St. Charles School Board hears from candidates

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 2, 1999

LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / October 2, 1999

LULING – Candidates for state representative, state senator and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education offered their views on education Wednesday to the St. Charles School Board.The candidates spoke on a variety of subjects, responding to school board member questions at the end of the regular school board meeting.

Issues addressed included state funding, violence in schools, unfunded mandates and vouchers for non-public schools, as well as Waterford 3 tax income.

The program was arranged in cooperation with the Louisiana School Boards Association.

First on the agenda were Perry W. Terrebonne and Glenny Lee Buquet,candidates for the BESE District 3 seat.

Buquet, a seven-year incumbent, stressed her support for adding more programs for non-college-bound graduates, protection of St. CharlesParish’s hold-harmless status under the Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) and opposing the abolition of BESE.

“We are the buffer. We are the solution, not the problem,” Buquet told theboard.

Terrebonne pledged more travel to school boards within District 3 to keep open lines of communication, the preservation of the hold-harmless status and improving basic skills in grades K-3 to prevent dropouts later on.

“Adult education and vocational education is what I’m about,” Terrebonne commented.

Senate District 19 candidates spoke to the school board next, including 24-year incumbent Ron Landry and his challenger, State Rep. Joel ChaissonII.

Chaisson touted his support in the House for education issues, pledged his support against a school-voucher program and cited his experience on the Parish Council in opposition to unfunded federal and state mandates.

On Sen. John Hainkel’s continued fight to redistribute Waterford 3 advalorem taxes statewide, Chaisson said he would try to argue Hainkel against future attempts. Also, he pledged to fight for better disciplinaryprograms for public schools.

“Public money would not have taxes drained to private schools, but the public should have an option,” Chaisson commented.

Landry said a voucher program would destroy public education and resources instead should be pumped into improving public schools. He saidhe would fight to preserve St. Charles’s hold-harmless status in the MFPand guaranteed his continued opposition to Hainkel’s poaching on Waterford taxes.

“Let’s see how the program works before any tinkering with it,” Landry said of accountability programs,” Landry observed.

All five candidates for State Representative in District 19 addressed the forum, including Brian Champagne, Bill Gallardo, Mike Henderson, Ken Pace and Gary Smith.

Champagne, a Hahnville High School graduate, cited his four children in the St. Charles school system as his prime motivation for promoting educationissues. He said a voucher program would not be in the best interest ofpublic education, suggested pledging tobacco trust funds toward education, cited his own experience in fighting the Hainkel bill and against unfunded mandates and urged more parental involvement to help stem school violence.

“The biggest problem in Orleans Parish is because the people have not held the school board accountable,” Champagne observed. “Here in St. CharlesParish, people do hold you accountable and they re-elect you, some without opposition.”Gallardo, on the other hand, declared his support for the voucher system, commenting, “Why should we penalize some parents?” He did insist that since Waterford 3 was built in St. Charles Parish, its tax income belongedto St. Charles Parish – “Period!” He called for more strict juvenile-offender laws and promised help in the Legislature to fight unfunded mandates.

“This is why I want to plan my family in St. Charles Parish,” Gallardoobserved.

Mike Henderson, who spent 18 years with the St. Charles School Board,promised to lobby industry for help to maintain St. Charles’ hold-harmlessstatus in the MFP and push for greater school funding in Hainkel’s district, so he would not push for Waterford money.

“We need to level the playing field between public and private schools,” Henderson commented.

Ken Pace also voiced his support for the school voucher program. He said it “gives more power to parents,” and that violence in public schools is why he supports the private-school voucher program. He added that, accordingto his own observations, Louisiana spending per student is very high in national averages, yet gets less results. He pledged help on the Hainkelbill, and said, “We take the risks; we should reap the benefits.”Gary Smith, a Destrehan High School graduate, said he would fight any voucher program where private schools are not held to the same state requirements as public schools.

“Quality education is in the best interest of St. Charles Parish,” Smithaffirmed.

LSBA executive director W.F. “Freddie” Whitford commented after theforum: “Again, St. Charles Parish is the model for the rest of Louisiana.”

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