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School Board Spotlight: Incumbent, challengers vie for District 11 voters’ trust

LAPLACE — Accountability, budgeting, teacher pay and academics highlight the three-way battle for the District 11 seat on the St. John the Baptist Parish School Board.

On Tuesday, 29-year School Board member Clarence Triche will compete against challengers Shondrell Perrilloux and Lisa Tregre-Wilder to represent families from Old U.S. 51 to the St. Charles Parish line north of Airline Highway and from Walnut Street to Bayou Steel south of Airline Highway, excluding Woodland Quarters.

Triche said he likes to stay productive in all aspects of his life, and his St. John the Baptist Parish School Board career is no exception.

He initiated successful nursing and welding programs at East St. John High School, which have grown into a full-blown career and technical education curricula offering professional certifications.

Triche is pleased with the progress but believes technical education courses could attract hundreds of more students per year if given room to expand.

“We need to do more work at the STEM school for kids going on to college, but we also need to look at the fact that not all kids are going to college,” Triche said.

“We need to work in the direction of a vocational and technical school so these kids know how to do something with their hands and are able to work after high school.”

Triche said his dream is to construct a technical high school on 22 acres of unused land in Reserve already owned by the School Board, adding courses such as cosmetology.

Perrilloux believes academics can be improved using attainable resources already available at schools and within the community.

She sees potential for more interaction with higher education institutions, local businesses and nonprofit agencies through presentations to students.

“When I was in school, we used to have auditoriums filled with students listening to motivational speakers who can inspire children to become their greatest selves,” Perrilloux said.

She believes it is essential that all schools incorporate after-school tutoring, allowing students additional one-on-one time with teachers.

“As far as I’m aware, there is no after-school tutoring currently being offered,” Perrilloux said.

Tregre-Wilder backed that statement, adding she wants to incorporate off-site tutoring for three hours after school each day in various community centers, which could include church buildings or VFW Halls.

Retired teachers would likely staff the community centers, she said.

“This is attainable, and it would also be open for parents, older siblings or whoever is in charge of helping that child with school to come and learn because the curriculum is always changing,” Tregre-Wilder said.

The disappearance of textbooks in schools is another concern for Tregre-Wilder, who said children should, at the very least, come home with Xeroxed instructions on lessons for parents to assist with homework.

Tregre-Wilder said school performance could also be improved by removing disruptive students from the classroom when counseling and other disciplinary measures fail.

The students, according to Tregre-Wilder, could then be placed in a “virtual school” setting in another building on campus, where they could listen in on the lesson without interrupting the class.

With the slogan, “Voice for the People,” the heart of Perrilloux’s campaign lies in School Board accessibility and accountability to the public.

After getting involved in School Board meetings in 2017 following the removal of Principal Dr. Fawn Ukpolo from LaPlace Elementary, Perrilloux was concerned parents were not given the platform to share their opinions.

“I fought for public comment, and in September, they started placing it in front of each agenda line item,” Perrilloux said. “I’m appreciative they took heed to my concern. I’m also challenging that, if public comment is before the line item, it would be fair to allow the public a rebuttal after the presentation.”

Perrilloux said the School Board must present “clear, simple and detailed” agenda items as to not mislead the public on what the discussion would be about.

She cited a recent extension of Superintendent Kevin George’s contract as an example of policy not being followed, stating the vote was not unanimous and was thus illegal.

Perrilloux plans to hold industry accountable, especially concerning Marathon Petroleum Company’s appeal of a property appraisal that could result in less money in the School Board budget in 2020.

With 20 years of experience in business and accounting, Perrilloux said she has what it takes to readjust the budget and cut down on wasteful spending.

Triche denied claims that the School Board is wasteful or lacking transparency in its budget operations.

“We have a private auditing firm that checks over our budget,” Triche said. “We send all our records to the state, so we are audited twice. We’ve had plaques sent back to us from the state for the past 15 years for having excellent audits.”

Triche admits the School Board has suffered from budget shortfalls, with this year being one of the worst financial climates in recent history.

Declining sales tax and property tax are among the challenges, according to Triche, who said St. John Parish already lags behind in funding when compared to neighboring parishes that have more revenue from industry.

Nevertheless, Triche said he has proven himself capable of making sound financial choices to move schools forward.

“I got a quarter sales tax passed to give teachers a $3,500 per year raise in salary,” Triche said. “I found money to build the ninth grade wing at East St. John and the Emily C. Watkins School without adding any additional millage.”

Teacher pay is a concern shared by all three candidates, with Tregre-Wilder taking the most firm stance on what she feels needs to be done.

“We need to conduct exit interviews when teachers leave the School System to find potential issues that are reoccurring,” Tregre-Wilder said. “The teachers, especially those who are not local, should sign a contract with the Parish to agree to stay three or ‘x’ amount of years. I feel like it all comes down to the teachers because if they are successful, the students are successful.”

Tregre-Wilder also advocates awarding teacher bonuses.

Triche said parental involvement could improve test scores, one avenue being increased PTO meeting attendance.

In elementary school, this can be achieved through showcasing student performances at PTO meetings, he said, while high school draws greater crowds for athletics discussions.

Perhaps the most rewarding contribution Triche has made to the School Board, he said, is the Gold and Silver card program, which has run for 23 years to reward honor roll students in public and private schools with freebies and discounts from businesses around the Parish.

“I encourage parents to allow kids to use their cards,” Triche said. “Make them feel proud. That’s all I want.”

Tregre-Wilder said her concern is that only honor roll students are motivated through the program, when equal attention should be given to struggling students and special need students demonstrating improvement.

Triche said he has advocated for all children by implementing school uniform and clear school bag policies to quickly identify threats on campus.

As the parent of a special education child, Triche has worked with a former superintendent to establish a special education program in St. John Parish schools.

“I have experience as a business person and as a teacher, and I have a love for the kids,” Triche said. “My personal feeling is they are all my kids. That’s why I work for them.”

Tregre-Wilder said she has overseen an $11 million budget at Tulane as an administrative captain and payroll manager.

“I have the heart, the will and the means to do a very good job,” Tregre-Wilder said.

Perrilloux said she believes herself to be the most qualified candidate with a long list of experience pertinent to the position.

“I’m a licensed general contractor and an educator in divinity and theology,” Perrilloux said. “I’m the executive director of Unlimited Opportunities, a nonprofit agency that has, since 2003, promoted educational programs and job placement.”

Perrilloux said she has a good legal eye with more than 20 years of pro se law experience.