Mechanic’s death puts school board in bus bind

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 5, 2011

By David Vitrano


RESERVE – Since the passing of Boy Williams, whose auto repair shop was contracted by the St. John the Baptist Parish School Board to maintain its bus fleet, the district has been forced to enter into an emergency contract with the auto shop of Pierre Cambre.

“We decided we needed to do something to transport our kids,” said Assistant Superintendent Herbert Smith, who sat in for Superintendent Courtney Millet at Thursday’s meeting.

Despite the board’s tabling of an item that would have allowed district administration to seek bids for a new bus fleet mechanic, some on the board were confused by the sequence of events that led to the emergency contract.

“I was assured by several people that the contract and company would survive Mr. Boy’s death,” said board member Russ Wise.

Wise said the board had the opportunity to come up with a fallback plan but chose not to.

“We blew it,” he said.

Williams’ daughter, Bernine Williams, tried to explain some of the confusion surrounding the contract between Boy’s Auto Repair and the school board.

“I think they were listening to the wrong people,” she said. “It wasn’t fully the school board’s fault.”

She said as the sole heir of Boy Williams, she was unable to keep the shop going and had to close it.

The board will revisit the contract issue at a future meeting.

In other action Thursday, a group of parents and educators from Emily C. Watkins Elementary School in LaPlace left the meeting in disgust after the school board refused to let parent Jennifer Frizzell speak, despite her presence on the agenda.

Their presence was precipitated by the continuing problems with the HVAC system at the school. The problems have led to moisture and mold issues at the school, which, many parents contend, have led to health problems for some of the students there.

The board, however, has addressed the issue and is currently under contract with Chenevert Architects to correct the situation. It is also involved in ongoing litigation with the original contractors to try and recoup some of the money from the faulty work.

Board President Patrick Sanders told those in attendance the board’s legal representation discouraged the board from discussing the matter in a public forum because of the pending litigation and the board’s investment in rectifying the situation.

According to Sanders, the board has dedicated $1.4 million to fixing the problem.

The explanation did little to soothe the angered audience members, who left amid cries of “That’s pathetic!” and threats to take the matter to the state.

Lastly, board member Rodney Nicholas said he would like to see the district amend its ticket pricing for East St. John and West St. John football games. Prices were recently raised to $9, with no lowered fee for students or children.

“Is there any way we can reduce those ticket prices to children and students?” he asked. “I was for the $9 initially, but now that I’m seeing the stands are empty, I’m no longer for the $9.”

Most on the board agreed with Nicholas, although the action came just one day before the final game of the regular season.