If Dawkins is not AWOL… Homework assignment for Caddo School Board

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With the start of the Caddo school year upon us, the Caddo School Board has pressing issues that need to be addressed immediately. Especially now that the Dawkins “Rumor Mill” has been in high gear today regarding is he in the running for a “Major” job elsewhere… Or has he just not signed his contract because… Or is there a little more intrigue in the works?

After passing a budget that made deep cuts to schools while reducing central office by only 2 percent, the number of failing schools has been announced. And, once again, student-teacher ratios should be revisited.

Teacher complaints made during the past school year that class sizes exceeded state Education Department standards were ignored. A public records request of all kindergarten through fifth-grade classes with more than 30 students at the end of the first nine-week period showed nine schools with 84 classes with more than 30 students; 25 is the recommended maximum.

Perhaps not surprising is that Werner Park Elementary, a failing school, had fourth-grade math classes of 36 and 40. These numbers came from JPAMS records, which is Caddo’s million-dollar computer attendance program.

One source of funding to lower class size is the travel budget that should be further reduced and more strictly regulated.

Last fiscal year, the School Board spent more than $800,000 on out-of-state-trips. Numerous Caddo staffers took two trips, several took three and a few people attended four or more. Destinations included Orlando, Fla., Chicago, Baltimore, Denver, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Washington, D.C.; Scottsdale, Ariz., and Grand Rapids, Mich.

As recently as June 23, 13 staffers attended a Chicago conference to teach employees how to evaluate and analyze the “Common Core,” which will not be implemented for three years. One of the 13 people sent to Chicago was a rehired supervisor who retired the first time in 2000. She was allowed to attend even though she and everyone involved knew she was quitting again three days after the conference ended.

Three other employees went back to Chicago on July 11 to learn about differentiated instruction. Seventeen employees were sent to Las Vegas, Scottsdale, Boston and Dallas to differentiated instruction conferences. None of this was done with the official knowledge or approval of board members.
Many parishes have virtually stopped all out-of-state travel. They get required in-service education at in-state conferences, online and/or from each other. Thus, the justification of “mandated trips” seems to be a weak excuse. Similarly, staff trips to learn how to conduct teacher workshops is contradicted by the large number of hired consultants utilized for those sessions.

The central office cafeteria also deserves scrutiny — after losing $47,000 in the fiscal year 2010 while serving no students. The Louisiana Education Department advises that the purpose of the U.S. Agriculture Department’s child nutrition program is to provide meals for children and that these funds are not to be used for an adult School Board employee cafeteria. Seemingly, closure of this facility should be a no-brainer for the School Board.

At its meeting Tuesday, the School Board plans to discuss how many out-of-state trips board members may take — but not class size. Hopefully, calls by parents and concerned citizens to board members will prompt a serious review of class size, not tax-funded vacations.

Much like Nero, the School Board is fiddling while Rome burns. In this instance, Caddo schools fail.

John E. Settle Jr. is an attorney who lives in Shreveport.

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