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Monday, Feb. 2, 2015


The reinvesting plan for Caddo Schools

By now, you’ve heard about the Caddo Parish School Board’s plan to close six schools, and open three new ones, and make improvements in various others using $108 million in bonds. The plan is branded by the school board as, “Reinvest in Caddo.” The plan has drawn both supporters and critics, but both groups may be missing the forest for the trees. Here’s why:

You see, supporters point out that the average school building in the parish is 60 years old, and that the maintenance costs alone of the three schools slated for closure is $150,000 per year, and that to make those aging schools ADA – compliant and technology – ready would require an additional $18 million.

Now, the critics explain that the school board could lower our public school taxes, instead of reallocating them to build these unneeded new schools, since Caddo Parish has 20,000 fewer students to educate than we had in 1970, yet today we still have roughly the same number of schools to pay for, nonetheless.

They point to Census data that indicates that the number of students to educate in Caddo Parish will continue to decline, considering the number of child-bearing aged women in Caddo Parish has been declining over the past 20 years (down 8.5 percent since 1990). And with virtually no population growth in the parish since 1990, the math seems to support the trend toward fewer students for the foreseeable future.

Taking math out of the equation, for a moment, though, the Shreveport Historic Preservation Commission opposes the plan to “Reinvest in Caddo” for altogether different reasons. They feel they were flat-out ignored by the school board, and that shuttering any school is the beginning of the end for any neighborhood in which it is located. That would be particularly true for the Highland neighborhood under this plan.

Still others say that this plan is illconceived and the evidence is that it was rushed so quickly to be put before the school board on the same night that 50 percent of the school board members were showing up brand-new – serving for their very first time after having been elected just last fall.

And for school board member, Dottie Bell, the plan to “Reinvest in Caddo” is real simple: It’s about putting the children first. And for Caddo Superintendent Lamar Goree? It’s about providing something better for our children.

But does getting “something better” for our children mean spending more taxpayer dollars, considering that Louisiana is already spending over $1 billion now on schools that are rated “D” and “F” each year? As it stands now, for the 200,000 students in Louisiana, their odds are “50/50” of graduating high school or even reading on their grade level.

Perhaps, instead of investing money, this school board plan might be better received if the plan included strategies for getting parents more involved in their children’s education, and thereby improving the quality of their education – rather going back to the taxpayers and wagering tax dollars on the expectation that new buildings will improve the quality of education parishwide.

The issue of increasing parental involvement is the “800-pound gorilla” in the room, and it ought to be front and center, especially whenever someone wants to increase spending and raise taxes “for the children.”

In order for students to do well in school, however, they need more than new buildings. Building new schools alone cannot accomplish anything without first increasing parental involvement.

Did you know that one of the most successful school systems in the United States are the schools situated on U.S. military bases? A report by “60 Minutes” found that these students’ test scores are among the best in the nation, and in some cases, represent the “narrowest achievement gap between minorities and whites of any school in the entire country,” and that’s with half of those students living below the poverty line.

So, before the need to build an auxiliary gymnasium or reduce the number of “T” buildings at our schools, perhaps we need to address, as an example, the unequal education in the black community first, and why the average black 12th-grader has the academic achievement level of the average white seventh- or eighth-grader (according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress). This is particularly important for our community – 64 percent of Caddo Parish students are black.

Michael Jordan was not successful because he played in multi-million dollar, state-of-the-art arenas. Luciano Pavarotti does not sell out performances because he performs in the finest, most exquisite opera houses. Steve Jobs launched Apple computer from his home garage, and not from the 32-acre campus that makes up their glimmering, class “A” corporate offices in Cupertino today.

Yes, shiny new buildings are pretty.

But beauty is only skin deep. It’s what you do with what you have that matters most and perhaps we ought to start there first.


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