Are Students the new “Human Shields”?

04/24/2015

Anyone who has paid the least bit of attention to tax proposals and government spending the past few decades is familiar with the tactic of declaring that education funding is untouchable.

“It’s for the the children,” the refrain goes.

We suggest this is but a political tactic similar to the use children as “human shields” in military strategy. Non-combatants are placed in or around combat targets to deter attacks on these targets.

Education bureaucrats, with their fat salaries, taxpayer funded retirements, and gold-plated medical plans, don’t make good advocates for more taxes. Legislators can dis them with impunity and go back to their taxpaying constituents and brag about it.

But students – now there’s a sympathetic group.

We accuse the Education Establishment of taking advantage of the very people they claim to advocate for, and using them for props in an effort to protect their own jobs.

We hope the legislature doesn’t take the bait.

Another Student Mob at the State Capitol

04/23/2015

Southern University supporters rally at Capitol; senator: ‘Absolutely important’ school maintained in Louisiana

Budget cuts main focus of attendees
BY Elizabeth Crisp| ecrisp@theadvocate.com

Nearly 300 supporters of Southern University packed the State Capitol steps on Wednesday, rallying for their school and hoping to send a message to Louisiana legislators.

Jevante Myers, a sophomore from Opelousas, said he came out to the “We Are Southern” rally because he’s worried that with the threat of budget cuts, the university could be “shut down.”

“The university has been a tradition in my family,” he said. “It really means something.”

The Human Jukebox pep band, just back from a recent competition, rang out across the Capitol and could even be heard inside the building.

Several legislators spoke to the crowd, as did Southern University leaders.

“It is absolutely important that we maintain Southern University in our state,” said state Sen. Sharon Broome, D-Baton Rouge.

Caddo School Tax Update

04/22/2015

April 22, 2015

This article continues my countdown of Top 10 Reasons to vote “NO” on the Caddo Parish School Board’s tax-and-spend-and-debt plan. For those who missed reasons #10 and #9, click here.

REASONS #8, #7, and #6

#8. It’s Our School System, Not Theirs … Disrespect of Citizens, Part 1

Barry Rachal is the school board member in my district who has for years stridently opposed the building of new Caddo Parish public schools. Now, Rachal has inexplicably flip-flopped. He, alongside fellow member Larry Ramsey, has taken point in the over-the-top hawking of a tax plan which does precisely what the two conservative Republican board members often profess to abhor.

Mr. Rachal particularly gushes about the $24,500,000 new school in Southeast Shreveport. Given that he owns and runs a real estate company from and in the same residential base, conflict of interest questions have not surprisingly arisen. Rachal’s case is not helped by his refusal to identify, specifically, the for-profit interest for whom Caddo taxpayers will be building the school if the tax plan passes.

Angry for whatever reasons, Rachal recently used an email, shared among many, to flail away at opponents of the tax plan. He particularly targeted those who insist on the public’s right to ask school system bosses their questions about the plan.

The supposed places for such questions are the many meetings system officials have staged in schools around the parish. Those doing the hawking in those meetings are board members or top staff, the very ones who designed it, mainly in secret. Public officials or not, questions from the public are not allowed.

With no attempt to defend the system’s outrageous refusal, Rachal delivered this broadside …

….. “Set up your own damn community meeting or neighborhood meeting for a debate.”

Whether Rachal forgot or simply refuses to acknowledge it, those ARE the peoples’ “damn community meetings.”

We the people paid for the very school facilities in which these bosses stage their carnival barking. We pay Mr. Rachal’s school board salary. We pay the salaries of the top administrators who join him in putting on those hustles. That they do not honor and respect these facts is itself a great reason to Vote “NO.”

#7. Disrespect of Citizens, Part 2: “Dear Mr. Ramsey …”

As mentioned, CPSB members Barry Rachal and Larry Ramsey are the leaders of this taxing op. New member Susannah Poljak is another leader of the school board’s political team, but she is not yet up to speed. I am among those who hope she soon recognizes that board reform is our system’s constant, critical need.

As for Ramsey, fellow board members have outed him as the one behind Superintendent Lamar Goree’s whopper of a pay raise in February, a mere one year and a few weeks after he went to work.

There was no performance evaluation of any kind before the gift.

Including his “signing bonus” – what?! – and his next pay raise installment, school system adder-uppers say Dr. Goree will be scoring $235,000 a year plus an impressive array of side goodies. The vote to bestow the gift was 11-0, and, very tellingly, it was Mr. Ramsey who no-showed.

To put Goree’s take in local perspective, the Census Bureau reports that Caddo Parish earners, on average, make $24,308 a year. That is about one-tenth of Dr. Goree’s soon-to-be package. Though I know of no one who begrudges any Caddo superintendent competitive pay, the timing, nature, size and handling of this reward-for-who-knows-what was a slap in the face of many, if not most, taxpayers.

Yes, this school system is in real decline, and we should pray Dr. Goree can turn it around, but giving any fresh and new superintendent this kind of windfall this quickly is stupefying. It is also a disincentive for Goree to work harder and accomplish more. It confirms, yet again, the CPSB’s extravagance in spending (and wasting) taxpayers’ money.

As Ramsey, from near hiding, co-directs this tax-and-spend-and-debt campaign, he is simultaneously running for a seat on the Caddo Parish Commission. Pending the outcome of current litigation which challenges the constitutionality and legality of their taxpayer money haul, a Commissioner’s salary is more than double that of school board members. On top are buckets full of additional cash for retirement, health care, $15,000-per-year travel accounts, and more.

#6. (Vote NO Because) Throwing More Money at the CPSB Problem is Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!

Even our school board’s strongest supporters never publicly assert that the outfit does not get and have a flood of taxpayer money gushing through it.

Thirty years ago, Caddo taxpayers gave our school board $2,600 per-year, per-pupil to do its job, equal to $5,900 today. Today, we give these “leaders” over $12,000 per pupil, each year. That is 127% more by way of inflation adjustment, plus another 103% in real increase.

In its editorial in opposition to the CPSB tax plan, The Times likewise headlined it: “More Money Won’t Fix Caddo Schools.” Their editorial is here.

Quite literally, I and many others believe, passing this tax-and-spend-and-debt plan is absolutely, precisely wrong. The CPSB’s record of failure can, by definition, only worsen if its decades-old profligacy continues.

… to be continued …

Elliott Stonecipher

(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.)

Bonton Case Continued, New Attorney Appointed

04/21/2015

Brandon Bonton, an alleged accessory to the murder of Dr. Sue Hashawy, was assigned a new indigent defender in Third Judicial (Lincoln, Union Parishes) District Court this afternoon in Ruston.

Ruston Attorney Scott Killen was assigned to handle Bonton’s defense.

In addition to the accessory to 2nd degree murder, Bonton is charged with accessory to burglary, possession of stolen things, and theft of a firearm.

A June 23, 1:30 PM hearing is the next court date in the case.

Division B Judge Tommy Rogers presided.

Richwood Finances “Un-Auditable”

04/21/2015

In a just-released financial report on the Town of Richwood, Baton Rouge CPA Melvin Davis revealed numerous findings and problems for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2013, and “disclaimed” an opinion on the town’s finances.

Wrote Davis:

The Town could not provide sufficient competent evidence to determine the accuracy and completeness of the Town’s financial statements for the year ended June 30, 2013.

and,

The Town’s ongoing revenue shortfalls and inability to meet its financial obligations raise substantial doubt about the Town’s ability to continue as a going concern.

See here the complete report.

Among the findings:

Overall lack of financial management
Failure to record transactions
No financial statements
Lack of payroll administration
Potential ethics violations

Richwood has been under the direction of a Fiscal Administrator, Lafayette CPA Jonald Walker, who took over AFTER the period covered in the report.

Reportedly, Walker is making progress with the town’s finances.

I-20 Board Meeting This Afternoon

04/21/2015

The Interstate 20 Economic Development District Board of Directors will meet today, (Tuesday, April 21) 4:00 PM, Monroe City Hall, 400 Lea Joyner Expressway.

Here is the agenda.

DA’s Office Bows Out of Hashway Murder Prosecution, Trial Date Likely Delayed

04/21/2015
Dr. Sue Hashaway

Dr. Sue Hashway

As we had reported in January, the personnel shuffle in the Third Judicial (Lincoln, Union Parishes) District Attorney’s Office has caused delays once again in the prosecution of the accused murderer of retired Grambling State University Professor Dr. Sue Hashway.

The DA’s office recused itself from the prosecution of the alleged killer, Cameron Mays, because new hires in the office formerly were involved as public defenders for Mays. Deanna McCallum, who is the wife of another judge in the 3rd JD, Jay McCallum, and Lewis Jones, who was recently a candidate for 3rd JD Judge, are now Assistant District Attorneys.

Assistant Attorney General Mike Ruddick, based in Monroe, will be handling the case.

Ruddick told Lincoln Parish News Online at this morning’s court hearing that he had been given the case “two or three weeks ago,” and that Mays’ trial, now set for September 28, would likely have to be delayed beyond that date so that he could familiarize himself with the case files.

Hashway was killed nearly three years ago, in June 2012, in the normally quiet Cypress Springs neighborhood of Ruston, in what appeared to be a home invasion and robbery. Several days after the crime, the Ruston Police Department (RPD) arrested Mays and charged him with Hashway’s murder. He was also charged in another home invasion and rape that occurred in the same neighborhood.

Today’s developments came after bailiffs attempted to close the courtroom to the public. It was said that to relieve courtroom crowding, only those whose names appeared on the docket would be allowed in, and after their cases were heard and they left the courtroom, then others would be allowed in.

We protested, and were let in.

On this point, Louisiana’s Constitution is succinct and clear.

Article 1, Sec. 22 – Access to courts

All courts shall be open, and every person shall have an adequate remedy by due process of law and justice, administered without denial, partiality, or unreasonable delay, for injury to him in his person, property, reputation, or other rights.

Presiding at this morning’s hearing was Division B Judge Tommy Rogers. Defense attorney for Mays is James Buckley.

The next hearing is set for 9:00 AM, July 21.

At 1:30 PM this afternoon, another defendant involved the Hashway case, Brandon Bonton, is scheduled for a preliminary exam hearing.

Greater Ouachita Water Hung Out to Dry @ OPPJ Meeting

04/21/2015

Brown water and irate customers were featured at last night’s meeting of the Ouachita Parish Police Jury (OPPJ), when Greater Ouachita Water Company (GOWC) showed up to fend off complaints about discolored water and poor service.

The issue came to a head recently when West Monroe resident and GOWC customer Quentin Henry created a Facebook page (The People vs Greater Ouachita Water Company), and began to chronicle customer complaints with pictures and videos.

GOWC’s Tommy Sparks said that while the water has been in compliance as far as safety, it was “not acceptable” in appearance. He said they were taking steps to install carbon filters to remove the color.

Said Sparks, “We going to convert to carbon filters. We’re going to put these at Arkansas Road and Highway 80,” the area where many of the complaints were originating.

He said that by 2016, much of the system will have the filters.

Also representing GOWC was Bill Murdis and Jason Moss of Severn Trent Services, the systems operator. They detailed the technical processes they were employing to remove the stain. Promises were made to be more responsive to customer complaints.

Henry said that the reason he created the page was to help prevent a re-occurrence of the problems. He suggest that the jury create an advisory board to work with GOWC, as is provided in the company’s original charter.

Said Henry, “They (the advisory board) are there to know what exactly is going on at all times,” with the water system.

The jury approved a resolution appointing Jury President Scotty Robinson (District A) to coordinate between GOWC and the jury.

Robinson said he would begin receiving the systems monthly reports and keep the other jurors informed.

In other business, Parish Engineer Kevin Crosby reported on a revision of the flood insurance rate map for Frenchman’s Bend Subdivision.

See here the news release.

Paid Media Decries Lack of Participation in Student Mob

04/21/2015

Our Views: No roars from Tigers?

Advocate story

Complacency appears to have replaced activism even as higher education faces its most severe crisis in the past five years of recurring financial crises.

The good news is that some 150 students appeared at the State Capitol to protest the cuts that would reduce direct state aid to universities by as much as 82 percent in one year.

The bad news is that there were only 150. And the Capitol is only minutes by car or even by bus from LSU’s main campus.

Editors of The Daily Reveille at LSU were underwhelmed. It’s not the Tigers roar that LSU students should provide, they said in an editorial.

Caddo School Tax Update

04/21/2015

April 19, 2015

As the Caddo Parish School Board has rolled-out its tax plan over the past weeks, the list of reasons for voters to kill it, and send the board and staff back to the drawing board, grows and grows. Beginning here, I will boil the opposition case down to my Top 10 Reasons to Vote NO!

I began this months-long effort of research and writing last September. This article is the fifteenth in the series. I hope and trust the work explains to Caddo residents that taxing and spending and borrowing is already strangling the economic life out of our parish. Passing this plan will certainly hasten that process.

TOP 10 REASONS TO VOTE “NO” ON MAY 2ND!

#10. This Plan is for Taxing-and-Spending-and-Debt, Not Better Educations for Our Children

This CPSB plan includes just about zero for the all-important academic side of the educational equation. Neither does it do anything to improve our system’s employee salaries.

This is, in fact, a public policy misfire – a brick-and-mortar plan for a system long crushed under the fiscal weight of, yes, brick and mortar. The CPSB now has more schools and so-called “repurposed” school buildings than we had at the time of our desegregation “cross-over” in 1969-1970. We had 60,158 students then, but have 20,000 fewer now.

The Caddo Parish population peaked in 1986. We now face a future of continuing population out-migration owing to hugely high property taxes. For there to be hope that we will ever grow again, the CPSB must pay-down its existing debt of $123,961,505. Over time, that will erase our current 6.00-mill property tax for brick-and-mortar debt.

To compare this situation to the much more responsible days of our school system’s past, consider the following:

By 1984, just before construction of three schools – Turner Elementary in 1984, Keithville Middle in 1988 and Donnie Bickham in 1989 – the CPSB had diligently worked to pay down its debt to almost zero. Before building started, debt was a very low $2,400,000 … $5,200,000 inflation-adjusted to today. Now, with no concern for our future, the CPSB plans to enter the next few years of profligate spending on a completely unnecessary building spree with existing debt of $123,961,505.

I stress that voter approval of this plan will rocket our school system’s debt to over a quarter-billion dollars. (SEE details in this article.)

Here is how our property tax compares to like public school systems in Louisiana. (This 2014 data is provided by the Louisiana Department of Education, here. Scroll to property tax millage table.)

Caddo PSB ….. 75.66-mills
Bossier ….. 51.61-mills ….. CPSB is 46.6% higher
Rapides ….. 48.75-mills ….. CPSB 55.2% higher
Orleans ….. 43.71-mills ….. CPSB 73.1% higher
E. Baton Rouge ….. 43.35-mills ….. CPSB 74.5% higher
City of Monroe ….. 41.57-mills ….. CPSB 82.0% higher
Ouachita ….. 40.70-mills ….. CPSB 85.9% higher
Lafayette ….. 32.54-mills ….. CPSB 132.5% higher
Calcasieu ….. 30.58-mills ….. CPSB 147.4% higher
Jefferson ….. 22.70-mills ….. CPSB 233.3% higher

#9. System Intimidation of Employees to Pass This Plan

I have known and worked closely with many excellent CPSB members and top system staffers in my time. Now, though, our system is taking us back to the very damaging early 2000s. Not coincidentally, that was the first time this Southeast Shreveport school deception was tried – and strongly rejected by voters.

Confirmation of this path is the revelation this week that top system officials are strong-arming principals and other professional staff in order to pass this plan.

If the CPSB does anything other than dead-neutral sharing of factual information about the plan, such is illegal. As if to say “the Law be damned!,” a few top system bosses have written this memo – read it here – for students to take home to parents. The content well crosses the legal line over and into advocacy, meaning the use of tax money to pass the plan.

(The claim in this memo that this plan will not raise homeowners’ taxes is false. Any property tax millage still “on the books” will raise the homeowners’ taxes absent a public vote by the taxing body. The only millage which cannot and will not raise homeowners’ taxes is one which is kaput … zeroed … pushing-up-daises dead and buried!)

Too, there are constitutional and statutory safeguards to protect the intimidation of system employees to do any unethical and/or illegal things. Principals are, as this is written, being ordered to send copies of their signatures to Central Office for use in this aggressive campaign to pass a tax plan, regardless that principals will have no part in writing or approving messages they thus “sign” in absentia.

These heavy-handed tactics by system administrators, and possibly some CPSB members, reveal a system in ethical, if not legal, free fall.

… to be continued …

Elliott Stonecipher

(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.)


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