographical error in the Caddo Parish number of schools.

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