School officials not giving up

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 22, 1998

Rebecca Burk Ellis / L’Observateur / July 22, 1998

St. John the Baptist Parish School Board members and administrators aredisappointed, but they aren’t giving up.

The request to add 25 mills to the amount property taxpayers pay was rejected Saturday by 53 percent of the 5,104 votes cast in the parish.

The official vote was 2,397 in favor of the proposition and 2,707 against it. Official totals were unchanged from the unofficial tallies announcedover the weekend, St. John Parish Clerk of Court Harold Montegut Jr. said.”We accept what the public has done,” Superintendent Cleveland Farlough said. “That’s the American way. The public has spoken.”But that’s not going to stop us from trying to do the very best job we can for the children of the school system,” he continued. “We are going to tryto do the very best with what we have.”The millage would have created an extra revenue of $3.5 million a year andwould have been spent on teacher raises, replacement of three new buses a year, updating the technology program and funding an alternative school.

Teachers would have gotten a $3,300 raise, but Farlough said without the millage that won’t be possible.

“If it were possible to do anything for the teachers without going to the public we would have done it,” he said.

Technology in St. John Parish Schools is up to date, and Farlough hoped themillage would pass so it would stay that way. “Obviously we want tomaintain our technology,” he said. “And since we are already doing prettywell we didn’t want to slide backward; we wanted to go forward.”The school system currently replaces three buses a year with money from the general fund, but Farlough said the extra money would have allowed them to replace six of the worn-out buses a year.

“Our bus fleet continues to age,” Farlough said. “We were trying to replacemore. We wanted to replace six a year. It would help us provide bettertransportation to the children of the parish.”Board member Clarence Triche said the school system’s transportation department is one of the most efficient in the parish because buses run two routes each instead of one as in other parishes.

Triche, the board member who made the original proposal to ask for the millage, was also disappointed in the outcome.

“I’m not very happy about it,” he said. “I’m sure our staff isn’t happy abouthaving to accept $4.25 less than what is paid in St. Charles.”He also said money spent per child in St. John is 40 percent less than inSt. Charles and 30 percent less than in St. James.But Triche said he hasn’t given up hopes of being able to compete with St.

John’s neighboring parishes in per pupil expenditures or teacher salaries.

“The Blue Ribbon Committee will continue to work and find ways to better the school system,” he said. “They are going to tell us how we can fundthings and how we can provide for the school system financially.”Besides the Blue Ribbon Committee, which is made of school officials and business and industry members, board members have other plans to get funds to pay for much-needed programs.

Board chair Richard DeLong said the board will listen to the public and discuss new strategies in helping the schools, including another possible election.

“I’m disappointed, but not defeated,” DeLong said of the election outcome.

“I think we’ll go back at it. I’d be happy to get back to work on it again.It’s for a good cause.

“And if it means developing a new strategy we’ll do that,” he continued.

“We don’t want to fall so behind that we can’t catch up.

“I think the school system is on the right track and the voters are aware.

We just need a little more push.”In the meantime, Farlough said the school system will get by with what funding it has.

“We will just try our best to continue to utilize the money we have wisely and to continue to provide the best education with the funds we have now,” he said.

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