Caddo Parish School Superintendent Dr. Lamar Goree and key staff members have scheduled 10 “Reinvest in Caddo” Community meetings—6 have been conducted as of today. The meetings are scattered throughout the parish; they have been held at Blanchard Elementary, Queensborough Elementary, Captain Shreve High, Southwood High, Walnut Hill Elementary/Middle, and Atkins Elementary. The remaining schedule includes Booker T. Washington, C.E. Byrd, Green Oaks, and Oak Park Elementary/ Middle School.
The meetings have been a work in progress; initially live questions were invited from the audiences. For reasons that Dr. Goree and school board attorney Reg Abrams will NOT specify, the meetings now do NOT allow live questions. Attendees are invited to list questions on index cards and then check the CPSB website for the questions and the answers; those were to be posted within 48 hours or so of each meeting.
The meetings feature a power point presentation that is explained by Dr. Goree and other top central office personnel. Each speaker added non-scripted comments that seemingly are reflective of criticism of the bond package. At Walnut Hill Goree advised that the location of the proposed new Central Elementary school had NOT been definitely decided. Previously, this new school was to be at the Hamilton Terrace location after razing the historic structure.
According to Goree, the bond package was developed after an analysis of the current and projected parish population for the next 15 years, the budget and particularly maintenance expenses, and needs to improve education. The package includes new elementary schools—for Blanchard elementary students, a pre-K through 8th grade facility for southeast Shreveport, and a new central elementary for the inner city to allow the closing of 3 existing schools. The package also includes new class room wings for Walnut Hill, Cherokee Park, and Summerfield elementary along with auditoriums for Walnut Hill and Herndon. Auxiliary gyms are included for Green Oaks, Southwood and Captain Shreve. Every high school will get upgrades to enhance STEM classrooms. and southeast Shreveport will get a high school at an undetermined location.
Efforts were made to additionally justify the bond package on the basis that the vote is actually to RENEW a 6 mil real estate ad valorem tax—and that is was NOT a new tax. One speaker predicted that real estate values in Caddo Parish should increase 5 to 6% per year—which would increase the tax revenues each year to the CPSB. Seemingly, it was NOT a concern that this assumption would result in increase taxes for homeowners. And while skirting around the overall tax burden for Parish property owners, (and especially those in Shreveport who have the highest ad valorem tax rate in the state), the audience was advised that the CPSB receives one of the lowest sales tax percentages in the state.
Goree has drawn criticism in social media for reportedly requiring school board employees to attend mandatory meetings and listen to the bond package sales pitch. Many of these employees are concerned about their job if they do not actively support the package, and each community meeting has been well attended by teachers and staff alike. There’s no doubt that there is pressure on this group to get out and vote on May 2; thankfully HOW these voters cast their ballots is not discoverable, only if they voted.
Social media has also been critical of the fact that those opposing the bond package have not been given “equal time” to present their side of the story—be that in a forum with Goree or utilizing school facilities with notice to parents by JPAMS and/or texts. In a Facebook posting school board member Larry Ramsey advised: “any such debate would not be advisable to the superintendent and staff based on election law. In any given scenario, Dr. Goree would be painted as pro-bond issue debater asking for the support of the community against an individual who is on the con side. This gets into a troubling area as election law does not allow for employees of the district to ask for support when it comes to any taxation proposal. The mere appearance of such a setting alludes to that support and the form of the questions could also put the superintendent in a precarious position. Just as in the case with persons running for office, the superintendent has nothing to gain in such a debate which would simply take his time away from the needs of students. However, this does not mean the superintendent or district staff or school board members are opposed to answering questions. Any and all persons are invited to ask questions at any community meetings we are hosting.”
Without a doubt the pending bond package has attracted more attention with voters than any other in Caddo Parish in recent history. Concerned parents and taxpayers are to be commended for actively investigating both the pros and cons of a package that was NOT developed with any citizen input—which is an unfortunate first. The fact that the CPSB gave Goree a very large pay raise earlier this year—after less than one year on the job—AND a $10,000 signing bonus is not playing well with voters. (And whoever heard of a signing bonus for a public employee whose contract is being renewed with a major payraise?) The good news is that citizens are involved and asking hard questions; the bad news is that Goree will not answer these which is a statement in and to itself.