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Wednesday, July 24, 2019

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School Board continues debating a size reduction

School Board continues debating a size reduction

Members of the Lafourche Parish School Board are once again considering reducing its board from 15 members to nine members after years of back-and-forth discussion.

Interim board member Raymond Toups said he wants the reduction to improve the public’s view of the board to help it bring another tax proposal before the voters.

“I think we should discuss it here some more if we need to, but again let’s bring it up at a board meeting and vote on it,” Toups said. “We need to vote on it again. Let the people know how we stand and show our colors.”

Toups, who was ineligible to vote in August when the board rejected a reduction by an 8-6 vote because he wasn’t officially commissioned, said he wanted to appeal to the members in opposition.

“The more I look into it ... it’s a dire picture,” Toups said. “We’re not going to get out of the hole. This system is headed down the drain. Now, I’m a new board member, a new kid on the block, but that’s how I feel we’re going.”

Toups, who has been serving as an interim board member since May, is running for the District 8 board seat in the March 24 election against Chris Lagarde and Barry Uzee.

Two local principals and a parent spoke in favor of the reduction at the Thursday meeting.

A cut to the board would be a more symbolic gesture than a financial one, but would help restore the public’s trust in the board, said Gaye Cheramie, South Lafourche High School principal.

“Even though we may lose representation on the southern end, I have to place my trust on the board that they’re going to look at the whole parish and what’s needed,” Cheramie said.

Al Archer and Calvin Duet, who had opposed the reduction, said they still will vote against the measure if it comes up at next month’s board meeting.

“I work at (Port Fourchon), the majority of funds come from the port, and if you reduce that then the representation may be less than four and we may not have as strong a voice with two versus four members, and I’m very aware of that, and it’s one of the things I’m concerned about,” Archer said.

Archer said he has faith the board will pull through the tough economic times it’s facing without the cut.

Duet said he believes the economy was the larger reason why the 1-percent sales tax was voted down last April, not necessarily the board reducing its size.

“Even though we would reduce the board, I can’t predict, but I think it would be difficult to pass a tax right now again even though we’re in dire need of money coming in,” Duet said. “Now would I vote for a tax if it was brought up? I’d vote yes because I believe in what our educators are doing, I believe in the children, and as a board member that’s what I’m here for, but reducing the board isn’t going to erase that $6 million deficit.”

In 2016, it was estimated a six-member reduction would save taxpayers about $58,000 a year. Former board member Ronald Pere, a proponent of the reduction, estimated the board would save another $105,000 per year in indirect costs.

During the summer, the board learned it would take a law to change the size of the board from 15 members to nine before the 2020 census. If the board attempted a reduction after the census, it could reduce itself to a different number.

-- Comet Staff Writer Holly Duchmann can be reached at 857-2205 or Follow her on Twitter @holly_evamarie.