The Lafourche Parish School Board is considering a host of cuts that will allow it to balance its books.
The cuts are Superintendent Jo Ann Matthews’ recommended response to falling revenue. Sales and property tax collections have dropped, so the board faces an estimated shortfall of some $6 million headed into next year.
Here are some of the ways the board could save taxpayer money:
-- Leaving vacant jobs that are left by those administrative and staff members.
-- Putting a halt to staff members’ performance pay for this year and next.
-- Reducing the number of school buses.
-- Eliminating cheer and dance teams at the middle schools.
Unfortunately, even in times of financial strain, times that will likely bring about reduced services for the very students the board is supposed to serve, the board is unwilling to implement an obvious cost-saving measure that would work for everyone except the individual members of the board.
The board should reduce its number of members from the unnecessarily bloated 15 that it currently enjoys to nine.
Nine members are enough to do the public’s business on the Parish Council. And nearly every other school board across the state of Louisiana gets by with fewer than 15. The two that still have 15 members have much larger constituencies and school systems than Lafourche oversees. And even there, in St. Tammany and Calcasieu, the public doesn’t need 15 school board members. Why would they?
The truth is that the only people who benefit from having so many board members are the board members. And even they are split on the question.
A small but persistent band of board members has tried time and again to reduce the board’s size, only to be shot down by a persistent majority who would rather look out for themselves than for our students and teachers.
The Lafourche School Board could save money – perhaps as much as $1 million over the next decade – by implementing this simple nod to good government.
Sure, those on the board who oppose it have whined about representation. They have said that having fewer board members will leave some areas of the parish with weaker representation than they currently have.
While it is certainly true that each member would represent more people, it is also true that each board member would then wield more political power.
Each member would be one-ninth, or more than 11 percent, of the board rather than one of 15, or less than 7 percent of the board.
Sure, the board member you have after the change might live a tiny bit farther away from your house. That's because each district will be slightly larger. But how often do you visit with your board member anyway? And if it meant that the schools would have more money, would you be willing to have fewer politicians running them?
No, this isn’t about representation. And it isn’t about the public.
It’s about job protection for the board members, something that doesn’t have even the smallest negative impact on the education your child receives in Lafourche’s public schools.
Actually, by freeing up some money that could otherwise be spent on actual education expenses, reducing the size of the board would have a positive impact on the children and teachers.
We will see whether the ongoing fight to save money at the expense of politicians rather than at the expense of students gets anywhere this time.
But if history is any guide, they will once again be rebuffed by those who would rather have a larger board than more money spent in the schools.
I hope I am wrong.
Editorial Page Editor Michael Gorman can be reached at 448-7612 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.