School Board inaction leads parent to rally

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 4, 2013


LAPLACE – The St. John the Baptist Parish School Board’s upcoming Thursday meeting may turn up the heat on board members and administration with the anticipated appearance of a throng of frustrated parents and students.
Cliff Turner, a dispatch supervisor at Fryoux Tankerman Service in Norco, said he is tired of the excuses from the school system and thinks it’s time to apply some pressure. The concerned parent recently distributed a flier in the local community, asking parents, students and public officials to attend and vent their frustrations about the status of repairs to East St. John High and Lake Pontchartrain Elementary.
Turner has a son at East St. John High and feels that he is suffering from the School Board’s lack of planning.
“Basically, you get no answer to what’s going on at all. So that’s why I put that flier out,” he said. “It’s just all kinds of excuses, that’s what it is. I want to go in there and find out what’s going on.”
Turner said he has done research about the situation, though he said he has not personally attended the past few meetings. Turner has contacted school districts in New Jersey, the site of major damage from Hurricane Sandy, where he was told that the schools are already up and running for the year. Hurricane Sandy occurred about two months after Hurricane Isaac.
“If FEMA offered you X amount of dollars, why have you not taken that and (at least) gotten started? Whatever the difference is, we’ll try to work that out. It’s totally unaccpetable what they are telling us. We’ve got to get the ball rolling now to get some answers and results,” said Turner.
Turner thinks that the School Board would benefit from consulting school districts in Orleans Parish that suffered damages during Hurricane Katrina. He also thinks the board should focus less on finding local contractors if there aren’t any nearby that are qualified to do the job.
“In this situation, if you can’t handle it, sometimes you have to go outside. Why are acting like what we don’t know what we need to get these schools up in running when we just had Katrina? What we need is a blueprint for recovery from hurricanes. Why did they not go to somebody in Orleans Parish that had experienced this and asked?” he asked.
Though frustrated parents have been in regular attendance at the School Board meetings for at least the last month, Turner said he hopes to fill the room. He has also invited parish and state officials.
The School Board began laying new groundwork to begin on Lake Pontchartrain Elementary’s temporary campus during its meeting Aug. 15. Superintendent Kevin George introduced four options to begin the process of selecting an architect to design the campus: the School Board could start with a brand new request for proposals that would take about 60 days; opt to include the temporary campus with the larger disaster management contract; or conduct what the superintendent called a “mini RFP,” through which the board would solicit requests for qualifications from architects as they normally would, only the process time frame would be condensed to about 30 days.
The board members also had the option to just select an architect haphazardly.
The board chose the third option and agreed to narrow down the proposals it received to three. Members also said they would study the top three proposals during the upcoming retreat and make a selection at the following meeting.
Other items of interest on the School Board agenda are an executive session update on the FEMA appeals for East St. John and Lake Pontchartrain and action on a problematic lawn-care contract.