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Wednesday, July 17, 2019

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Effort to reduce Lafourche School Board members fails

Effort to reduce Lafourche School Board members fails

The Lafourche Parish School Board rejected a proposal to reduce the number of its members from 15 to nine at their monthly meeting Wednesday.

After a lengthy discussion, the board decided against the proposal, citing the possible money needed to research something that they may not be able to do and the loss of representation and diversity on the board.

Here's how the board voted:

For: Ray Bernard, Mary Breaud, Dennis Chiasson, Marian Fertitta, Ronald Pere and Greg Stall

Against: Louis Thibodaux, Brooke Huddleston, Richmond Boyd, Gary Foret, Julie Breaux, Clyde Duplantis, Ann Sanamo and Calvin Duet

Pere, who represents Raceland, proposed the reduction, citing decreasing state dollars and tax revenues as well as rising costs. His original proposal would align the nine districts with the Lafourche Parish Council districts and would piggyback an election on the issue with an existing election to save costs to the board.

If the board had decided to drop four members, it would directly save more than $39,000 per year, Business Manager Don Gaudet said. The number rises to more than $58,000 if it drops six members and more than $77,000 if it drops eight.

Pere estimates the board would save about $105,000 per year if indirect costs are added in and more than $1 million every decade.

But critics of the idea say 15 is the right number for the length of the parish - almost 100 miles from top to bottom. Others say that consolidating the board could potentially leave areas like Chackbay and south Lafourche under represented.

Those against the proposal also cited the diversity of the board for opinions and the size of committees to give the board a better view on what needs to be done.

“If we went by the Parish Council, there would only be two councilmen representing the 10th Ward. We’d be dropping from four members to two members,” said south Lafourche representative Calvin Duet.

“In the past, I’ve had board members representing Bayou Blue living in the Country Club of Thibodaux. I don’t feel that’s adequate enough. I want to make sure Bayou Blue is well represented. I want to make sure that Bayou Blue is represented by someone from Bayou Blue," member Clyde Duplantis said.

Board member Brooke Huddleston said she understands how some parts of the parish feel when it comes to representation in government.

"The south of the parish does feel disconnected sometimes and that representation they have down the bayou is very pertinent to each and every person in that area of South Lafourche. They feel like they do have someone to talk to. They feel like they do have someone to go to," she said.

Board members have been looking for ways to ease up pressure on the budget as they face an approximately $890,000 cut in state money, even with an $85,000 jump in Minimum Foundation Program money. They are projecting a $3 million decrease in sales tax revenues for next year.

Board member Dennis Chiasson suggested cutting the budget in other ways if reducing the number of board members was meant to cut the budget.

Board Attorney Pat Amedee told the board at the finance committee meeting on June 22 it’s unclear whether it can legally decrease in size. There are few state statutes regarding reducing the size of a school board and most were written in 1968 to accommodate for changes stemming from integrating the schools.

One state statute, Amedee said, requires school boards to be the largest size they can possibly be. None of the statutes reference decreasing in size.

Terrebonne Parish voters reduced the size of their School Board from 15 members to nine in 2001, but Amedee said it’s unclear whether their home rule charter allowed for the reduction or if they are operating illegally.

In 2012, board members pitched the idea to drop to nine members and follow the Parish Council district lines but were outnumbered almost 2-to-1.

This article was published Wednesday, July 6, 2016 in the Daily Comet.