Approach school board downsizing with caution

The Lafourche Parish School Board has taken a historic step by reducing its size to nine members. The change has long been sought by advocates for government efficiency. By reducing the school board size, some fans of the move have stated, money can be saved. We live in an era where the shrinking of government — any aspect of government — is a constant mantra.

From a variety of perspectives we understand and in many ways could find ourselves in support of this change. But we also recognize that there are many hoops to be jumped before the change is finalized. And we do not, at this point, recommend cheers or applause.

The system that allows for an alteration of government framework this important is multi-tiered for good reason. By maintaining tight controls over how and when a shrinking of this school board, the overall scheme of Louisiana’s government has built-in safeguards against rash decisions. We are looking at a process where, in our opinion, the sacred framework of how members of an important body are selected is a good thing in terms of the built-in cautions.

The Lafourche Parish School District has proven itself to be an agency that is true to its mission of educating our young people. Despite budget cuts, a funding system built on statewide framework that almost guarantees our schools have difficulty getting the money they need to move forward, and other potential blockages to success, the Lafourche Parish schools have proved itself capable of overcoming such adversities. The proof lies in the “A” grade the school system has received from the State of Louisiana’s educational higher-ups.

Students, teachers, administrators and the school board itself have worked tirelessly to make anything but success to be no option.

We question whether this success could have been achieved with any greater ease had the school board been shrunk in the past.

Among the considerations that legislators must carefully look at before a bill is passed that permanently shrinks this board are the questions that arise concerning how the diverse population of the parish is represented before final lines are drawn. At one time the drawing of lines our state was overseen by the U.S. Department of Justice, a practice that many in government said was no needed, although past records of voter discrimination indicated otherwise. Nonetheless, the relevant portion of the U.S. Voting Rights Act that mandated pre-clearance was eliminated by Congress. Since then, we believe our state has met the challenges of continuing to provide fair access to representation for all of its citizens, give or take a few hiccups. Locally, especially in Lafourche Parish, we have seen little reason for concern.

However, even with that having been said, it shall be the job of the legislature to closely watch how drawing of lines takes shape, once approval is given for change.

We recognize that the model for how school district lines are drawn will likely be those of the Lafourche Parish Council itself. But just because a set of maps that show proper representation of voters as they select one body might be appropriate, those same maps might be lacking because of peculiarities associated with the educational mission.

Our children are our most precious resource. They represent our future. Our taxpayers are the people who fund the system that cares for them and educates them. When it comes to who shall make the decisions on how money is spent or, as a school board is required, to make decisions regarding student discipline and personnel, the responsibilities of the body as a whole are as important as any individual board member opinions.

Perhaps the larger board currently in place might be in a better position to represent all the voices that should be heard as educational decisions are made. We are not certain that shrinking the board will enhance that mission, though we don’t see reason for now to believe that there will be harm.

Still, we advise caution at all levels. We are tempted to recall the old saw “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” What may need to be fixed for Lafourche and all of our schools may be a fresh look at finding schemes that are beyonf the purview of any school board. We shall watch and wait.