The three candidates running for the Raceland-area seat on the Lafourche Parish School Board talked budget cuts, school safety and money spent on students at a forum this evening.
Democrat Raymond Toups and Republicans Chris Lagarde and Barry Uzee are running for the District 8 seat on the School Board, which was vacated in May.
Former board member Ronald Pere resigned after serving on the board for a decade, and said he and his wife were moving to an assisted-living facility outside of the Raceland-area district. Toups is currently serving as the interim board member.
The forum began with the candidates replying if they agreed with the $6 million in cuts the Lafourche Parish School Board made Wednesday night to their budget for the next school year and if they have any suggestions on what should have been cut instead.
Toups, who was the only vote against the cuts at the meeting, said the Board should have looked further into reducing its membership as a way to regain the trust of the public.
“I feel that the School Board has not spent enough time looking at revenue instead of just looking at cuts,” Toups said.
Uzee said he agrees with Toups that the board should have looked at themselves when considering the cuts.
Lagarde suggested the board should have looked harder to cut positions that wouldn’t affect the students.
Lafourche Parish spends about $291 per student, which is higher than the state average.
“We’d maybe look at that, look at how to get that down so that’s not costing us, the taxpayers, the extra money to educate our children,” Lagarde said.
Uzee said he doesn't see the cost as a problem as long as it is money well spent, and Toups said he would want to look at the salaries of nonessential personnel.
"I don't see the cost per student as a problem as long as it's getting results," Uzee said.
Also, while Toups said he believes the Career Magnet Center provides an excellent opportunity for students to excel, Lagarde said he believes the center is being underused.
“If I understand it right, as far as kids attending it, there’s not that many from Thibodaux or South Lafourche,” Lagarde said. “It’s mostly students from the central area. So I don’t see it being utilized like it should.”
All three candidates said they support the membership of the School Board being reduced from 15. All three also agreed the board will have to regain the public's trust by reducing the board size before having another sales tax proposal go before the voters.
When it came to school safety, Toups said he likes the idea of schools having a single entry for visitors on campus, metal detectors and video cameras.
Lagarde said he likes the idea of a single entry point and also encouraged students to speak up when they hear a rumor or joke about school safety.
Uzee said the district needs to invest in their counselors to support students and also encouraged people to speak up.
The forum was hosted by the Thibodaux and Lafourche chambers of commerce and the Nicholls State University Student Government Association.
-- Staff Writer Holly Duchmann can be reached at 857-2205 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @holly_evamarie.