There was a period in time in American educational history when, frightened by the launch of Sputnik into orbit and the threat of nuclear war, schools introduced "the New Math."

If you were of that generation you’ll remember that the New Math emphasized a new way of understanding mathematics through ominous sounding phrases such as "set theory" and "number bases other than 10."

Fearing that our kids weren’t learning it fast enough, in some cases they taught first-graders "axiomatic set theory" rather than Mother Goose.

Well, it didn’t last, of course, and the New Math fell out of favor within ten years. However, much damage was done by the convolution and confusion of kids’ tender, young minds.

Fast forward to July 2006. The New Math has taken its toll in St. Mary Parish.

Somehow, it seems the numbers bandied about before the election for a riverboat casino last Saturday differ from those this week after the election has passed the riverboat, that of course being "the best thing to happen to St. Mary Parish in years."

See, the parish economic development director said last week that, "Of the $1.5 million in property taxes to be paid annually by the casino, just under $1 million will be directed to the St. Mary Parish School Board."

Some said the total property taxes paid might be as high as $2.7 million.

Well, gosh-durn, don’t that just give you a warm-fuzzy feeling all over to know that the riverboat would benefit our young’uns so much?

But, well, shoot, ma’am, we ne’er were much good at our ciphers, parish officials say now, because this week – after the passage of the riverboat issue last Saturday – they’re crawfishing.

The parish and riverboat owners – imagine that? – have mistakenly "calculated on market value, not assessed value."

Hold the presses!

You see, market value of your home might be $100,000, but assessed value is what they base the taxes on, and that would be about $15,000.

Bottom line: The parish won’t get but about $432,000, about a million bucks short of what they promised you before the election last weekend.

You can just see them standing around with their hands in their pockets, looking sheepish, can’t you? Tossing dust around with their toes and shaking their heads sadly that, gosh-durnit, how could they have made such a mistake? Musta been that New Math, eh? All that "axiomatic set theory" stuff just messed ‘em up with their figgerin.’

Maybe so, but that means the school board’s getting no more than $25,000, tops, not almost a million.

Well, at least they’re going to give the parish $1.5 million up front and guarantees every year thereafter, right?

Set theory and axiomatic stuff, really.

Did you see where that exact same boat and owners are under a seizure order by a federal judge in Alabama, because it left Lake Pontchartrain owning the New Orleans Levee Board more than a million bucks?

According to newspaper reports, In January of this year, a federal judge for the southern district of Alabama ordered the boat seized and sold to satisfy more than $1 million in unpaid fees owed the New Orleans levee board. Columbia Sussex claimed there was no market and therefore no fees due.

So let’s see: If it turns out there’s no market here in Amelia, will they cut and run again?

Rewind: An example of the "old math."

Back during the first seven years of our compact agreement with local governments, we gave a certain percentage of our revenues to St. Mary Parish and its various cities and the sheriff. That we did, after we thumbed our nose at the state who wanted all the money for themselves and locals to get none, zilch, Zero, my hero. We took up for St. Mary Parish from the beginning.

Later, in our current arrangement, we at Chitimacha agreed to set that number at a fixed rate, $1.5 million a year, instead of a percentage. Even though this has, in some cases, been very detrimental to ourselves and our own best interests, we have honored that agreement to the letter.

Nope. No New Math there.

We make commitments to the parish and residents of St. Mary Parish and keep them, with no fuzzy logic, no sleight of hand, no crawfishing and no New Math.

My tribal chairman has always been more genteel and gracious than me. Speaking to the Franklin Rotary Club this week, he talked only about the positive things we’ve done for the parish, and how he has hopes for the future in our relationships, though hinting that it may not be as rosy as it once was, just for good measure.

I’m far more cynical, I guess. Gruff, maybe. You might even say ornery and mean-spirited.

But I ain’t planning to let a single puff of this pipe dream disperse without pointing out just how loosely the bowl was packed and how badly it burned.