Church at LaPlace Elementary sparks debate

Published 12:10 am Saturday, March 5, 2016

School Board approves 1-month lease for The Mission Church

RESERVE — Following an impassioned and emotional speech from the Rev. Nick Peppo, St. John the Baptist Parish School Board members granted a special, one-month agreement to The Mission Church to lease LaPlace Elementary School for weekend service use.

The move followed nearly 20 minutes of discussion, legal opinion and numerous procedural votes as Board members debated the merits of different lease pricing for nonprofits versus for-profit enterprises, as well as the rationale for allowing faith-based organizations access to public school property.

Ultimately, Board members voted to lease the school for use by The Mission Church in March for $1,000. Board members said they would reevaluate the terms of the agreement after discussing their policy.

District 2 School Board Member Albert Burl was the only present School Board member to vote against the lease agreement.

“My only issue I have with it is that eventually we will have to cut it off somewhere,” he said. “There are enough churches around here. This is one of our new facilities, so eventually it’s probably going to start a floodgate, whereas you will have someone who wants to have a church at each facility that we have.”

Burl stressed he was not personally against The Mission Church, adding he was mainly focused on School Board policy, which does not specifically address reduced leasing rates for nonprofits, noting the Board sometimes agrees to reduced rates on an arbitrary basis.

Superintendent Kevin George recommended Board members approve the lease, saying the School Board rents out facility use for many different events.

“I think this would actually be bringing something positive to the community,” he said. “I understand our Board members’ hesitation with this. I do believe; however, after just undergoing a storm and working with one another to help all of us lift each other up, I do implore the Board to, at least, consider allowing a church to operate in one of our schools.”

During the discussion’s public participation, Peppo spoke on behalf of The Mission Church, identifying himself as campus pastor.

“The very first time I spoke to Kevin George about this, we asked for one year,” Peppo said. “That was really our agreement there, because at one year we want to have a building and we want to have mid-week services, youth services and the things we could just not ask of a school to provide for us.”

Peppo said he was completely invested in St. John schools, citing his work as a public school substitute teacher and volunteer coach at Regala Park.

“I don’t ask for any credit, but when that storm hit, by Wednesday morning we were giving out 700 jambalaya dinners. We are a community church. We are going to do everything we can do to serve those schools, because that is our job as a church: To serve you all, to serve those schools. Every dollar of the budget that can be moved into another area allows us more opportunity to reach our kids, love on our kids and really give them the life they deserve — that we all seek to do.”

Peppo concluded his remarks by saying he hoped to have coffee with Burl and share his motivation.