School board candidates answer questions

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 4, 2000

L’Observateur / October 4, 2000

LAPLACE – The St. John the Baptist Parish School Board’s District 8 seat isup for grabs Saturday.

Four men are running for the seat vacated by Richard DeLong, who retired in July for health reasons. LaRue Speights has been serving as interim boardmember for the district since that time.

District 4 is bounded by Belle Terre Boulevard and Country Club Drive on the east and west and Interstate 10 and Dominican/Madewood on the north and south.

Running for the District 8 school board seat are former school board member Charles M. Duhon; teacher and former St. John Parish Councilmember Mike “Coach” Maggiore; Randall Triche and former school board member Russ Wise.

Following are the candidates’ responses to five questions posed by L’Observateur.

1. What would you do to attract more certified teachers to theSt. John Parish public school system?

Duhon: The recruitment of certified teachers is critical in replacing the 75 uncertified teachers currently in the school system. I would seek boardapproval to use $ 450,000 of the $ 2 million in current surplus funds to attract certified teachers. I envision a four-year binding contract with asigning bonus that exceeds the surrounding parishes’ start salaries. This canbe done with no additional taxes.

Maggiore: I believe there are many programs the community and state could provide. When I was on the (parish) council the economic developmentdepartment was used to provide signing bonuses. There were other perksand benefits provided by businesses that truly helped. Hopefully we can usethese and many other ideas out there to get this community support for the teachers.

Triche: I would meet with the economic development council to attain an incentive bonus to be given to the incoming certified teachers.

Wise: The key to attracting more certified teachers to the school system is, of course, money. One of my first objectives as a board member would bewhat I call Pay Equity – raising teacher pay to a point more equal with the surrounding parishes. And I propose creating a bonus system to reward ourmost successful teachers. If we’re going to hold teachers to a higherstandard, we have to be ready to encourage those who make the extra time and effort to set the upward pace.

2. If the 1/4 cent sales tax referendum fails this Saturday, howwould you propose giving the teachers a pay raise?

Duhon: This is a moot point. Somehow the board found existing monies togrant a 3 percent salary increase to all employees just weeks before a tax proposal! I would have preferred a student improvement incentive factor built in to any salary increases. The voters of District 8 have continuouslyasked me,” What are we getting for our $43 million system today?” Our parish school system is now in the top 10 percent in pay, while students are in the bottom 3 percent in the state.

Maggiore: The first step is to continue to lobby the state to raise the salaries of teachers to the southern average. This would go a long way inhelping keep our certified teachers in our parish. I have an idea of using aform of a “credit card” benefit so that teachers would not have to pay some of the taxes locally or otherwise on some big purchases and the like. Thereare many other ideas, but these would go a long way to making certified teachers feel good about our community and stay here.

Triche: I would scrutinize the budget and force sales tax collections. Theteachers salaries would be increased yearly as excess funds are found.

Wise: Whether or not the sales tax succeeds, the school system will not have enough money coming in to adequately raise teacher pay. Relying solelyupon a sales tax to find the money is treading on dangerous ground. Salestaxes unfairly prey upon people who have to struggle hardest to make ends meet. And any public agency which depends too heavily for its revenues uponpeople buying things makes itself a hostage to the economy. There are otheralternatives out there. Two of the three I’m looking at would providerelatively little available money compared to raising sales taxes again, but the third could be a substantial source of income.

3. What is your opinion of the LEAP tests? If you are against theexam, what system would you put in place to judge the progress of students?

Duhon: The LEAP test program has raised the standards for poor performing school systems. Standard LEAP test measurement results haveshocked many parents and cleared the smoking mirrors. Parents now ponderin bewilderment: How is it possible for my honor roll child not to pass the LEAP test? How is possible for my 4.0 GPA graduate student to not qualifyfor a TOPS scholarship? In closing, I say yes to LEAP and no to a false education that falls short in preparing our children for what lies ahead.

Maggiore: I believe the LEAP test was a bold move by the state to provide minimum standards for our children. I believe it is necessary to check theprogress of our students and to make sure that certain skills are being taught at all levels.

Triche: I feel we should use the LEAP test. Our standards for our schoolsshould not and will not be lowered. This test has been proven to work in NewYork. The children in New York in the fourth grade are now reading at thefourth-grade level.

Wise: I was the only school board member in the state who served on the commissions which developed the Statewide School Accountability Program and the LEAP tests, which are its foundation. As a result I know it is literallythe best program of its kind in the country. We anticipated there would be”growing pains,” and there have been. But the only way to bring Louisiana offthe bottom of the ladder educationally is to raise our standards and work together to help kids achieve them. Under the new program schools have nochoice but to improve.

4. Does the state Board of Education accountability program gofar enough in holding schools responsible for students’ performance? If not, what would you do to make schools and teachers more accountable?

Duhon: The Board of Education accountability program has declared 80 percent of St. John Public Schools as below average and has set improvement goals. The state accountability program has challenged the roleof our local elected school board members, schools either improve or the state will take over. That is great and how it should be! It is clearly a localschool board responsibility to demand improvements in student performance and weed out the incompetent. Why wait on a protracted stated plan?Declare a state of emergency and focus on holding all employees accountable for student achievement results and students accountable for behavior.

Maggiore: I most certainly feel they have and are doing their jobs. I havebeen trained in their assessment program and I feel this is a great program for bringing teachers along. I feel I have an advantage of having been trainedin this area. I will be able to understand the problems and concerns that all inthe assessment and accountability program face. I would be able to providefrom school board level any support needed to assist this process in helping our new teachers become strong classroom leaders.

Triche: The state board does go far enough. In some cases the board hastaken over schools. I would ensure that the principals do their jobs ofproperly evaluating the teachers.

Wise: It is up to the top administrators of the school system to make sure our schools not only improve student performance but set the standard for the rest of the state. It is up to the St. John School Board to make sure theydo, or to find new administrators who will.

5. Besides the lack of teachers, what is the major problem facingthe St. John Parish School Board today and what would you doabout it?

Duhon: The dominant problem facing the school system today is the lack of diversity. The current public school system is 75 percent black. I would go tothe presiding federal judge overseeing our parish desegregation order and request a school attendance zone change. The objective would be to attractwhites back into the system by creating neighborhood schools while maintaining racial balance. I feel we have nothing to lose given the existingsystem is essentially segregated and looks like a 1960 school system.

Maggiore: Public perception! I would like to see the schools and our classrooms opened up to the community so that they can see the good things that are ongoing. I believe this could be helped by getting moreinvolved with a community education program. I believe that if members ofour community could see “first-hand” our children and teachers in action they would be pleasantly surprised at the amount of work and achievement they would find.

Triche: Parent participation is far too low in our schools. I want to see”positive” progress reports sent to the parents along with the “negative” reports every four and a half weeks. We need more positive media coverage.

Wise: The largest single short term problems facing the St. John schoolstoday, aside from the need for more certified teachers, are linked: The need to reduce teacher absenteeism and the need to find qualified and certified substitute teachers. When a child misses a day of school a child misses a dayof school, but when a teacher misses a day about 20 or 25 kids miss a day of school. Replacing them with real teachers would help, and there are someout there – teachers who have decided to stay home and raise their families but who would be willing to come in occasionally to help out.

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