School representatives, community come together at town hall meeting

Published 6:26 am Wednesday, May 11, 2016

According to organizer Bill Arata, the second Bogalusa town hall meeting went well, despite a low turnout.

“I didn’t hear as much as I would have liked to hear because the audience wasn’t packed. But there was no animosity and there were attacks and the process was good,” he said.

Arata said the city council didn’t show, although the mayor and an administration officer were present.

The meeting follows a general town hall meeting last month, where residents were asked to suggest a handful of problem areas to focus on. Monday’s meeting was the first of the breakout meetings and it was intended to cover education.

Arata said some of the Bogalusa school board attended and some representatives from Northshore Charter School attended as well as representatives from Annunciation. Arata said Bogalusa superintendent Toni Breaux was absent due to a root canal, but she sent Shelly Gill to represent the Bogalusa City Schools.

Though the schools represented public, charter and a parochial institution, he said there was some common ground.

“One common theme was the lack of parental involvement and problems with discipline,” said Arata.

Arata said Gill, who is the Bogalusa supervisor for federal programs, discussed how the district has brought up graduation rates to among the highest in the state. One of the reasons for the increase is the pathway curriculum offered at the high school, Gill reportedly said.

In addition, representatives from the charter school and Bogalusa agreed to speak outside the town hall about working closer together.

“They agreed to continue conversations outside the town hall meetings to come back and talk about what they agree on,” Arata said.

In what could be some very good news for a couple of neighborhoods, Arata said there was discussion about turning some of the district’s empty schools into parks and green spaces.

“Long Avenue is long past rehabilitation and Columbia Street has fallen in on itself,” he said.

He explained that while the city might be reluctant to tackle the projects because the old buildings could have asbestos or other toxic hazards, grant funding is available for mitigating such hazards. Arata added that in past city council meetings, there has been talk of creating more neighborhood parks, and last night the idea of turning the schools into parks was well received.

“My impression last night is that everyone endorsed that idea,” he said.

The next town hall meeting hasn’t been scheduled yet. However, Arata said it will tackle code enforcement and will likely take place in late May or early June.

Arata said he hopes that one is well attended.

“I want to just keep reminding people that the more involvement you make the more change you’re likely to see,” he said.