Kentwood Alderman Michael Hall commended the Board's proposal, while attorney Douglas Brown offered suggestions on other programs not previously outlined in the plan, and Loranger resident Mindi Campbell read from a written statement asking the Board to reconsider their proposal which will call for an additional one-cent sales tax and more than 33 mills in property taxes to fund the plan.
Brown asked the Board to look into the plan and see if they could add programs for early childhood foreign language instruction, additional librarians, and physical education programs. The Hammond attorney, who presented the public with copies of a self-produced "layman's guide" to the proposal, also read a letter he had received from the director of the region's Children's Advocacy Center, Rob Carlisle, who offered five major questions that Carlisle said reflected, "questions that I have personally received from peers, staff, and community members when discussing this proposed plan."
Carlisle's questions, as quoted by Brown, included:
1. What will the Tangipahoa Parish School Board plan to do if the desegregation plan is accepted by the Judge, but they fail to establish the taxation needed to implement this plan?
2. What does the Tangipahoa Parish School Board plan to do to strengthen the confidence of the community that they can effectively implement this plan?
3. How will the implementation effectiveness of this plan be evaluated, and by whom?
4. Why has the Tangipahoa Parish School Board not done more to strengthen the community's understanding for this plan in communicating its anticipated results to improve the school system for children's future?
5. Why is the Tangipahoa Parish School Board in this plan not going beyond their own resources and acting in a more collaborative effort by including Southeastern Louisiana University, Headstart Programs, Faith Based Institutions, non-profits serving children, judicial systems, or other independent coalition groups to assit in executing this project?
Carlilse's letter goes on to say, that while he is, "very excited of the proposed changes to the curriculum and programs anticipated being offered in our local community to improve the quality of education being offered," he feels, "we can do a better job with broader input, support, and competency."
"Outside of my work involvement and personal responsibilities as a father to desire the greatest education for my children, I pay sales tax, income tax, personal property tax, adn business property tax. If I decide to vote on any additional taxes, I want to make certain this plan is being implemented in an effort to improve the overall quality of education and not centered upon the need to just lift a desegregation order," Carlisle writes in a portion of the letter which the Board did not allow Brown to read due to time considerations.
Brown addressed his comments during the Board's public input portion of the agenda and was limited to five minutes to address the topic. Brown later disseminated copies of Carlisle's letter to the Board and to the press upon request.
Meanwhile, Campbell, a mother with children in the Loranger schools, addressed her comments to the board after taking exception to statements made by the Board's desegregation attorney, Charles Patin, during a public hearing on the proposed plan April 18.
Campbell said the counselor used poor judgment in comparing the cost of the plan to taxpayers to the monthly budget one might spend on cigarettes and alcohol.
"I find it interesting or should I say offensive that Mr. Patin chose to use the cost of cigarettes, wine, and whiskey to estimate the millage cost to property owners in Tangipahoa Parish," Campbell said, adding, "Does he assume that all parents in Loranger smoke and drink and should so easily relate to the cost of such?"
"I think it was very poor judgment to insinuate to parents and children at that meeting that parents smoke and drink, especially since our children are taught through the DARE program in our schools that these are gateway drugs," Campbell said.
The Loranger mom questioned why taxes will be increased when, "I read today that the school board has a $64 million surplus this year."
"Why then do you expect property owners in Tangipahoa Parish to pay a millage and a one-cent sales tax on top fo the existing one cent sales tax recently renewed to finance the new construction of schools that will result in the splitting of the Loranger, Champ Cooper, Hammond, Natalbany, Pumpkin Center and other school districts?" Campbell challenged the Board.
Campbell told the board that recent news reports indicate only about 25 percent of homeowners in this parish pay property taxes.
"Why should the burden of financing your plan fall on the minority of residents in the parish?" Campbell asked.
Campbell told the Board that she is not opposed to change, but, "there are alternatives to your plan you have just refused to consider other options. There is more than one way to meet this order so do not be so presumptuous to assume that your plan is the only plan that is in the best interest of the chidlren. The children are what are important here."
Campbell also accused the board of showing their "disdain for the parents and children in Loranger," saying that it was "apparent in the (board's) dismissive and condescending attitude displayed," in the public hearings on April 18.
"We will be heard," Campbell told the board, "And we will not go away. I am looking forward to addressing you all again in the future and making sure that (federal court) Judge (Ivan) Lemelle hears our concerns."
Only one parent, Michael Hall, an alderman from Kentwood, spoke in favor of the proposal Tuesday night. Hall told the Board that he has one child in the Kentwood schools and that he has "adopted" the 780 other students enrolled in the two Kentwood-based campuses.
"I am 100 percent in support of this proposed plan," Hall told the Board, adding, "At least now someone has a plan."
Hall told the board and his town's first lady Ann Smith, who serves as vice president of the school board, that he will "give you my pledge to do anything within my ability, except break the law, to help the plan succeed."
Hall told the board and the audience that, "With all good things comes a price. The one cent sales tax and the property tax are a small price for us to pay as adults to give the children an A-plus education."
"Mr. Kolwe and Board members, use me as you will," Hall said, adding he knows this plan, if successful, will bear great fruit for the Kentwood community. "If you build it, they will come" Hall said, echoing the words of the popular 1989 movie, "Field of Dreams."
The board was scheduled to vote Monday, April 27, to submit the proposed plan to the federal court for consideration. The plan was scheduled to be sent as is, with approximately $521,000 in program cost additions and minor policy revisions.