by Elliott Stonecipher
(This is the 1st in a series of articles concerning the Caddo Parish School Board’s plan for or against which Caddo residents may vote on May 2nd.)
I am not a big peddler of quotations attributed to “famous” people, owing mainly to the fact of missing context. There are exceptions of course, like this comment about history by Winston Churchill:
“Study history, study history. In history lies all the secrets of statecraft.”
I grabbed onto that one when in state government early in my career. I was in a pitched battle with professional educators on an urgent matter of public policy reform, and had studied the most meaningful history of the matter. I learned, though, that I was the only one who had. That meant I sounded like the goof instead of those who actually were the goofs.
Here and now, Churchill’s words yet again resonate in a matter of terribly necessary public policy reform. Our Caddo Parish School Board acted last night – unanimously, no less – to ignore history, and thus, its application to our current condition. The Board cannot, therefore, “lead” us. It can now only react to related political and other fabrications born of the self-interests of those most influencing them.
I am downright embarrassed for us, in fact, that such a sweeping and urgent policy decision would have even been considered when one-half of Board members are brand-spanking new to all of this. (That they are reported to have been meeting privately for weeks, is almost equally offensive.)
Such is our latest example of how and why our community has lost any semblance of confidence in local government, therefore handing it over to the self-interests of serial offenders among us who live and thrive out of our public budgets. These are the ones who, of course, decry this very kind of article from an informed citizenry, and seek to control, if not outright own, every aspect of our governmental process.
All of that aside for the moment, the Board’s statecraft was, last night, set on a course for failure, regardless of how the vote at issue goes in May.
When I provided the professional service of a comprehensive enrollment study and projection for CPSB back in 1999, I was taught a bit of history by staff which is critical to know and understand. When our Caddo Schools desegregation “cross-over” occurred in 1969-1970, there were 60,158 students enrolled and attending our schools.
There is a dispute about the effect on the count of our nascent kindergarten program, and the count may or may not have included the relatively few private school students in the parish then. Regardless of any quibbling, our enrollment is now some one-third lower, at 40,658 according to latest figures. Nowadays, that includes “early childhood” all the way through 20-year-olds.
Equally at issue, we in Caddo built and opened eight new schools since, and have “closed” (well, not really, but I won’t go there right now) about the same number.
So, here is where our School Board’s statecraft should have begun: one-third fewer students – 20,000-ish – but the same number of schools. How on earth, then, do you approve a plan to build three new schools, based on a promise – not likely to be kept, as history has taught us – to close only six? There is not even a “promise” that the closures will happen before new school construction!
Let’s put this in perspective: since the cross-over, Caddo public schools have lost as many students as today’s total number of kids in Bossier Parish public schools. (Literally, 21,689 are now enrolled there.)
Also ignored by the Board last night are the demographics of Caddo’s future count of school-aged children:
— between 1990 and 2013, according to the U. S. Census Bureau Official Population Estimates, Caddo’s number of school-aged children has dropped -10.8% while Bossier’s rose +25.6%, and
— during the same period, Caddo’s number of 20-to-44 year old (child-bearing aged) women dropped -8.5% while Bossier’s rose +24.5%.
As is the case, Bossier must build new schools. Caddo should not, of course, no matter anything else.
We would be foolish not to focus on a simple question: how can the entirety of a school board proudly vote to prove they did not let any facts or truth get in the way of their decision?
The facts and truth of the matter are that the new members of the Board have no clue what they did. They could not – logic and sanity demands – given that they have no clue what is really going on in the system. And, it is fair to say, a few of them acted mainly to keep their end of a pre-election deal they cut.
(Yes, I supported the removal of the Board members these new ones replaced, based on the “Hope Premium,” as I call it: at least with them there is hope for a better day, of which there was none remaining with the previous mix of members. I offer no apology for that decision. It is typical of our imperative here to grab for even the most marginal of positive reasons for any vote we cast.)
The statecraft here is a total-times-ten misfire. It is an equal mix of (a) no knowledge of our system’s history by most board members, (b) the awful force of very negative demographic facts and projections, and (c) no awareness of the true source of – and reason for – this “plan.”
(Elliott Stonecipher is in no way affiliated with any political party. He has no client or other relationships which in any way influence his selections of subjects or the content of any article. His work is strictly in the public interest, with no compensation of any kind solicited or accepted. Appropriate credit to Mr. Stonecipher in the sharing – unedited only, please – of his work is appreciated.)