Town hall meeting Thursday: Education will be topic, Breaux not planning to attend

Published 5:21 am Saturday, October 29, 2016

Bogalusa attorney Bill Arata is organizing another public town hall meeting next week. The meeting will be on Thursday, Nov. 3, at 5:30 p.m., and it will again focus on education.

The last town hall meeting to focus on education was in May.

Arata has been organizing the meetings for most of the past year to generate community input and ideas and to also allow citizens to voice concerns. However, Arata said the educational meetings are slightly different.

“Unlike our regular town hall meetings,” he said, “this is primarily an informational meeting on the state of education in the Bogalusa area.”

Area schools include Annunciation Catholic School, Northshore Charter School and schools in the Bogalusa City Schools District. Arata said invitations have been sent to all the area school leaders, although on Friday morning Bogalusa Superintendent Toni Breaux said she would not attend the meeting. Although she did not attend the May meeting, she said that earlier meeting set a poor tone.

“I don’t want to participate in it because the first meeting seemed like it was pitting one system against another, and I didn’t like that,” she said.

However, she said she’s not opposed to any of her employees attending the forum.

“It’s a personal choice,” she said. “I encourage them to make their own decisions.”

However, Arata said he is still hopeful Breaux will change her mind by Thursday.

“This is an opportunity to give an update of your school system,” he said. “Please, come.”

At the May meeting, the public expressed concern over disciplinary issues at the schools. Both Bogalusa and Northshore have made administrative changes this school year. In Bogalusa, Breaux replaced the high school principal and Northshore Charter also brought in a new principal and administrative staff.

However, another concern, empty public school buildings in Bogalusa, remains unaddressed. After the May meeting, Arata said two schools in particular needed attention.

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

Arata explained that at the meeting someone floated the idea of turning the old schools into neighborhood parks, and the idea was generally well received.

However, the issue has never come up in a city or school board meeting.

“To say that I’m disappointed over a lack of attention to empty buildings in Bogalusa would be an understatement,” Arata said.

Another issue that failed to gain momentum was better cooperation between the charter school and the city school district. Arata said in May that Shelly Gill, who represented the city schools and representatives from Northshore Charter both agreed to meet in private to improve education.

On Friday, Breaux said she would in fact prefer to meet in private as opposed to a public meeting, but said this, too, has not happened.

However, Arata said private meetings do not accomplish the same results as public town hall meetings.

“Town hall meetings are educational in nature,” he said. “Whether it is about the state of the city or the state of the nation. I would hope that all schools would feel the need to attend.”