It’s official: Most of the Lafourche Parish School Board members love their own jobs more than they care for the employees of the school system and more than the kids they are supposed to be educating.
If you’ve read this column in recent months, it might seem like I’m beating a dead horse with a broken record. And I might be. But the arrogance of power that’s at play here is just maddening.
The School Board is facing a budget gap brought on by falling tax revenue. It has to cut about $6 million out of next year’s budget just to keep its books balanced.
It’s the same sort of thing that’s supposed to happen at the state level but, somehow, doesn’t.
Anyway, our local board this week gave its final stamp of approval to Superintendent Jo Ann Matthews’s plan to cut the money by eliminating a host of jobs and not filling some vacancies as they occur.
Some of the lowlights of the plan include laying off more than 20 percent of the system’s bus drivers, getting rid of a handful of specialized educators and leaving open a number of non-teacher jobs as employees resign or retire.
I don’t envy Matthews or the board members. These are tough decisions that affect people’s lives. Most importantly, they affect the quality of service and education we deliver to our children – children who already attend school in a middling district in the worst state in the nation for education. (Lafourche did receive an A last year from the state – the same state that awarded itself a B. Tell that to the people in any other state, and they will laugh at you or cry for you.)
Now, these students will have to contend with fewer bus routes – a condition that could mean longer commutes each way, each day. And they will have teachers who are stretched ever thinner and who will have fewer and fewer staff members helping them.
Wasn’t there anything else that could have been cut?
Well, now that we mention it, there was.
The board could have looked to save money itself by simply reducing its own size from 15 to nine members. Fifteen is the most members a school board can have – and only three across Louisiana have so many members.
Parishes with many times our student population get by with fewer board members. The Lafourche Parish Council somehow represents all the people of the parish (granted, with varying degrees of success) with but nine members.
These self-important politicians continue to insist that we somehow need 15 of them to oversee our school system.
We don’t, and people have said as much.
The majority on the board stubbornly refuses to do what is right and what makes good, common sense.
These folks would rather lay off bus drivers than whittle their own number down to the same size as the Parish Council.
It would be shocking if it weren’t simply more of the same. Again and again, the board has refused to look inward for significant savings.
Reducing the size of the board wouldn’t make the difference in a $6 million budget hole, but it would save around $60,000 a year. It also would send an important message to the public: We care more about our employees and our students than we care about keeping our own jobs.
Sadly, the board’s consistent majority continues to send the opposite message to the people who vote. And that’s why those voters don’t trust this crowd.
How can they? They are reminded regularly that the board would rather waste money on itself than funnel a modest savings into the education system of the parish.
When you’re walking your daughter to the bus stop earlier next year or meeting your son later after school, won’t you be comforted by the fact that there are so many board members? How often have you silently given thanks that your board member is one of 15 rather than one of nine? I often talk to my wife about the comfort we provide ourselves by shelling out so much money to allow more politicians to have jobs.
Make sure you call your board member – if you know who yours is – and thank him or her for getting the system’s priorities in line for the good of the students. You can do it sarcastically if yours is in the majority or genuinely if yours has fought for this much-needed reform.
Editorial Page Editor Michael Gorman can be reached at 448-7612 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.