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Sunday, July 21, 2019

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Lafourche schools to cut positions

Lafourche schools to cut positions

After nearly an hour of emotional testimonies from concerned residents, teachers, principals and students, the Lafourche Parish School Board on Wednesday night voted to reduce school district personnel.

The 11-2 vote came after voters on Saturday rejected a one-cent sales tax increase that would have boosted school worker salaries.

Proponents said the tax would help the parish’s teacher salaries compete with Terrebonne’s and other surrounding parishes. Opponents, including the Thibodaux Chamber of Commerce, said sales taxes are already too high in the parish and claimed the increase would hurt business.

The board’s response to the vote was to cut costs by eliminating positions, including teachers, assistant principals, librarians and others. School Board members Brooke Huddleston and Calvin Duet voted against the reduction in force.

“We basically have a grocery cart with $15 worth of groceries in it and we have $12 in our pocket right now,” said board member Gregg Stall. “We’re going to have to put some stuff back. It’s a terrible analogy, but something has to be done.”

Jo Ann Matthews, superintendent of Lafourche Parish schools, said budget cuts have happened before, and the board will do everything it can to make sure the school system survives.

“We will make sure our children are taken care of,” Matthews said. “Before, we’ve had a budget cut, and we will do it, even in a time of crisis.”

The cuts are projected to save the district nearly $6 million in its general fund.

Many community members suggested the board hold off on the reduction or use money from settlements from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

People also said voters weren’t fully aware of some of the possible ramifications if the tax didn’t pass and recommended the board propose the tax again.

Gaye Cheramie, principal of South Lafourche High School, thanked those who voted for the tax and said she was deeply hurt by those who voted against it. She said she made every effort to inform parents.

“I sent out over 1,000 text messages, emails and phone calls asking people to come to my school and I would explain it,” Cheramie said. “I had seven people show up. Two of them were my parents and the rest were not. So for people to say they were uninformed, they did not want to be informed.”

Multiple students at Larose-Cut Off Middle School spoke in favor of keeping middle school athletics. Cheramie said the high schools got together and cut numbers in their coaching staff to provide support for the middle schools.

Cody Blanchard, chairman of the Thibodaux Chamber of Commerce, said the 1-cent sales tax increase was too high.

“The people that voted against the sales tax were not against education, educators, schools and especially our children,” said Blanchard. “But we were simply against such a large sales tax hike during this historic economic downturn.”

-- Staff Writer Garrett Ohlmeyer can be reached at (985) 850-1149 or Follow him on Twitter @GOhlmeyer.