School board must finish the job

Published 7:00 am Friday, March 25, 2016

I don’t envy the Bogalusa City School Board.

This week they’re facing a tough decision, whether or not to close Denhamtown Elementary and consolidate to save money. As I write this on Wednesday, I don’t know what the board will decide on Thursday, but I hope the board votes to approve Superintendent Toni Breaux’s consolidation plan.

The estimated savings (about $1 million per year) is attractive and is a good argument for a consolidation. That said, there is still the very real matter of what to do with the empty building. While Breaux’s consolidation plan seems solid, the district’s plans for the building if it is shut down are anything but. Hoping the building can be sold, or hoping that the school can be re-opened at a later date seems as fanciful as keeping the school open.

The fact is, the population of Bogalusa has been on a decline since 1960, when census data shows a peak population of 21,423 people. The most recent population estimate from the Census Bureau is from 2014, and according to that estimate, the town is now home to just 11,926 people. In 54 years, Bogalusa has lost 9,497 people. Any expectation that our town or the school system can support the same amount of infrastructure as it had in 1960 or even in 2000 is wishful thinking at best and financially irresponsible at worst. Because while fewer people means less need for schools and other resources, it also means there is less of a tax base and more pressure for the people who are left here to make up the dollars for all the extra infrastructure. It’s not fair to ask people who stay here to pay for things nobody needs, wants or even uses.

Now, it would be wonderful if someone bought the old school buildings, and I hope the district makes every effort to rid itself of their old buildings — even if that means selling them for below their market value if the buyer shows they can invest in the upkeep of the building.

However, if Denhamtown shuts its doors, the district will have three empty buildings, and selling three school buildings — even at steep discounts — seems unlikely. Therefore, even as the district looks for buyers, it should set aside some of the $1 million per year it will be saving by closing Denhamtown and use that money to tear down the old buildings. These will not be cheap teardown jobs, as there is probably asbestos in the old buildings, but there are also federal grants that could be available to help with the cost of a teardown (notably the EPA’s Brownfield grants, which are given out specifically to tear down asbestos-ridden buildings in a safe manner).

Denhamtown Elementary School isn’t an architecturally significant building, and its location on the edge of town could make attractive proposition for a developer. But even if the property is not developed for housing, a small park would add to the community or even a mowed, maintained vacant lot would be preferable to an empty husk of a building. The irony is, leaving an empty building in the midst of a decent neighborhood for years will do little more than provide a drag on property values and a good argument for selling a home and getting out before blight drags values down further.

So, while the district should be applauded for making a difficult decision to consolidate the district, we need to recognize that their decision is in response to a shrinking population base and increasing financial strain. But, by leaving a number of empty buildings around town, the district is making the root causes of its problems worse.

Jesse Wright is the managing editor of The Daily News. You can call him at 985-732-2565, ext. 301, or email him at