Destroying Our Schools

May 20, 2009

Okay. Enough is gawl-danged enough.
   Friday’s edition of the Banner contained a front page story where in St. Mary Parish Superintendent of Schools Dr. Donald Aguillard unveiled “J.A. Hernandez Elementary School could be the next school closed.”
   During a District 1 Maintenance Committee meeting last Thursday, it was deemed feasible that a rehabilitation project at Franklin Junior High School could make more room for housing fifth graders from Foster, Hernandez and Lagrange. Pre-K through fourth grade would remain at Foster and LaGrange.
   With two years boxed out for the renovations at FJHS, after that Aguillard said the school “should have no trouble housing additional students.”
   Construction of Raintree Elementary – a proud indigenous name for a dishonorable travesty – will already prompt closure of G.W. Hamilton Elementary in Baldwin, Baldwin Elementary, Mary Hines Elementary in Charenton and Thomas Gibbs Elementary in Four Corners.
   This has got to stop.
   Before it’s over with, the school system – arguably the most out-of-control, bass-ackwards and convoluted public body in St. Mary Parish – will have one high school and one middle-slash-elementary school on each end of the parish.
   God forbid they don’t decide to build one of each in Ricohoc instead, ferrying kids from Four Corners to Amelia to the center of the parish.
   This has to stop. I voiced my objections to Raintree Elementary early on. I believed then that its construction was just the first step in elimination of more schools than had been announced.
   I am tired of hearing about new education models, about “not burdening the taxpayers” more. The school board is the biggest leech on the taxpayers of this parish, and like an overfed Jabba the Hut, keeps wanting more no matter how engorged and obese.
   People! This is insane. They are taking away your schools! Churches and schools used to be the foundations of neighborhoods, and communities. One by one, the school system is destroying communities by destroying their schools. They are packing your kids into classrooms like sardines.
   I am sick of hearing about being broke. The school system is not broke, it’s top-heavy. Yeah, yeah, yeah, we’ve been hearing that for decades, haven’t we? True to the juggernaut minotaur that the school system has become, nothing can be done to slay it. It is a self-perpetuating beast, feeding off the teat of the taxpayers and forcing its will upon the community. The school system has also gone a bit off its see-saw.
   Dammit, people! Pardon me, but…dammit! When is enough enough?
   There was a rash of school closings in the 1980s, and though some were successful, the community got up on its hind legs and bared its sharp teeth, saving some neighborhood schools. I remember that well, and I remember being proud as the dickens.
   Then there was another round when Raintree was proposed, and the school system used terrorism tactics that suggested many school closures, but could limit that to a few if Raintree was built. Obviously, that tactic was successful, but a bald-faced lie.
   Here’s an interesting tidbit: There are still eight elementary schools open in eastern St. Mary: J.S. Aucoin in Amelia, M.D. Shannon, M.E. Norman, J.B. Maitland and Wyandotte, all in Morgan City, Berwick Elementary, Bayou Vista Elementary and Hattie Watts Elementary in Patterson.
   It’s tine to de-tooth and de-claw this lion. That beast has done enough damage. It has rampaged through this community for decades, leaving a swath of abandoned buildings and crowded classrooms in its wake. All the while growing fatter and more ravenous in appetite.
   Put that kitty on a leash, make it get some exercise and teach it some manners, with an old-fashioned yardstick across the knuckles if necessary. Now, before it’s too late. This is not some inner-city educational system. This is not some metropolitan mega-institution. This is a parish of 50,000 people over 600 square miles. Rural square miles.
   The proposal is just that, a proposal. For now. But if you don’t make yourself heard, loud and clear, it’ll advance and inch forward until before you know it, it’s done.
   God only knows what they’ll come up with next.