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Sunday, July 21, 2019

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Options weighed after board rejects reduction

Options weighed after board rejects reduction

A reduction in the size of the Lafourche Parish School Board could still make it to the state Legislature, despite the board voting against such a measure earlier this month.

The board decided May 3 to eliminate positions, including teachers, assistant principals and librarians, after a 1 percent sales tax failed April 29. The School District had already cut about $3.9 million from its budget for the 2016-17 fiscal year, including by increasing student-teacher ratios and cutting certain programs.

On Aug. 2, the board voted against seeking legislation to reduce its size from 15 to nine members.

Robby Gisclair, whose children attend Cut Off Elementary School, vowed to keep fighting for a reduction.

“They may have done some cuts to the School Board before the tax ... but since the tax not passing, the only part that did not get any cuts was the School Board,” he said. “Across the state, nobody has big boards like this in comparison to the size of the district. I have personally spoken with multiple legislators. They’re all in favor of a smaller board.”

One of the legislators Gisclair spoke with was state Sen. Norby Chabert, R-Houma.

Chabert said he’s considering introducing legislation next year to reduce the number of board members.

“We’re still in the embryotic stages,” he said. “If this is something that the overwhelming majority of taxpayers in Lafourche won’t support, then I won’t support it.”

But Chabert said given the parish’s size, a reduction would make sense.

“Fifteen’s a lot of board members,” he said. “It’s almost over-representation.”

Lafourche has about 98,000 residents. By contrast, St. Tammany and Calcasieu parishes, which also employ 15 school board members, have over 200,000 residents each.

Marian Fertitta, a Lafourche School Board member who supports a size reduction, said she hopes legislation goes through despite the board’s vote.

Fertitta said the board doesn’t make as many major decisions as it used to, and a reduction in size would show the public that members are doing what they could to save money.

“People are telling me and other board members that this is what they want,” she said. “We’re here to serve the people, not to be self-serving. I wish the board had decided to do it on their own without the Legislature having to get involved.”

Gary Foret, who voted against seeking the legislation, said he would prefer cuts to board members’ monthly stipends.

Ann Sanamo also voted against seeking the legislation. She and other board members have argued that a reduction in board size would mean less representation for certain parts of the parish.

Sanamo, who is vice president of the board’s Finance Committee, said the committee will discuss a measure next week that would adjust the board’s pay as if there are nine members.

The reductions would include stipends, travel and mileage.

“If this is being brought because of dollars, I can show the public that this is something that can be done and still keep the voice of our area,” Sanamo said.

Gisclair disputes the under-representation concern.

“I’m in the 10th Ward. Right now, it’s four of 15,” he said. “We would go to two of nine. That’s the same percentage of representation on that board. So that point is null. We only have two (parish) councilmen for our district. If we had four, I don’t think it would be any different with the services we get from the parish.”

Schools Superintendent Jo Ann Matthews and others have pointed out that reducing the size of the board wouldn’t make a serious dent in the budget crisis.

Gisclair acknowledged that, but he said it would show an effort.

“It is a little drop in the bucket, but the more drops we can get in the bucket, the bucket will eventually fill up,” he said.


-- Staff Writer Bridget Mire can be reached at 448-7639 or Follow her on Twitter @bridget_mire.