Curious Calcasieu Connections, Part 2…

So, here we are again, after we’ve had enough time to think about the things covered in the last post. If you think about it, nothing has been uncovered that is particularly unusual, although strange enough to make one curious and have some questions. Which we did.

We left off with the contributors to the Committee for Better Schools in Calcasieu. One of the contributors, Morganfield Development, LLC, when googled, turned up a lot of hits, both in Lake Charles and in Lafayette. A quick search in the Louisiana business filings website revealed that the owners and principal partners of Morganfield are John Thielen, Russell Tauzin, Paul Bonin and William Blake. Bonin and Blake, we’ve already mentioned. Thielen is owner of The Lacassine Company, which was also a contributor to the committee. The circle of confusion is intensifying.

Screen-Shot-2015-04-18-at-6.51.25-PMSo, exactly where is this Morganfield Development,? Which, by the way, is a real estate venture. It is located on the far east side of Lake Charles on the new extension of McNeese St. on a 650+ acre property that was formerly zoned as agricultural/industrial AND was owned by the Bel family which is the family of William Blake’s wife.

Let’s jump back a little. I mentioned the search turned up hits in Lafayette. Well there is a company in Lafayette called Southern Lifestyles that claims that Morganfield is its development, as well asseveral other developments around Lake Charles and Sulphur. They have recently developed some major real estate in Lafayette such as River Ranch, Couret Farms, Sugar Mill Pond, Laurel Grove, Beau Savanne and many others. All of these properties were developed on property similar to Morganfield. Lets study a series of events that took place in Lafayette.

getImageSouthern Lifestyles, owned by Rodney Savoy, Robert Daigle and Robert Gagnard, partnered with several high profile realtors in the Lafayette area to develop and sell modern home at and above $400,000. One of the realtors, Jim Keaty, was a key player. Keaty’s family originated from the Metairie/NOLA  area. His relative, Susan Keaty, was a partner in law with….wait for it…current BESE District 1 member, Jim Garvey. Garvey is a member of the current BESE majority that supports education reform and charter schools. His relative, Michael Garvey, is the primary developer of Grande Pointe, a high dollar property in New Orleans just blocks from KIPP Academy, a charter school. Are you starting to see the pattern?

All of the properties developed in the Lafayette area are surrounded by school zones with failing schools and high poverty rates. What does that do to property value? Well, you know. So, together with the help of the Chamber of Commerce (remember they support ed reform) they conspired to bring in charter schools which would, in effect, provide brand new schools with promises of success.

initiativesHow does the Chamber pull off something like that? Let’s talk about how charter schools work. In short, there are different types of charters. Type 1 and Type 3 charters are approved by the local school board and operate under their jurisdiction as sort of an extension of the local school system. A Type 2 charter is under the authority of BESE, but can’t be approved until a Type 1 application is rejected. A Type 4 charter is under both the local system and BESE’s authority. In Louisiana, there are 39 charter schools. Two of the 39 are Type 1, and one is a Type 4. The other 36 charter schools are Type 2 charters under BESE authority. Remember, BESE is currently an “ed reform” majority, and the Superintendent they appointed, John White, is the poster child of ed reform. What has to happen is the local school boards have to be “guided” into making the right decisions. How do I know this? I read it in the Education Reformer’s Playbook published by the National Chamber of Commerce. Be sure to click the link, if you want to read it. In Lafayette Parish, one of the school board members, Jeremy Hidalgo, is the actual DIRECTOR of the Lafayette Chamber of Commerce. Another, Erick Knezek, is on the Board of Directors for the Chamber. Yet another, Justin Centanni, is married to Marie Centanni who is the public information writer for both LABI and the Council for a Better Louisiana (CaBL). In Lafayette, they have been successful in penetrating the school system. In Calcasieu, they have been somewhat successful. Former school board members, Dale Bernard, James Schooler and Philip Tarver were all members of the Chamber. Newly elected, Eric Tarver, is a member of the Chamber, as is new appointed Superintendent, Karl Bruchhaus. Bruchhaus, incidently, serves as superintendent with no background in education. He is a CPA. Calcasieu Parish is the only school district in Louisiana with a non-education superintendent.


The  charters in Lafayette are in their second year, so do not have performance data available yet, but based solely on their demographics from last year’s October 1st enrollment counts (when head counts are done for MFP payments) one can predict how they might do.  The CSUSA charter school in Youngsville would get and A or B; while the CSUSA school near Carencro and the NHA school on Evangeline Thruway wouldn’t score nearly as high.  The law mandates that when a charter school enrolls students, the percentage of “at risk” students must mirror that of the the charter schools enrollment zone. Oddly enough, the enrollment zone of Type 2 charter schools is the entire state, so the school is required by contract to meet the state average at-risk enrollment: 66.9%. In Lafayette, the charter school in Youngsville has a 30% at-risk enrollment. An education watchdog group in Lafayette, Power of Public Education Lafayette, communicated to the Louisiana Department of Education and the legislative Auditor that the charter school was not in compliance. PPEL is waiting to hear how their questions about fixing this problem so BESE doesn’t authorize more schools in places were they can’t meet their requirement to teach at-risk students. The fact is, if taken to court, the charter would be forced to comply. Right around the same time,the Lafayette Parish School Board began to discuss re-zoning school districts to address “over-crowding.” If done strategically, this move could boost the performance of some schools, and at the same time, boost the value of certain real estate.

Back in Lake Charles, we have a very similar situation. It turns out that most of the contributors to the Committee for Better Schools in Calcasieu are either invested in the development, or have already bought property in the development. So, the purpose of the committee is to increase the value of THEIR property. The difference is that the charter schools in Lafayette went up just after the first stages of real estate development were completed. The schools were able to “choose” the students they enrolled. Some of which came from the new development. In Lake Charles, the charter schools went up before the development. The result was an enrollment that mirrors the local schools. The performance of the charter schools does nothing for the value of the real estate. With such a heavy investment, and basically dead in the water, what do you think Morganfield Development’s next move should be? Re-zoning?

That’s all I have now. Just a quick refresher, though. Remember the .5 cent sales tax that was passed in May? The Committee for Better Schools in Calcasieu paid for the billboard shown below. Now, why would the committee have an interest in giving teachers a raise? I’m looking into that. More, later.