Board delays DES closure

Published 7:02 am Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Denhamtown Elementary School is staying open — for now.

The Bogalusa School Board tabled a motion that would have consolidated the school district and closed Denhamtown at the end of the school year.

The decision came after administrators answered some questions about the proposed consolidation, and before the meeting devolved into a heated argument between Superintendent Toni Breaux and board president Curtis Creel.

The board will likely revisit the issue soon, provided the district can gather more information. Creel, in particular, wanted to know how much money the district expected to save, while others wanted to know what the district would do with an empty school.

“It gives me the sense that we’re moving too fast and it needs to be looked at a little closer, and I’d like to see some dollar figures attached to this,” Creel said.

Board vice-president Paul Kates said, “We have closed four schools already. … We don’t need another school being wasted.”

Board member Calvin Hymel said if Denhamtown closed, it would be quickly vandalized.

“You wont have a window in that school in a year if you close it,” he said.

Hymel also said that based on what has happened with other schools the district has closed, the roof would fall in in four or five years and the building would be effectively worthless. Hymel suggested that if the charter school closes, the district might need the building.

According to the consolidation plans, Denhamtown would close, those students would go to Byrd Elementary and the Byrd students would go to Central.

Some of the board members asked the administration why Denhamtown should close as opposed to Byrd Elementary.

Administrative director Deloris Walker explained that Central is underused.

“Central Elementary School only has 17 classes. They can house 39 classes. The building is practically empty,” she said. “That building is not being utilized. So that’s how the consolidation measure started.”

She added that Byrd is more centrally located in Bogalusa than Denhamtown and the only costly new renovations at Denhamtown are windows. Vic Boyles, the district’s maintenance coordinator, said he could probably remove those windows and install them at Byrd.

Boyles went on to add that Byrd has had about $44,000 in recent renovations, including new flooring and new painting.

“Just realistically, from a financial point of view, which ones could you move … which ones could you save? Only the windows,” he said. “The flooring and the painting cannot be moved.”

Boyles added that the district would move the playground equipment from Denhamtown, too, if the board approves the consolidation plan.

In addition, Creel said he was upset because he claimed Breaux didn’t consult with him.

“I can’t speak for the whole board; I am only speaking for myself,” Creel said. “Not once was I aware that this was going on. No one asked my opinion, if my opinion was relevant. But I’ll just remind everyone that … the superintendent does have certain powers.

“But also … the board determines how many schools we operate and where they’re located. So I am just a little bit concerned that there’s a whole lot more to this picture than has been presented. I don’t want to bring personalities into it but I am a little bit concerned that there was no input from the board for this plan.”

Breaux accused Creel of going behind her back and talking to parents and others. Creel called his conversations “fact-finding and research.”

“If you think I was going behind your back, you’re wrong,” Creel said. He explained that he’d heard from several parents who were upset with the possible restructuring, but Breaux shook her head at the idea.

After this exchange, the board went on with the larger discussion about the consolidation until they voted to table the measure. After that, however, during superintendent and board member comments, Creel and Breaux went at it again.

Breaux started by accusing Creel of having a personal vendetta against her and her son, high school band director Chad Harry.

Harry apparently missed the Amite playoff game last season, and Breaux said Creel tried to get him penalized for the absence. In response, Creel said he only asked if Harry would be penalized.

Earlier in the meeting, and unrelated to any apparent issue on the agenda, Harry addressed the board and thanked every board member present — except Creel — for support.

Breaux also denied that any parents were upset with the consolidation, and that those parents called anyone on the board.

“Y’all get more calls from parents and grandparents than anyone I ever heard of. … And none of them ever call me,” Breaux said. “I haven’t gotten one parent call me, one grandparent, not nobody who has said they don’t like the plan. I will just tell you, I don’t believe it.”

She then defended her son.

“Chad didn’t go to a football game because he planned to do something the year before,” she said. “They have had other people do the same thing at all these events … but they don’t check on them. They only check on my son. But I’m sick of it. They don’t have the guts to come say it to my face and I am sick of it. … We’re at a ‘D’ (grade for the district)? Well, you won’t let me do nothing, my hands are tied.”

Breaux’s voice began to crack with emotion, and she added that if Jesus Christ came back to help her, the board would still oppose her.

“I can’t wait until my year and a half is over,” she said. “This is the worst situation I’ve ever been in. You got men who are so childish and so vindictive and so petty it is just ridiculous.

“I am sick of it. I am a human being, too. Don’t talk to me like I am a dog. Because I am not.”

Creel then argued that he wasn’t personally attacking her son.

“I asked a few simple questions after the Amite playoff game and it was taken as a personal attack,” he said.

“It was,” Breaux said.

“It was not meant as a personal attack,” Creel said.

“It was,” Breaux said again.

“I am talking,” Creel said.

“And so am I,” Breaux said.

Hymel asked for Creel to end the meeting, but Creel did not. Instead, he continued to argue. He told Breaux he’d been by her office to speak with her “numerous times,” but he couldn’t ever meet. And, he noted, he did support the band.

“I have supported Chad and the band for years. But I have questions about a decision that I felt not only affected the band and the football team, and the system as a whole, and this is what I get,” he said. “I asked simple questions. I got no answers other than the accusation that I am bashing Chad.”

“Good God,” Hymel said.

With that, Creel gaveled the meeting to a close.