Budget, lack of attendance cited in Paul Breaux’s possible closure

LPSS Superintendent Francis Touchet Jr.
LPSS Superintendent Francis Touchet Jr. hinted to the Oasis Coterie last month that some schools could close, in part due to students moving to charter schools. Photo by Robin May

Citing declining attendance and a budget deficit, Lafayette school officials may close or overhaul Paul Breaux Middle School. 

Moving gifted instruction and the French immersion program to other schools in the district are among the options expected to come before the Lafayette Parish School Board as soon as its March 13 meeting. 

District 8 School Board member Hannah Smith Mason confirmed Wednesday that Paul Breaux Middle School may be on the chopping block as part of a potential consolidation plan. 

“We never sat down and said, let’s just close down Paul Breaux,” Mason says. “But we have to figure out why the community isn’t choosing Paul Breaux.”

The full board and the public got a first glimpse at the proposal to consolidate some elementary and middle schools to create more K-8 campuses at this week’s meeting of the Long Range Planning Committee. The committee, composed of four school board members, makes recommendations to the entire board.

“We never sat down and said, let’s just close down Paul Breaux. But we have to figure out why the community isn’t choosing Paul Breaux.”

District 8 School Board member Hannah Smith Mason

Growing rumblings of a possible closure of the majority-Black school didn’t sit well with some parents and Black leaders, who organized a community meeting set for Thursday, March 7, at 6 p.m (tonight). They also set up an online petition to address the potential closure of the school, named for a storied educator who served Lafayette’s Black students until his death nearly a century ago. 

School Board member Hannah Smith Mason
Hannah Smith Mason and her fellow school board members are expected to take up the issue of potential consolidation of elementary and middle schools at their March 13 meeting. Photo by Robin May

Board members say they are weighing facility needs with a potentially shrinking budget and an evolving student population, according to The Acadiana Advocate.

Lauren Bedsole, a local organizer whose child attends Paul Breaux, believes attendance is down at the school because parents don’t want their children to attend a majority-Black school. 

LPSS data shows schools across the district are under attended, not just Paul Breaux.

“Nobody wants to go to Paul Breaux because of racism, frankly. That’s what it is,” Bedsole says. “And we all knew that, and we wanted to address that [as] all white moms.”

Bedsole says her 6th grader has flourished intellectually and socially at Paul Breaux, which she credits to the diverse community. Bedsole and other parents say there has been a lack of transparency from the school board about the consolidation plan.

LPSS Superintendent Francis Touchet hinted at the possibility of closures at the Feb. 24 Oasis Coterie meeting, some of which he attributed to a shifting student population to charter schools.

Touchet also said that of the 48 schools in the district, about 80% are “doing the right things” in terms of safety, discipline and attendance. But he had harsh words for those he believes are falling short. “If those 20% don’t take care of the kids, then I’m going to take care of them,” he told the Coterie. “So y’all could expect some of those 20% are not gonna be there next year.”

Mason, an alumnus of Paul Breaux, echoed Touchet’s remarks, noting that the school board is under a financial crunch made worse by the charter school systems in the area. Per student funding follows students when they enroll in charter schools. Since 2015, the district has seen a 224% increase in funding diverted to charter schools, according to a news release issued Thursday. It has already spent $30 million from its 2023-2024 general fund budget on charter schools and is expected to exceed that amount in its upcoming fiscal year budget.

Financial pressures motivated the board to take a harder look at the under-attended schools in the area in order to workshop solutions. 

“Nobody wants to go to Paul Breaux because of racism, frankly. That’s what it is. And we all knew that, and we wanted to address that [as] all white moms.”

Lauren Bedsole

Paul Breaux, operating at an attendance capacity of roughly 47%, isn’t the only school potentially on the chopping block, according to Mason. Duson Elementary is also under consideration, operating at 48% capacity, although the specific metrics being used to determine potential closures aren’t entirely clear. Mason noted in an LPSS Facilities and Long Range Planning Committee meeting that Paul Breaux has the lowest attendance of the schools in question.

Closing the schools aren’t the only solutions that the board has been considering. Mason says the school board has also considered moving and rebuilding Paul Breaux, similar to Truman Elementary’s revival

Former LPSS Superintendent Irma Trosclair made a statement on Facebook condemning the potential closure and denying that the closure of Paul Breaux was ever a consideration under her administration.

The agenda for the school board’s March 13 board meeting, where potential closures are expected to be discussed, will be released Friday, officials confirmed Thursday.

Bedsole and others say they don’t plan on letting up.

“We cannot let our children see us get walked over by our civic government in this way,” Bedsole says. “This fight is for our children to see. Our children should see us come together as a community and stand up.”