Citizens want EPSB to put the same proposal on the July ballot
By: CARISSA HEBERT
Over 100 citizens sat through an hour-and-a-half meeting with representatives of the Evangeline Parish School Board Thursday, March 13, to discuss the proposed new construction and renovations of schools in Ward One.
Superintendent Toni Hamlin gave background information on the facilities, U.S. Justice Department, the federal judge and the proposal voters were given during the fall election. She said the proposal failed by 299 votes.
“We feel we’re really at a crossroads,” Hamlin said. In recent years, she said this was the board’s fifth attempt to pass a tax in the parish, and it has failed five times. However, the last proposal failed by only 299 votes. She said the communities of Basile and Pine Prairie had voted millages to improve their schools, and now it was time for Ward One to make a decision.
Hamlin reviewed the case between the district and the U.S. Justice Department. She said the group will be in court July 24, and July 25, to discuss Ville Platte High. The justice department has asked for further relief in the case, and the school board has filed a motion to object against the justice department’s request. She said if a millage is approved, she believes the hearing will occur. However, if the millage is not approved, she believes Ville Platte High School will no longer exist.
Hamlin told residents the meeting’s purpose was to discuss the facility and decided what should be done. She said she had been gathering information in this case having recently met with both government and non-government groups, business people and the Ministerial Alliance.
Wayne Dardeau said Pine Prairie had passed a millage for 37-and-a-half mills. He said Pine Prairie was the poorest ward in the parish at the time the tax was called, and 65 percent of the voters approved it. He said the last time a tax was passed in Ville Platte for new schools was the 1930s.
“Those people put children first,” he said. Dardeau went on to say Ville Platte was the parish seat; the only city in Evangeline Parish. “If the tax doesn’t pass,” he said, “it would be a city without a high school.”
He challenged the people of Ville Platte to use the six days of early voting and election date to get everyone to the polls for a chance to pass the proposed tax.
Residents learned the board would be considering a proposal for 17 to 25 millages to build a new school. The board has not made a decision whether to go with the original proposal from the fall or to come up with a new proposal.
Debbie Fontenot asked for ad valorem taxes to be explained and how it stacked up against sales taxes. She also wanted to know what would happen 20 years down the road when the debt was paid. Lonnie Beweley, bonding attorney, said schools traditionally use valorem taxes to finance new schools. Sales taxes are used for government improvements like salaries and maintenance. He said a millage is $1 per every $1,000 of any taxable assessment. As a tax base goes up, the millage usually goes down unless a serious recession is seen. He said the parish’s valorem history has increased over the years. The parish has continued to grow and prosper in this area.
Beweley said he has seen a combination of valorem and sales taxes used to build a school, but if one half fails then the whole project would fail in this case. He also said the parish cannot levy taxes against citizens after the debt is paid. He also added the parish cannot accumulate money to pay the debt, but they could have a reserve of about one year to pay the debt. If that situation would arise, the debt would be lowered.
He also believed valorem taxes were fair over a period of years, because everyone would help pay these taxes either directly or indirectly. He said added costs would be passed on to the consumer.
He pointed out if sales taxes were higher in Evangeline Parish, then consumers might go out of parish to shop.
Ted Jordan said he would not support the same proposal from the fall. He would support a combination and a plan that called for discipline and a better education.
One resident asked about the private school in Ville Platte. He wanted to know if the local high school died, would it affect the private school and didn’t it receive funding from the parish. He learned the private school receives federal funding for books, transportation, etc. on a per pupil basis just like Ville Platte High and other parish schools.
Curley Dossman said his concern was if enough money was being asked for this structure to survive 40 to 50 years. He said we needed to meet the need of every child in Evangeline Parish.
Braylin Johnson said the board should campaign for this proposal like they do when they are campaigning for their seat. He urged them to hit the streets to discuss this proposal with residents.
Another resident said curriculum decisions came from the state not the parish. She said we needed a new school.
Debbie Fontenot asked about the academic expectations and a new facility. Hamlin explained the need to separate junior high and high school students. She said the space issue was a big part of the academic problem. Space would allow for vocational programs.
Jennifer Vidrine got a round of applause when she said the citizens wanted the original proposal to be put back on the ballot. “Some people want to dilute the plan,” she said, “for too long the public schools have settled for scraps. We have an opportunity now to build a state-of-the-art school for the children of Ward One. Don’t let anyone tell you not to, because it costs too much.” She said the children were important.
“The choice is simple. A no vote means no school, no Bulldogs, no purple and white and no Top 28. We’ve got a second chance. I’m asking you to vote yes for the original plan.” She said it was time to show people we cared about our children, our schools and our education.
Hamlin said the board would hear her report in executive session Wednesday, March 19, and then it would have a couple of weeks to make a decision on what proposal to bring to the voters. She said this town was struggling like other towns, but she believed it could support a millage for a new school. She said this was not a scare tactic, but she wanted citizens to have all of the information they had to make an informed decision. She believed if the millage is not approved, there would be no Ville Platte High for the 2008-2009 school year.