by Elliott Stonecipher
When the Caddo Parish School Board’s error-plagued tax plan failed at the polls yesterday, it was a much bigger deal than most will conclude. The outcome beat the conventional wisdom and broad expectation well established in our electoral behavior: “These things always pass.”
“These things” are the poison which has brought Caddo to its economic and population-stagnation knees.
“These things” is code for gatherings of powerful for-profit interests whenever they decide business is slow enough here to need a public bond issue … run through some local governmental body. “Hey, guys, let’s get those school board people to slap together a list of new schools and stuff in one of those bond deals and get our profits going again!”
The next thing you know, we the people are voting on a $108,000,000 gift list to certain favored groups and constituencies. That’s how we’ve done it here for decades upon decades. It is what a place does when true and real economic development falters. That is how, in the thirty years since the early 1980s, Caddo Parish government taxation increased 10.6-times as much as Caddo Parish’s total assessed value of all property, what many consider a proxy for economic development.
Those numbers well detail how deep is the hole we have dug for ourselves.
Most people here, of course, cannot know these details. Our news media has, too, been gutted by our stagnation-turning-to-decline, not to mention the existential threat of internet-based social and commercial media.
In that new reality, a funny and wonderful and marvelous and stunning thing happened yesterday on the way to the people being pushed around by yet another local government body. A majority of the people pushed back.
Helluva thing, that.
Parishwide, the margin was 6% “NO.” In some key places, given how the tussle played out, the story for the school board, top staff, and community is writ large. Here are main examples of what happened.
— The people of the Blanchard area took on hero status in the politics of rejecting this plan, which is to say rejecting how the board / staff tried to cram it down throats. To be sure Blanchard folk were on board, the board promised them their “very own” new elementary school. In the process, nearby Timmons Elementary, highly valued by many of them and the rest of us, would be closed. Regardless that local pols were strong-armed by our system superintendent, the people there shouted a loud “NO!” Here are precinct results:
# 161 – 54% Yes
# 158 – 59% No
# 138 – 66% No
# 160 – 66% No
# 166 – 70% No
# 136A – 80% No
# 136B – 80% No
— In order to sell the notion that a new school was “needed” in Southeast Shreveport, the board, particularly member Barry Rachal, had to hard-sell people that University Elementary is “overcrowded.” Statistical evidence and the school’s principal said otherwise. We now know what the majority of voters believed:
#108 – 51% Yes
#101 – 53% No
# 56 – 54% No
# 76 – 54% No
#112 – 60% No
— In core Eastcentral Shreveport area, the board and staff made a hash of their plan, including targeting Hamilton Terrace for a teardown, only to suddenly sell it. They would have closed Creswell Elementary, Stoner Hill and Barrett, and allegedly give C. E. Byrd High School a new and unrequested library, along with long-delayed replacement of its air conditioning and heating system. The system’s own “Facility Condition Index” data made a strong case against Creswell’s closing. Here are precinct results:
# 6 – 56% No
#20 – 56% No
#64 – 65% No
#99 – 65% No
#15 – 72% No
#17 – 74% No
— The “success” for the school system was among those who wanted their “own” school in Southeast Shreveport. Their argument was and is that they are entitled to such given how much of the tax load they pay. Where their “leaders” in this op stuck it to themselves was in designing the plan around this one deal, while also hiding the must-have related details from the public. To this moment, many of us believe we would have been building this school for very wealthy interests who can well afford to build their own private school. Here are the precincts and votes:
#109 – Yes by 1 vote
#115 – Tie
# 97 – 52% Yes
#104 – 53% Yes
#110 – 53% Yes
#107 – 67% Yes
#128 – 61% Yes
In fact, of course, it was the boss-people’s secrecy that killed the plan. We have a mature population here, and we have seen every political trick in the book from local elected and other officials.
… When the CPSB and to staff conducted almost all of the planning for this mess in secret, and tried to rig the deal by electing four gimmie school board votes just in advance, they broke the plan’s arms and legs.
… When they intimidated their own principals, and violated the Louisiana Constitution and laws with their outrageous use of public money to sell and market and the thing, they shot it in the heart.
… The process reeked of everything bad about local government. Secrecy. Intimidation. Law breaking. The worst and most telling? Easy: taking the “plan” on the road to local public meetings in our schools, then refusing to take questions from the public. Why? Arrogance, disrespect for the people, and knowledge that the truth of the deal would drop chances of passage like house prices in Detroit.
Here it is. If a governmental body wants to cheat to win, tossing out the greater good for the benefit of for-profit interests (as in, say, the Hwy. 3132 Extension to the Port) …
… those pols should make very sure they fix it enough.
Some of us got great educations from these schools.
(Elliott Stonecipher is in no way affiliated with any political party. He has no client or other relationships which in any way influence his selections of subjects or the content of any article. His work is strictly in the public interest, with no compensation of any kind solicited or accepted. Appropriate credit to Mr. Stonecipher in the sharing – unedited only, please – of his work is appreciated.)