Board members raise concerns over topics, split vote on payment
The Webster Parish School Board held a financial committee meeting and regular meeting Monday evening. Topics addressed included tonight’s “Town Hall” meeting, possible millage changes, and a potential development concerning the consent decree in Cole v. Webster Parish School Board.
The board was almost evenly divided on whether to help pay for production costs of the Town Hall meeting in cooperation with the City of Minden and Webster Parish Tourism. The meeting, an invitation-only event to be televised live on KTBS tonight, will showcase the economic workforce development collaboration between the school board, north Louisiana’s technical colleges, area businesses, and the City of Minden.
Board members Johnnye Kennon, Margaret Edens, Malachi Ridgel, Linda Kinsey, Ronnie Broughton, and Jerry Lott voted to pay the school board’s share of the costs for the Town Hall meeting, which amounts to $1,750. Members Charles Strong, Jeri O’Neal, Ronald Rhymes, Frankie Mitchell, and Penny Long voted against. John Madden was absent.
Long expressed concern that the Town Hall meeting would veer into dangerous topics.
“I think they’re going to get up there, and they’re going to ask questions we don’t want to answer, and it’s going to be a scandalized event,” she said.
Superintendent Johnny Rowland said he spoke to members of KTBS last week to convey similar concerns.
“They assured me that the purpose of this event is to focus on economic development and the role of the school system in it – nothing more, nothing less,” he said. “They would have methods in place to keep even that wild card questioner from being able to get that out there. I did feel better after having that conversation with them.”
Broughton, who made the motion to pay the costs, said the school board has a necessary role to play in economic development.
“The school board has to do what we can for economic development,” he said. “We represent people who have jobs in the area. We need to be proactive.”
Edens asked Rowland if he was comfortable that the meeting would stay on topic.
“Do I feel comfortable?” he replied. “Yes. Am I assured? No. But can you ever be? So we’ll see.”
The Town Hall meeting will take place at 6:30 at Northwest Louisiana Technical College in Minden and will air live on KTBS.
In his superintendent’s report, Rowland briefly addressed the passage of Senate Bill 512 in the state legislature Friday. As reported at length in the Press-Herald yesterday, the amended bill allows for school officials to bow their heads during student-led prayer without fear of litigation.
On May 11, the federal judge presiding over the well-known ACLU case, Cole v. Webster Parish School Board, signed a consent decree that is essentially an enhanced version of the current school system religious expression policy.
Rowland said the passage of SB512 may potentially open the door for some tweaks.
“If the governor does sign [the bill], I think it would be in order to have [school board attorney] Mr. Guice come back again and inform us about what may be available as far as changes of wording in the consent decree,” Rowland said. “So that might be a topic of conversation in the near future.”
U.S. Congressman Mike Johnson told the Press-Herald last week he believes that if the board brought the new state law to the court, the judge would be inclined to allow amendments to the section of the consent decree that prohibits school officials from bowing their head during student-led prayer, thus smoothing over the most controversial aspect of the policy.
In the finance committee meeting, Business Director Crevonne Odom presented the board with numerous budget revisions in several funds.
The budget for the Minden district’s ad valorem tax fund shows a $138,000 deficit for fiscal year 2017-18. Due in part to the recent state audit, several other districts are also facing substantial deficits in their tax funds.
“I’m trying to balance paying the debt and maintaining a year’s worth of reserves,” Odom said. “In order to do that, we have to adjust the millages up or down. Because quite a few of them are way under, the millages are going to go up, and that means the taxpayers are going to be paying more.”
On the positive side, the school food services funds show roughly a $300,000 excess, which Odom said was the first excess in at least ten years.
At the end of the meeting, Personnel Director Robin Tucker shared the results of the recent state literary rally and music performance rally. Six Webster Parish students placed at the state level, and one student won her overall competition. Emma Greer, a freshman at Minden High School, took first place over all divisions in English I. In addition, eight Webster Parish students scored “superior” or above in vocal music competition.
The board will hold its next regular meeting June 4.